“So, Whatever”: Why I Believe Christine Blasey Ford, Pt. 2
Because his calendars are calendars. Or: An exploration of why Brett Kavanaugh's conventions, codes, and stories only convinced me that Christine Blasey Ford's story deserved a greater share of my belief.
If Kavanaugh had confined his refutation story to the paucity of corroboration—those who were allegedly at the gathering where Christine Blasey Ford was assaulted didn’t recall the event—I might call this story something else, and likely I’d have been more convinced. Instead what Kavanaugh attempts to provide is an alibi. So this might be the story of I was too busy to do what I’ve been accused of or I presume everyone had jobs during the week and was therefore not going to be assault-ready drunk on weeknights or I didn’t hang out with that many girls from her school, so it seems unlikely that I would have had occasion to get very drunk around this one. None capture in its entirety this story’s strangeness and incoherence. Maybe closer to the mark: If I had drunkenly pushed a girl into a bedroom and onto a bed and tried to undress her and then covered her mouth to prevent her from screaming for help, I would have recorded it on my calendar. Because my calendar was really a kind of diary.
Over one-third of Kavanaugh’s opening statement, roughly 1,904 of his 5,251 words, tells this story.
He begins by raising the possibility that his and Christine Blasey Ford’s paths were unlikely to have crossed: “She and I did not travel in the same social circles.” This assertion seems undercut by many contemporaneous accounts of Kavanaugh’s peers, especially a Georgetown Prep underground newspaper article penned by a contemporary and schoolmate of Kavanaugh’s that speaks about the girls at Holton-Arms in a derogatory fashion. Further, the allegation is not that Kavanaugh assaulted Christine Blasey Ford multiple times over the course of many, many social interactions. There’s one gathering where, in the span of a few minutes, he is alleged to have had one physical interaction with her.
The next thread in the story, by far the strongest, is the lack of corroboration. Of course, many analysts have noted that Kavanaugh seems to err in a gentleman-doth-protest-too-much fashion, or perhaps just plain overreaching inaccuracy, when he uses the word “refuted” in addition to “merely uncorroborated”: “Dr. Ford’s allegation is not merely uncorroborated, it is refuted by the very people she says were there, including by a long-time friend of hers. Refuted.” Kavanaugh’s punctuation of “Refuted” notwithstanding, Ford’s allegation was not, of course, “refuted . . . by a long-time friend of hers.” It was merely uncorroborated.
Kavanaugh then moves on to geographic likelihood. According to Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford “said that there were four other people at the house” where the attack allegedly occurred, which Ford describes in her opening statement as somewhere “in the Chevy Chase/Bethesda area” and in her letter to Dianne Feinstein as occurring “in a suburban Maryland home.” Kavanaugh asserts that “none of those people, nor I, lived near Columbia Country Club.” But they lived about as close to the Columbia Country Club as 15-year-old Christine Blasey did, within a short driving distance. And what about the “Columbia” entry on July 7, 1982, of Kavanaugh’s calendar? Does “Columbia” mean “Columbia Country Club”? He only lived a few miles from there, not two or three states away. Likely Kavanaugh is bringing up the distance between different houses and the Columbia Country Club not really because it proves or disproves anything but because it allows him to highlight Christine Blasey Ford’s inability to recall some details.
Kavanaugh then moves into his calendars, and this is where his story really starts to unravel. “The event described by Dr. Ford presumably happened on a weekend,” Kavanaugh says, “because I believed everyone worked and had jobs in the summers.” The “presumably” and the “believed” are quite strange—for a regular old citizen or a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court—in this context. Why presume? Especially since the presumption isn’t really all that compelling. Does it not strain credibility to say that teenagers or adults, in 1982 or 2018, would all be so reasonable and responsible that they’d never drink alcohol on a weeknight if they had to wake up for work the next morning? Ostensibly, this thread helps him create a stronger alibi. But I believe it does just the opposite.
Kavanaugh’s job in the summer of 1982 was mowing lawns. To risk stating the obvious, mowing lawns, even a lot of lawns, does not preclude drinking on the weekdays.
I mow my yard once a week or so in the summers. And, yes, sometimes I drink many, many beers on the evenings before I’m going to mow. On a few occasions, I’ve tried to mow it in the early morning, before the day gets hot. Mowing dew-wet grass is possible, certainly, but it’s harder, slower work, and it doesn't look that great. Quality suffers. And I’ve got neighbors; a gas-powered mower is loud. All to say, I’m guessing young Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t mowing lawns at dawn. His summer job allowed him to make his own hours. Maybe he could get started with the mowing at 10:00 a.m. or noon. Maybe he could, once in a while, drink on weeknights, since that wouldn’t necessarily hurt his ability to clock-in for an 8-5 job. His calendar, in particular the entry on July 1, 1982, shows as much: “Go to Timmy’s for skis w/ Judge, Tom, PJ, Bernie, Squi.” “Skis,” as Kavanaugh confirmed in the hearing, is brewskis. Beer.
Kavanaugh develops this thread about his very, very busy weekends, in part, because he feels that it shows that “if the party described by Dr. Ford happened in the summer of 1982 on a weekend night, my calendar shows all but definitively that I was not there.”
Um, no. Sorry.
Many questions remain unanswered, even about Kavanaugh’s weekend activities. For instance, does the calendar entry about going to his family’s home in St. Michaels, Maryland, on the weekend of July 9–11, mean that St. Michaels was the location of “Richie Stanton’s party” on July 10? Or was Richie Stanton’s party on July 10 in Bethesda or Chevy Chase, and Brett Kavanaugh came back from a weekend in St. Michaels to go to a party nearer his primary residence?
Among the questions that Rachel Mitchell may have asked, if allowed to continue questioning Kavanaugh about his calendars, might have been how Kavanaugh reconciles these instances where he seems to be in two places at once. Ms. Mitchell, if given the chance, might have asked if he ever, in the summer of 1982, begged off from an evening in St. Michaels with his parents so that he could attend a party or have their house in the D.C. suburbs to himself.
Kavanaugh claims that these pages are “both a calendar and a diary.” Yet, as diaries, they’re awfully sparse. How did his interview with Brown University go on July 26? Did Nikki actually come over on May 19?
His calendar pages do not “all but definitively” show much. They are certainly not definitive on whether or not Kavanaugh may have attended a small gathering of teenagers in the summer of 1982 where 15-year-old Christine Blasey was also present. His calendar shows, from a view of 10,000 feet or so, that he was fairly busy and was sometimes out of town.
The strangeness of Kavanaugh’s assertions about his calendar, and his alibi for the weekends versus the weekdays, didn’t strike me fully until Senator Dianne Feinstein asked Kavanaugh about his reluctance to ask for an FBI investigation. Kavanaugh responded not about the pros and cons of an FBI investigation, or even about what further damage to his reputation any further delay in his confirmation might entail, but rather about his busyness in the summer of 1982: “I’m not even in D.C. on the weekends in the summer of 1982. This happened on a weekday? I’m not at Blair High School for a summer league game? I’m not at Tobin’s house working out? I’m not at a movie with Suzanne?”
Of course, we know now that the FBI investigation did eventually happen. Or at least his background check was reopened and a few witnesses were interviewed. The 302s were completed, most likely. Senators saw what they saw. Kavanaugh was confirmed.
What's truly strange about this moment in the hearing isn't that Kavanaugh is trying to change the subject. What's truly strange is what he's trying to change the subject to. In this moment, Kavanaugh is electing to attempt an alibi.
And his alibi for the weekdays is weak, in part, because he’s trying to provide an alibi of every weekday in the summer of 1982 by using the scant, very partial, evidence available about some weekdays. Obviously, he’s not listed as being at a movie every night with Suzanne. He’s not always working out at Tobin’s house.
Kavanaugh had a busy summer, but he was sometimes in the D.C. area on the weekends in the summer of 1982, at least for part of them. And, during the week, he certainly does seem to be spending a few hours of the day at Tobin’s house working out, at Blair High School for a summer league game, or going to the movies with Suzanne. He was also, at times, if the July 1 entry is any indication, enjoying some “skis” with friends.
He claims that in his calendars he “was very precise about listing who was” at informal gatherings, such as the July 1 entry. This isn't true.
He does not list the name of every attendee at every party he attended. Sometimes his calendar simply says, “Lift,” but it doesn’t always say if he lifted weights with someone or by himself; it doesn’t always mention if he had “skis” afterward, and where, and with whom. During “Beach Week,” the names “Nikki” and “Suzanne” are included at the top of the entry for June 9, which is also listed as “Dad’s Birthday.” What Nikki and Suzanne and Brett, and maybe Brett’s father, were doing, at some beach near or not near the D.C. suburbs, none of us really know. Because his calendars are calendars.
His calendars are calendars.
Kavanaugh’s calendars only prove that he never wrote the name “Christine” on any of the summer of 1982 entries. They’re not, as he admits, “dispositive on their own.” Nor are they, as he claims, “very precise.” What do they prove? That he doesn’t memorialize any event in great detail.
Brett Kavanaugh would like us to believe his calendars are “diaries of sorts.” They’re not. They’re just calendars.
It would be weak evidence from anyone, but it seems especially weak for a well-trained lawyer and experienced judge seeking a spot on the U.S. Supreme Court. And it’s weak primarily because of the story Kavanaugh tells using these calendars.
This is not the story he tells, but here’s a story I might have believed: Here are my calendars from that summer. I’ve looked at these calendars over the past week and a half, to try to jog my memory. Her allegation is specific, and I believe that she was in fact traumatized by someone. I don’t believe I did what she’s accused me of. I’ve no memory of it. It seems out of character for me. And I’ve no memory of it. And reviewing the calendars brought back many memories of the summer of 1982, and Christine Blasey Ford wasn’t in any of them.
Instead, he tried to use his calendars as an alibi; he asked us to think of them as diaries. He asked us all to believe that he didn’t do what Christine Blasey Ford claimed he did because of how busy he was that summer. He asked us to believe that he couldn’t have attended a gathering with “P.J.” and “Judge,” even though there was one on his calendar on July 1.
He asked us to believe that he couldn’t have assaulted Christine Blasey Ford because, if he did, he would have recorded it on his calendar.
Kavanaugh’s mother’s “trademark line was, ‘Use your common sense. What rings true? What rings false?’” To me, Kavanaugh’s remorse in his opening statement about the “Renate alumnus” reference on his yearbook page rang true: “I’m so sorry to her for that yearbook reference.”
What rang false was his argument that the “media” had dreamed up that reference’s sexual connotations. If a bunch of high-school boys list a girl’s name in their yearbook as a kind of “club” (one as “chairman of the Bored”!), I don’t need a media interpretation. I was once a teenage boy.
What rings false is Kavanaugh’s assertion that, if he didn’t have sex with this young woman, he couldn’t also boast that he did among friends or on his yearbook page. What rings false is that these yearbook entries were supposed to show that Renate was “one of us,” rather than that she was an attractive young woman who these boys were complicit in crafting or perpetuating a sexualized narrative about.
I might have believed Kavanaugh if he’d said he was sorry and then seemed reflective about what he was sorry about. I might have believed him if he’d apologized to Renate for pretending, among his single-sex-school pals, to know her better than he did and for perpetuating an innuendo about her that maybe wasn’t evil but also wasn't kind.
What rang true was Kavanaugh’s assertion that he “never had sexual intercourse, or anything close to it, during high school, or for many years after that.” What rang true is that “in some crowds” he was a “little outwardly shy about” his sexual inexperience.
What rings false is the implication that being a virgin would have rendered him incapable of pushing a 15-year-old girl into a bedroom and drunkenly trying to take her clothes off.
What rings true is that Kavanaugh read a New York Times article “about the low numbers of women law clerks at the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts,” which prompted him to hire more women law clerks. What rings true is that many of the women who have known Kavanaugh over the years find it hard to believe that he might have, at 17, done something which seems out of character with the boy they knew then or the man they know now.
What rings false is Brett Kavanaugh’s assertion that he’d never been so drunk that his memory was impaired, that he’d never been drunk enough to not remember as clearly as he might have remembered if he hadn’t been drinking. Kavanaugh became especially defensive at the hearing when asked questions related to alcohol-induced blackouts:
AMY KLOBUCHAR: So you’re saying there’s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before, or part of what happened?
BRETT KAVANAUGH: It’s—you’re asking about, you know, blackout. I don’t know. Have you?
AMY KLOBUCHAR: Could you answer the question, Judge? I just—so you—that’s not happened. Is that your answer?
BRETT KAVANAUGH: Yeah, and I’m curious if you have.
As news accounts of the hearing obligingly reported, Kavanaugh apologized for this exchange later. Still, he said what he said, he blustered as he blustered, and Kavanaugh’s answer to a question asking if he’s never blacked out while drinking is either “I don’t know” or “yeah.” So a denial. Sort of. Hard to tell in the noise of his belligerence.
In his opening statement, Kavanaugh said, “If every American who drinks beer or every American who drank beer in high school is suddenly presumed guilty of sexual assault,” then we’ll have arrived at an “ugly, new place in this country.” At first, that rings true. They’re truly different, sexual assault and drinking beer. Yes.
But it’s also not an equivalence anyone is making; it’s a straw man. No one on the Senate Judiciary Committee was asking about Kavanaugh’s alcohol consumption in an attempt to make drinking beer synonymous with sexual assault.
So it rings false. It’s irrelevant. And it’s evasive, in the way of Kavanaugh’s accusation that Senator Patrick Leahy was trying to “make fun of some guy who has an addiction” by asking questions about Mark Judge’s memoir. Being belligerent with Senator Klobuchar or Senator Leahy helps Kavanaugh tell the political story or the story of grievance. But he has to bend to do so, and so he then becomes someone bending to tell one story rather than another. He becomes someone whose last, best chance of vindication is to erect a straw man.
I listened for her story and then his. In Kavanaugh’s testimony, but not Ford’s, I heard details that were serving an end other than answering the question asked. In his testimony, but not hers, I heard signs of someone avoiding an uncomfortable truth. I heard places in the narrative where he presented a version of events that didn’t jibe with my understanding of reality or of human memory. I listened to him assemble straw men. I listened to him ask me to believe that he was just too busy that summer to do what he’d been accused of doing.
I heard him distance himself from responsibility, and from narrative, with a code. I heard him cycle through the conventions.
And I listened to him tell a few stories.
Did Brett Kavanaugh tell stories which failed to undermine Christine Blasey Ford’s unified and credible story? Did he fail to tell a story that might adequately replace this one, the one I heard underneath her story and his: a virginal, maybe sex-obsessed (because 17 and virginal?) drunken high-school athlete, fairly strong from a summer of weight-lifting and sports, groped a younger student at a small gathering, on a weekend or a weeknight, we’ll likely never know for sure, in the summer of 1982? Maybe as a joke? Maybe for some laughs, with a buddy? Maybe because he didn’t really know her, not that well, not like a friend, a dear friend, not like one of the girls he talked to on the phone, not like a girl from Visitation or Holy Child, not like someone he thought he'd see one pew over on Sunday, not like a person he’d remember?
I don’t know. Yeah.
Richard Sonnenmoser blogs about politics, music, literary art, and fatherhood. He's had fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction published in magazines such as Harvard Review, West Branch, Crab Orchard Review, and Permafrost.