U.S. Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s turbulent Supreme Court nomination process went into a further tailspin Wednesday — a day before his scheduled Senate testimony — as a third woman accusing him of sexual impropriety came forward, alleging the embattled nominee and his friends spiked drinks at house parties in the 1980s so girls could “lose their inhibitions.”
Graphic accusations laid out in a statement from his latest accuser, Julie Swetnick, will cast another cloud of doubt over what was once seen as a sure-thing confirmation process for Kavanaugh. Legal experts say it also gives Democrats on the panel more ammunition to establish an alleged pattern of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh.
That Swetnick’s allegations exist in the same time frame as another accuser’s — Kavanaugh’s high school years — will be especially compelling for Democratic senators, legal scholars say.
Kavanaugh’s hearing Thursday will come on the same day that the panel will listen to separate testimony from the first of three accusers: Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychologist and university professor who says Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were teens.
The latest accusations from Swetnick, a Washington resident, add uncertainty to whether a nomination vote scheduled for Friday by the Senate judiciary committee will proceed — or if Swetnick’s declaration will give Republican swing voters pause.
“It’s obviously troubling to people what this third accuser has said. But I think the dynamic is one where Republicans want to push on through and have the vote,” said Carl Tobias, an expert on judicial nominations and a law professor at the University of Richmond.
“I don’t know if that’s going to be satisfactory for the American people … and perhaps others who might say, ‘We want to know more, and if we don’t know more, we’ll vote: No.'”
Considering the swing voters
If Kavanaugh’s nomination is approved by the judiciary committee, it would next be brought to the U.S. Senate, where Republicans hold a scant 51-49 majority.
The two Republican senators who’ve emerged as potential swing voters, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, might be convinced that a Friday vote, mere hours after Thursday’s hearing, would be too soon, Tobias said.
He noted that committee chair Chuck Grassley scheduled the vote to satisfy panel rules, but that “he left an escape hatch” to delay the vote if there were lingering uncertainties about Kavanaugh.
“[Kavanaugh’s] situation is not as good as it was yesterday, just because each new increment adds to what came before,” Tobias said. “These accusations are, in some ways, maybe even stronger than the others because it sounds like a pattern.”
Swetnick is a client of Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who was paid hush money in exchange for silence about an alleged affair with Donald Trump in 2006.
In her sworn court declaration, Swetnick writes that she “became aware of efforts” by Kavanaugh and his Georgetown Preparatory classmate Mark Judge “to ‘spike’ the ‘punch’ at house parties … with drugs and/or grain alcohol so as to cause girls to lose their inhibitions and their ability to say ‘No.'”
Swetnick, who says she was a victim of a “train” rape at one such party in 1982, does not say Kavanaugh assaulted her, but she alleges the future Supreme Court nominee attended the party where her rape occurred.
“I also witnessed efforts by Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh and others to cause girls to become inebriated and disoriented so they could then be ‘gang raped’ in a side room or bedroom by a ‘train’ of numerous boys,” she says in her declaration.
Kavanaugh dismissed Swetnick’s accusations as coming “from the twilight zone.” He has denied the allegations of his other accusers, Ford and Deborah Ramirez, as part of a “grotesque and obvious character assassination.”
The process unfolding on Thursday is expected to focus on accusations by Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980s during a high school house party in suburban Maryland.
But Stacy Hawkins, who teaches constitutional law at Rutgers University, expects the Swetnick accusations, as well as those from Ramirez, one of his former Yale classmates, to “exist in the background” as strands that Democrats will tug at.
“Unlike Ms. Ramirez’s allegations, which as I understand are related to Kavanaugh’s time at Yale, both Dr. Blasey Ford and this new, latest victim have allegations relating to high school,” she said. “So I could imagine, for instance, a Democratic senator on the judiciary committee asking Dr. Blasey Ford whether she’s familiar with this woman [Swetnick], or the allegations she’s making, because they relate to the same historic period of Brett Kavanaugh’s life and there may be overlap in terms of the common players.”
Judge appears in both Swetnick’s and Ford’s accounts.
“If there is a similar pattern of conduct, that could be relevant in terms of whether the allegations in this particular case are credible,” Hawkins said.
Republicans on the judiciary committee, aware of the optics all-white-male panel interrogating Ford, have tapped Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona sex crimes prosecutor, to ask questions on their behalf.
“That will be an interesting dynamic that doesn’t preclude any of the 11 Republicans on the committee from interjecting their own questions,” Hawkins said.
Ford to testify 1st
Ford has said she can’t recall all the details of her alleged assault by Kavanaugh, such as the exact time or location. But she alleges that a drunken, 17-year-old Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed with his body, groped her and tried to remove her clothes while attempting to muffle her cries for help. She said she was 15 at the time.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford told The Washington Post.
The now-51-year-old research psychologist also alleges that Kavanaugh’s friend, Judge, watched the assault and that she managed to escape when Judge jumped on them, causing them all to fall to the floor.
Reporting from the New Yorker magazine described a second allegation of sexual misconduct from Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s. The 53-year-old says she and Kavanaugh were both freshmen at a Yale dorm mixer when he thrust his penis at her face, causing her to touch his genitals as she pushed it away.
“I would think an FBI investigation would be warranted,” she told The New Yorker of the incident.
Ramirez conceded she was drinking at the time and her memory contains some gaps. Fragmented memories are common among survivors of rape and trauma.
Taking an extraordinary step for a Supreme Court nominee before his confirmation vote, Kavanaugh sat down for an on-air interview with Fox News on Monday. Without prompting, he volunteered that he was a virgin at the time of Ford’s claims and “for many years thereafter.”
His admission that he “did not have sexual intercourse” during high school, however, doesn’t exculpate him from the key accusation of attempted sexual assault.
“I was focused on trying to be No. 1 in my class, being captain of the varsity basketball team and doing my service projects, going to church,” the 53-year-old justice said in the interview.
As part of his defence, Kavanaugh’s lawyers plan to present calendars from when he was 17, which bear no mention of the party that Ford mentions.
Several of Kavanaugh’s former Yale classmates took umbrage with the Supreme Court nominee’s “choir boy” image. Liz Swisher, who said she was a college friend, told the Washington Post that Kavanaugh was a “sloppy drunk,” and others recalled he could become aggressive when inebriated.
In a statement Wednesday, Kavanaugh conceded that he had the occasional drink on weekends and at times consumed too much, but denied ever sexually assaulting anyone.
Ford, who is expected to testify before Kavanaugh on Thursday, said she first raised the incident long before Kavanaugh’s nomination, during couples therapy with her husband in 2012. The therapist’s notes reportedly don’t name Kavanaugh specifically, but outline that she said she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” and mention they later became “high-ranking members of society in Washington.”
Ford passed a polygraph test last month and has demanded an FBI investigation, which was not granted before her hearing on Thursday.
Ford’s husband told The Washington Post his wife once expressed anxieties that Kavanaugh might someday be nominated to the Supreme Court.