Kavanaugh’s supporters desperately try to sow confusion

Politico reports:

It turns out that the Keystone Cops detective work by conservative legal activist Ed Whelan — which set Washington abuzz with the promise of exonerating Brett Kavanaugh, only to be met by mockery and then partially retracted — was not his handiwork alone.

CRC Public Relations, the prominent Alexandria, Virginia-based P.R. firm, guided Whelan through his roller-coaster week of Twitter pronouncements that ended in embarrassment and a potential setback for Kavanaugh’s hopes of landing on the high court, according to three sources familiar with their dealings.

Earlier, the New York Times reported:

Steve Schmidt, an outspoken critic of the president who worked for Republicans before leaving the party, said that Mr. Whelan had been the “singularly most important and effective outside adviser involved in the confirmation effort” of two earlier Republican court nominees whom Mr. Schmidt helped lead.

“He is a brilliant, meticulous and serious lawyer,” Mr. Schmidt wrote on Twitter on Friday. “He is not a conspiracy nut. It is inconceivable to me that Whelan published that email without discussions, debate and assistance from the WH and GOP Senators and staff.”

He added, “It is not the isolated musings of one man but rather part of a broader discreditation strategy.”

In a statement through her lawyers, Dr. Blasey flatly rejected the possibility that she had confused Judge Kavanaugh with the classmate identified by Mr. Whelan.

“I knew them both, and socialized with” the classmate, Dr. Blasey said. She noted that she had once even visited the classmate in the hospital. “There is zero chance that I would confuse them.”

Greg Sargent writes:

[A]s some commentators — including conservative ones — were quick to point out, Kavanaugh needs to clarify whether he had any advance knowledge of this strategy of pinning the blame on someone else.

Senior Democratic aides tell me that, in the upcoming Judiciary Committee hearing, Senate Democrats are likely to pose questions along these lines directly to Kavanaugh, when he is under oath.

The Washington Post reports:

Earlier this week, Kavanaugh told Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), one of his most fervent supporters, that Ford has the wrong perpetrator in mind and that he has not attended a party like the one Ford described in an account she gave The Post this week of the alleged assault.

The New York Times reports:

President Trump directly questioned for the first time on Friday the veracity of the accusations levied by a woman who has said Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were both teenagers.

Mr. Trump said in a Twitter post that if the alleged attack “was as bad as she says,” charges would have been filed by the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, or her parents.

He asked her to produce contemporaneous law enforcement reports “so that we can learn date, time, and place!”

Many women are reluctant to come forward and report sexual assaults to authorities, in part because they fear they will not be believed.

Washington Post reporter, Abigail Hauslohner, tweeted:

Megan Garber writes:

[B]y Friday morning, Whelan had deleted the tweetstorm and was apologizing—not for the the general claims he had issued out into the atmosphere, but for the specific way they had treated the classmate in question. “I made an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment in posting the tweet thread in a way that identified Kavanaugh’s Georgetown Prep classmate,” Whelan tweeted. “I take full responsibility for that mistake, and I deeply apologize for it. I realize that does not undo the mistake.”

In this, he is correct: It does not. Which isn’t to say, however, that Whelan’s “revelations” aren’t, in their own way, revealing—about, in this case, the lengths to which people will go to resist negative assertions made about a powerful man who is currently in the process of seeking more power. About the desperation with which some will find facts that conform to their sense of the world—even when, summoned as arguments, those “facts” are manifestly absurd. About how deeply ingrained the impulse remains, in American culture, to doubt the memories of women, when they conflict with the memories of men.

Kavanaugh’s classmates at Georgetown Prep describe alcohol-soaked party culture

The Associated Press reports:

To the uninitiated, Georgetown Preparatory School feels less like a high school than a well-heeled liberal arts college. The 93-acre campus in a Maryland suburb of the nation’s capital boasts a state-of-the-art athletic center, a nine-hole golf course, and its own gift shop. Gardeners crisscross the grounds on carts.

This is where U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh spent most of his teen years. And exactly what happened one summer night during that time has become a question that threatens to unravel his chances of joining the nation’s highest court.

Multiple accounts from 1980s-era classmates depict an alcohol-soaked party culture among the close-knit network of single-sex, mostly Roman Catholic private schools in the country’s wealthiest state. At raucous house parties and drunken beach vacations, boys from Georgetown Prep and other all-male academies would meet up with students from nearby all-girl private schools like Stone Ridge, Holy Cross, Georgetown Visitation and the non-sectarian Holton-Arms School. Binge drinking was a routine part of the social scene, with minimal adult supervision. [Continue reading…]

Rosenstein joked about secretly recording Trump, Justice Department officials say

NBC News reports:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was joking when he discussed wearing a wire to secretly record President Donald Trump and does not believe Trump should be removed from office through the use of procedures outlined in the Constitution’s 25th Amendment, according to Justice Department officials who requested anonymity to discuss the conversation.

The officials were responding to a New York Times report that Rosenstein, in the tumultuous spring of 2017, had discussed with other Justice and FBI officials the possibility of recruiting members of Trump’s Cabinet to declare him unfit for the job and that he offered to wear a recording device during conversations with the president.

In a May, 16, 2017 meeting at a secure facility at the Justice Department — one week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey — Rosenstein was arguing with Andrew McCabe, then the acting director of the FBI, about the president, according to a senior Justice Department official.

“Well, what do you want me to do, Andy, wear a wire?” Rosenstein asked at the meeting, which also included FBI lawyer Lisa Page and four career DOJ officials, according to the senior official. One of the career civil servants was Scott Schools, who would later go on to sign off on the firing of McCabe, the official said. [Continue reading…]

Unraveling the Russia story so far

The New York Times reports:

On an October afternoon before the 2016 election, a huge banner was unfurled from the Manhattan Bridge in New York City: Vladimir V. Putin against a Russian-flag background, and the unlikely word “Peacemaker” below. It was a daredevil happy birthday to the Russian president, who was turning 64.

In November, shortly after Donald J. Trump eked out a victory that Moscow had worked to assist, an even bigger banner appeared, this time on the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington: the face of President Barack Obama and “Goodbye Murderer” in big red letters.

Police never identified who had hung the banners, but there were clues. The earliest promoters of the images on Twitter were American-sounding accounts, including @LeroyLovesUSA, later exposed as Russian fakes operated from St. Petersburg to influence American voters.

The Kremlin, it appeared, had reached onto United States soil in New York and Washington. The banners may well have been intended as visual victory laps for the most effective foreign interference in an American election in history.

For many Americans, the Trump-Russia story as it has been voluminously reported over the past two years is a confusing tangle of unfamiliar names and cyberjargon, further obscured by the shout-fest of partisan politics. What Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in charge of the investigation, may know or may yet discover is still uncertain. President Trump’s Twitter outbursts that it is all a “hoax” and a “witch hunt,” in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary, have taken a toll on public comprehension.

But to travel back to 2016 and trace the major plotlines of the Russian attack is to underscore what we now know with certainty: The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come. Acting on the personal animus of Mr. Putin, public and private instruments of Russian power moved with daring and skill to harness the currents of American politics. Well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign. [Continue reading…]

Evangelical leaders are frustrated at GOP caution on Kavanaugh allegation

The New York Times reports:

Worried their chance to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court could slip away, a growing number of evangelical and anti-abortion leaders are expressing frustration that Senate Republicans and the White House are not protecting Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh more forcefully from a sexual assault allegation and warning that conservative voters may stay home in November if his nomination falls apart.

Several of these leaders, including ones with close ties to the White House and Senate Republicans, are urging Republicans to move forward with a confirmation vote imminently unless the woman who accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, agrees to share her story with the Senate Judiciary Committee within the next few days.

Dr. Blasey’s lawyers told the committee Thursday that she was willing to testify next week, pending negotiations over “terms that are fair,” but not on Monday as Senate Republicans had wanted.

The evangelical leaders’ pleas are, in part, an attempt to apply political pressure: Some of them are warning that religious conservatives may feel little motivation to vote in the midterm elections unless Senate Republicans move the nomination out of committee soon and do more to defend Judge Kavanaugh from what they say is a desperate Democratic ploy to prevent President Trump from filling future court vacancies. [Continue reading…]

North and South Korea take important steps to demilitarize the Korean peninsula

Richard Sokolsky writes:

At yesterday’s summit meeting in Pyongyang between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the defense ministers of the two countries signed an important agreement to reduce military tensions along the two sides’ heavily militarized border. As of November 1, no-fly zones will be established along the border and both sides will halt artillery and other military drills close to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two countries. The North and South also agreed to dismantle several of the heavily armed guard posts they have each constructed inside the DMZ and to create a maritime peace zone in the West Sea (Yellow Sea).

These military confidence building measures (CBMs), and others that are under discussion to reduce border tensions and build mutual trust, such as banning the entry of warships and live-fire exercises around the Northern Limit Line (NLL), are historically significant and lay a solid foundation for more far-reaching measures to reduce the risk of a surprise attack or inadvertent conflict. The US and the rest of the world have been fixated on North Korea’s denuclearization—and the agreements that were announced yesterday on denuclearization have garnered most of today’s headlines. But a “bolt out of the blue” North Korean nuclear attack on the United States, which would be suicidal for the Kim dynasty and his country, has always been a fantastical scenario. The most likely trigger for any large-scale conventional conflict between North Korea and US/ROK forces has always been a local incident or accident that escalates out of control. [Continue reading…]

Brett Kavanaugh’s habitual lying

Russ Feingold writes:

Brett Kavanaugh has never appeared under oath before the U.S. Senate without lying.

As a onetime member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I considered the truthfulness of judicial nominees as a non-negotiable quality. Lying under oath cannot and must not be rewarded with a seat on the nation’s highest court, and lies cannot remain unchallenged.

So as an illegitimate administration goes to work attacking the credibility of a brave woman recounting her assault, let’s recognize the enormously cynical hypocrisy: The nominee they’re desperate to protect is a calculated liar who uses dishonesty to advance his own career. And any denial of these accusations by Kavanaugh before the committee must be viewed in the context of his multiple earlier lies under oath to that same committee.

This nomination can and must be withdrawn. Nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court must be held to a higher standard, and it is the job of determined senators to do just that. [Continue reading…]

When I was in high school, I faced my own Brett Kavanaugh

Caitlin Flanagan writes:

“Dear Caitlin,” an inscription in my 12th-grade yearbook begins. “I’m really very sorry that our friendship plummeted straight downhill after the first few months of school. Really, the blame rests totally on my shoulders. To tell you the truth, I’ve wanted to say this all year. I know you’ll succeed because you’re very smart and I regard you with the utmost respect … Take care—love always.”

He was headed to a prestigious college. I was headed to a small, obscure liberal-arts college, which was a tremendous achievement, not just because I was a terrible student, but also because I had nearly killed myself as a response to what he apologized for in my yearbook. He had tried to rape me during a date that I was very excited to have been asked on, and his attempt was so serious—and he was so powerful—that for a few minutes, I was truly fighting him off.

I had grown up in Berkeley, but just before my senior year of high school, my father took a job on Long Island. Berkeley, California, in 1978 was about as much like Suffolk County, New York, in 1978 as the moon is like the black sky around it. I didn’t know a single person. I desperately missed my friends—although I only found out years later, my father was confiscating all of their letters to me. He thought they were a bad influence, and that I should make a clean break. I felt completely alone.

I had already been depressed; severe depression was the only healthy response to growing up in my family. But the move was terrible. I couldn’t figure out how to make friends; the high school was a John Hughes movie before there were John Hughes movies. But then a good-looking senior offered to drive me home one day. I was excited—I’d had my eye on him, and in the promise of this ride home I saw the solution to all of my problems: my sadness, my loneliness, my inability to figure out how to go to the parties the other kids were always talking about in the hallways and before class started. [Continue reading…]

The GOP response to the Kavanaugh allegations sends a clear message to women

Dick Polman writes:

After their initial defensive flurry, Republicans quickly recognized that ramming Kavanaugh’s nomination through without affording Ford an opportunity to testify under oath would be politically suicidal. But even though they’ve hit the pause button and slated a public hearing for Monday, it’s likely that many women in the electorate have already gotten the message, one that mirrors the message they’ve received from Trump Republicans all along: that the ruling patriarchy does not respect, and indeed feels threatened by, the power of women.

Come November, these dynamics could have serious consequences for the Republicans on the ballot. The gender gap—essentially, the difference in the way men and women vote—has generally plagued the GOP at the national level since 1992, when, in the so-called Year of the Woman, Democrats won back the White House after 12 years in the wilderness. Bill Clinton was buoyed by strong female support, and the gap was even wider when he won reelection in 1996. That year, male voters split more or less evenly between Clinton and his challenger, Bob Dole, but women favored Clinton by 18 percentage points.

The gender split was mostly about policy—that’s why the female majority tended to vote Democratic back then. To name some examples: Women, unlike men, tended to support a more expansive role for the federal government. Women, unlike men, tended to believe more strongly in the importance of a government safety net, and they didn’t like when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich targeted it for budget cuts. They also didn’t like when Republicans called for the abolition of the federal Department of Education.

At the same time, women were becoming more economically and professionally powerful, and Republican leaders “just didn’t get it,” as Jack Pitney, a former party strategist, told me in 1996. The same year, Alex Castellanos, a Republican consultant, told me (in a semi-joking manner): “Things were simpler back when the daddy bears brought home the income, and the mommy bears were the caregivers and interior decorators.” [Continue reading…]

How Putin works to weaken faith in the rule of law and our justice system

Suzanne Spaulding and Harvey Rishikof write:

In the summer of 2016, a Facebook group called “Secure Borders” began fanning the flames of rumors that a young girl had been raped at knifepoint by Syrian refugees in Twin Falls, Idaho. The group accused government officials, including the prosecutor and judge in the case, of conspiring to protect the immigrant community by covering-up the true nature of the crime. Secure Borders attempted to organize a rally, demanding, among other things, that “[a]ll government officials, who are covering up for these criminals, should be fired!” The claims were riddled with falsehoods. There were no Syrian refugees involved, and there was no knife. But because the suspects were minors, privacy laws made it difficult for the court to publish facts that could correct the public narrative.

The “Secure Borders” Facebook group was not the product of outraged Twin Falls residents. It was created by Russian operatives as part of Russia’s ongoing campaign to weaken our institutions of American democracy—in this case, by sowing discord and painting the justice system as an agent of politicians.

As Russia’s desired narrative took hold, images of the judge in the case were shared by a website called “Bare Naked Islam,” stamped with the words “corrupt judge.” Others posted his home address. When the local federal prosecutor issued a public statement warning against the “spread of false information or inflammatory or threatening statements about the perpetrators or the crime itself,” she became the subject of online vitriol, accusing her of attempting to censor the public.

The Defending Democratic Institutions Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has studied how Russia continues its attack on democracy by pushing a narrative weakening faith in the rule of law as administered by the justice system in both the United States and Europe. While policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic have made important strides in confronting election manipulation and related attacks—and, increasingly, understand that information warfare is targeting public attitudes beyond elections—they have not yet come to grips with the threat to the justice system specifically and have not taken adequate steps to protect against it. [Continue reading…]