Brett Kavanaugh’s dilemma over a prep-school tussle with a girl provokes many proverbs, but one that seems most apropos is “what goes around comes around.”
Kavanaugh finds himself this week in the boots that 20 years ago he personally shoehorned onto President Bill Clinton — facing questions under oath about a sexual escapade, an attempted rape in Kavanaugh’s case, that he must not admit to his family, friends or the American people. The capstone of his life and his dream, a seat on the Supreme Court, would be forever out of reach.
You may remember the Clinton incident in 1998, although not Kavanaugh’s role, which came to light in the release of internal documents from the Whitewater independent counsels’ eight-year investigation of the Clintons’ speculative 1977 land deal in Marion County. Desperate to advance his party’s goal of impeaching and removing the hated Democrat, Kavanaugh insisted to his boss Kenneth Starr that Clinton be put under oath and made to deny each tawdry dalliance with Monica Lewinsky of which, unknown to Clinton, they had secret evidence. Kavanaugh knew that Clinton would have to lie because his marriage and romance with the American people would be over. Clinton had already told the country in a televised news conference that he had not had sex with “that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” A sexual dalliance in the White House was disgusting though not illegal, but with Republicans in lockstep control of the House of Representatives they might nail him on obstruction of justice and perjury if Kavanaugh and Starr could force him to lie under oath.
Monday, unless something happens, Kavanaugh will face his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and both will be under oath. If he admits to some drunken frolicking with her, consensual or not, when they were teenagers, his nomination will be dead. If her testimony is compelling and his not so much, his future is sealed.
Kavanaugh’s denial is backed by the other participant in the alleged attack, his high-school drinking buddy Mark Judge. High school friends of Kavanaugh, including two old girlfriends, signed statements that among girls he was a sober, gallant and respectful lad.
The senators who will question Kavanaugh and Ford surely will subpoena Judge, the only person apparently who can affirm or deny that it happened. Judge, a right-wing journalist, published a memoir in 1997 titled “Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk” about life with his buddies at a rich boys’ prep school in Georgetown. One character, obviously a nom de plume, is an often drunken classmate whom he calls “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” who at one point vomits and passes out in a car after leaving a party. Dr. Ford described both Kavanaugh and Judge as deliriously drunk the night of the attack.
Some senator might ask either Kavanaugh or Judge, if he is subpoenaed, if Bart was Brett.
The venue must look pretty safe to Kavanaugh. The woman seems to have no corroborating witnesses and he has a loyal buddy. There will be no proof that it happened and his party will only need to keep a couple of wavering senators in line.
Still, the whole episode reinforces the single reason that Brett Kavanaugh should not be on the Supreme Court: He is an incorrigible partisan, the kind of person the framers thought should not get a lifetime appointment to the court because he would not bring independent judgment but a partisan obligation to great public issues. Otherwise, he has all the current pedigrees for the high court: graduate of a tony prep school, both undergraduate and law degrees from Yale, and a member of the right-wing Federalist Society.
Kavanaugh was an assistant to Starr when he was President George H.W. Bush’s solicitor general, and both lost their jobs with the election of Clinton. When Starr was named the Whitewater prosecutor after the first one exonerated the White House in the suicide of Vince Foster, Kavanaugh joined his team to continue the pursuit of Foster’s White House killers. After three years and millions of dollars he had to acknowledge that the deeply depressed Foster had killed himself with his father’s antique pistol and went back to private practice.
In a famous panel discussion on the future of the independent counsel law, he doubted that presidents should be pursued for criminal acts while they were in office, a notion that he has since repeated and that made him Donald Trump’s first choice for justice. Almost as soon as he had uttered the idea, the Monica Lewinsky story broke and Kavanaugh raced back to Starr’s team to lead the pursuit of Clinton. It meant forcing the president to do something illegal, like tell a lie under oath, and he did.
Of course, as his supporters point out, he changed his mind just as Starr was about to present his recommendations in a confidential report to Congress. He worried that making all the lurid sex details available to Republican senators, who would leak them, would cause a political backlash against Starr and his team, which it did.
Politics, not the law, is his lodestar. So it will always be with Brett Kavanaugh.