All eyes were on the Senate Judiciary Committee as it heard from Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. She says, and he denies, that he sexually assaulted her when they were in high school. Everyone agreed on that, but little else.
Republicans approached this meeting narrowly, as a continuation of the hearing on Kavanaugh’s nomination, focusing on the particulars of Ford’s accusation. Their objective was to minimize the impact of this episode on Kavanaugh’s confirmation prospects. To that end, they gave their time to question Ford to Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona prosecutor with experience in sexual assault cases.
Democrats approached this meeting broadly, as a hearing on “the scourge of sexual violence in this country.” Their objective was to advance that agenda and, if possible, to damage Kavanaugh’s confirmation prospects. To that end, they asked few questions of Ford, but spoke of such things as “the darkness of this culture” and the bravery of victims who come forward.
The Republicans’ approach was the right one. Any Senate or House committee can hold a hearing on an issue anytime. The temptation is surely great to use events like this for political gain, but this hearing is part of a confirmation process and occurred solely because Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
This difference in focus or emphasis explains the disputes over process. Senators, for example, disagreed about whether there should have been a separate FBI investigation. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, repeatedly emphasized that the FBI’s role in the confirmation process is to gather information, not to assess the credibility or determine the truth of allegations. That, Grassley said, is the job of Judiciary Committee investigators. They had, for example, requested to Ford and offered to do so anywhere, at any time, suitable for her. While Ford said she would have cooperated in such an interview, she appeared unaware that such an offer had been made.
Consistent with framing this meeting more broadly, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., acknowledged that it was not a criminal trial. But in order to criticize the lack of an independent FBI investigation, she cited a manual used by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit. Harris really can’t have it both ways.
In his opening statement, Kavanaugh made plain the impact of what he called a “calculated and orchestrated political hit.” He was right to call it that.
At the end of the day, this hearing did not change what those following this episode in the Kavanaugh nomination already knew. Ford has made an accusation with very little corroboration — one that Kavanaugh unequivocally denies. If any senators are truly undecided at this point, this hearing is unlikely to tip the balance.
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner