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It is messy, tentacled, and increasingly confusing. Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has become ensnared by a he-said-they-said debate over sexual misconduct allegations.
Here’s what we know.
Editor’s note: This is a developing story and will be updated.
The underlying conflict: Three women have accused Kavanaugh of sexual crimes while he was in high school and college.. He has categorically denied their allegations.
Where it gets complicated: The resulting debate about who is telling the truth has been more nuanced and difficult to unpack, with no irrefutable evidence on either side and a backdrop of #MeToo-era awareness of sexual assault and harassment. In addition, Kavanaugh’s opponents have raised a separate concern: that he lied about his drinking habits and other elements of his past at a congressional hearing Sept. 23.
THE SPECIFIC ACCUSATIONS
Each accusation has elements of corroboration and contradiction. Here is a look at the allegations — from Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, along with the general allegations of Kavanaugh lying to Congress — in greater detail. (Click on each to jump ahead to that section). .
Accusation: Ford alleges that Kavanaugh and a friend of his named Mark Judge corralled her in a bedroom at a party when all three were in high school, locked the door, and turned up the music so she would not be heard by other friends in the house. Then, she says, a drunken Kavanaugh pushed her onto a bed, put his hand over her mouth, groped her, grinded against her and started pulling at her clothing. Ford says he was interrupted when Judge jumped on them both, at which point she was able to escape from the room.
To the first, general, allegation: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.” (Sept. 14)
To Ford’s specific account: “This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday. I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.” (Sept. 17)
Interview with FOX News: Kavanaugh repeated his unequivocal denial in a FOX interview. As part of his argument, Kavanaugh stated that he was a virgin throughout high school and many years after. (Sept. 24)
Accusation details, according to Ford:
Supporting Ford’s account:
People who dispute Ford’s account:
Key stories and documents
Other potential witnesses of note:
Accusation: In a Sept. 23 New Yorker article, Ramirez alleged that Kavanaugh exposed his penis to her, close to her face, in front of onlookers at a dormitory party while they were both in college in the early 1980s. (The alleged act is a Class B misdemeanor under Connecticut state law). When she moved to push Kavanaugh away, Ramirez says, she touched his penis unintentionally. In the New Yorker story, Ramirez makes some careful distinctions, saying she remembers “a penis being in front of [her] face,” that Kavanaugh was next to her, and that he pulled up his pants. She acknowledged she was heavily drunk at the time and admits to having gaps in her memory.
Kavanaugh’s responses to Ramirez:
Accusation details, according to Ramirez:
People who support Ramirez’s account:
Evidence connecting Ramirez and Kavanaugh
People who dispute Ramirez’s account:
Male classmate 1: Ramirez gave the New Yorker the names of three men who she says were at the party and involved in the incident. (The outlet did not publish their names.) The first of those is a man Ramirez says was egging on Kavanaugh. That man denied any memory of the party to the New Yorker.
Male classmate 2: A second classmate who Ramirez said was involved in the incident told the New Yorker, “I have zero recollection [of that happening].”
Wife of male classmate 3 and other named classmates: The New Yorker story initially included a joint statement from six Yale classmates of Kavanaugh’s: the two male classmates who are mentioned above, the wife of the third, unnamed male classmate who Ramirez says told her to “kiss” the penis, and three other former Yale students who knew Kavanaugh: Dino Ewing, Louisa Garry, and Dan Murphy. It reads:
“We were the people closest to Brett Kavanaugh during his first year at Yale. He was a roommate to some of us, and we spent a great deal of time with him, including in the dorm where this incident allegedly took place. Some of us were also friends with Debbie Ramirez during and after her time at Yale. We can say with confidence that if the incident Debbie alleges ever occurred, we would have seen or heard about it—and we did not. The behavior she describes would be completely out of character for Brett. In addition, some of us knew Debbie long after Yale, and she never described this incident until Brett’s Supreme Court nomination was pending.”
Ramirez responded to the statement saying she was disappointed and clearly remembers some of the people who signed it as being in the room.
After the story published, two of the people who signed the statement — Louisa Garry and Dino Ewing — asked for their names to be taken off of it, saying they could not directly dispute Ramirez’s account.
No eyewitnesses. The New Yorker reported that it had not located any eyewitnesses to the incident. The New York Times wrote that its reporters spent several days interviewing potential witnesses but “could find no one with firsthand knowledge” of Ramirez’s allegation.
Accusation: In a sworn statement signed Sept. 25 and in an interview airing on NBC on Oct. 1, Swetnick charged that during the years 1981 to 1983:
Kavanaugh’s responses to Swetnick claim:
“This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone. I don’t know who this is and this never happened.” (Sept. 26 statement.)
“The Swetnick thing is a joke. This is a farce.” (Sept. 27, in the hearing with Ford.)
Are there corroborating witnesses for Swetnick?
Four unnamed people: Swetnick named four people to NBC who she says went to these parties with her. NBC did not reveal their names but reported that one of those people said they had no such memory. Another person has since passed away and two others did not respond to NBC.
Montgomery County Police: NBC reported that the officer she named as taking the report has since died.
Swetnick’s mother: Swetnick said she told her mother at the time. But her mother has also since passed away.
Supporting Swetnick’s account:
Elizabeth Rasor: Mark Judge’s ex-girlfriend told the New Yorker she recalled Judge telling her of an incident in which he and friends of his took turns having sex with a drunk woman. Rasor said she does not remember Judge saying if Kavanaugh was present.
Disputing Swetnick’s account:
Dennis Ketterer: A former boyfriend of Swetnick’s in the 1990s and, later, a Democratic candidate for Congress, Ketterer wrote the Senate Judiciary Committee to say that Swetnick once told him she liked to have sex with multiple men at once and that she had first tried it during high school. Ketterer stated he does not believe her accusation against Kavanaugh.
More than 60 Kavanaugh classmates and high school friends: Dozens of people who say they knew Kavanaugh in high school released a signed letter Sept. 26 about the Swetnick allegations, saying: “We never witnessed any behavior that even approaches what is described in this allegation. It is reprehensible.”
Unnamed high school friend (See above.) This person told NBC that they do not remember what Swetnick describes, despite Swetnick listing them as someone present at the parties she remembers.
Kavanaugh’s account: He consistently told the Senate Judiciary Committee he never drank to the point of blacking out or forgetting his actions. Some of his quotes:
Supporting Kavanaugh’s account of his drinking:
Chris Dudley: The longtime friend and Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s told the Washington Post: “I went out with him all the time. He never blacked out. Never even close to blacked out. There was drinking, and there was alcohol. Brett drank, and I drank. Did he get inebriated sometimes? Yes. Did I? Yes. Just like every other college kid in America.”
Tom Kane: A high school friend of Kavanaugh’s. Kane said Kavanaugh “was not a stumbling drunk. He was never all that interested in getting wasted.”
Disputing Kavanaugh’s account of his drinking:
Chad Ludington: Yale classmate and teammate of Kavanaugh’s. He issued a statement Sept. 30, charging that Kavanaugh’s testimony was a “blatant mischaracterization”. Ludington wrote, “On many occasions I heard Brett slur his words and saw him staggering from alcohol consumption, not all of which was beer. When Brett got drunk, he was often belligerent and aggressive.” He continued: “I can unequivocally say that in denying the possibility that he ever blacked out from drinking, and in downplaying the degree and frequency of his drinking, Brett has not told the truth.”
Lynne Brookes: a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s and former roommate to Debbie Ramirez. Brookes told the New York Times that Kavanaugh “grossly misrepresented and mischaracterized his drinking” and “I know because I frequently drank to excess with him.”
Daniel Lavan: Yale classmate who lived in Kavanaugh’s freshman dorm. Lavan recounted to the New York Times: “I definitely saw him on multiple occasions stumbling drunk where he could not have rational control over his actions or clear recollection of them … His depiction of himself is inaccurate.”
Liz Swisher: Yale classmate and former roommate of Debbie Ramirez: “I drank a lot. Brett drank more,” Swisher told the Washington Post, adding that “he’d end up slurring his words, stumbling.”
Background: Kavanaugh and 12 other boys in his high school class wrote the phrase “Renate Alumnius” or “Alumni” on their yearbook pages, a reference to Renate Schroeder, a female high school student in their social circle. Her married name is Renate Dolphin.
Supporting Kavanaugh’s account
Four friends. The New York Times printed a joint statement from former classmates DeLancey Davis, Tom Kane, Tim Gaudette and Don Urgo, Jr., who are in a group photo with the phrase “Renate alumni” underneath. They wrote that the references “were intended to allude to innocent dates or dance partners and were generally known within the community of people involved for over 35 years. These comments were never controversial and did not impact ongoing relationships until The Times twisted and forced an untrue narrative..”
Disputing Kavanaugh’s account:
Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
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