When Christine Blasey Ford publicly alleged that the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school, the White House immediately rejected calls for an FBI investigation. It refused to treat Ford’s claim as a “vetting” issue and instead committed to a fully political defense of the nomination.
This was a fateful mistake, which the Republican leadership seems poised to repeat now that more allegations against Kavanaugh have surfaced. Senator Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has indicated that he will examine the new questions in the same fashion as the old, with an offer of closed-door interviews or a public hearing.
How can the White House counsel’s office prepare Kavanaugh for a defense without an independent examination of the facts? The White House has not reviewed in detail what Ford has to say, instead relying on the letter Ford wrote to Senator Dianne Feinstein and the short statements from the other witnesses she has identified. In the case of the new accuser, Deborah Ramirez, all anyone has for now is reporting in The New Yorker and other publications.
If and when a Senate hearing actually takes place, it will be far less informative than it might have been. Granted, it will provide an opportunity for Kavanaugh, Ford, and perhaps other accusers to present their position publicly and allow senators to weigh their conflicting accounts. But a Senate hearing is not a forum for rigorous fact-finding. Lawmakers are not uniformly suited to the role of professional interrogators and, in the absence of an independent, baseline investigative record, they will stage what may turn out to be mostly a spectacle for television.