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:
- When: The summer of 1982. Ford was 15 and Kavanaugh was 17 at that time.
- Where: An unknown home in suburban Maryland, according to Ford.
- Who was there?: Kavanaugh and Judge, according to Ford. (Judge has denied the allegation see more below). Ford also claims three other high school students were in the house at the time — two boys and a girl.
Supporting Ford’s account:
- A therapist’s notes. According to the Washington Post, a therapist’s notes from 2012 and 2013 show Ford at that time described a decades-old attack that matches her allegation against Kavanaugh. The notes include Ford’s description of an attacker from “an elitist” boys school who went on to be a “high-ranking” member of Washington society. (There is at least one discrepancy: the therapist wrote that Ford had spoken of an attack by “four” boys. Ford says that was a mistake by the therapist, and that she described four boys being at the party in general, but only two in the room.)
- Russell Ford. Ford’s husband told the Washington Post that during couples therapy in 2012, his wife used Kavanaugh’s last name when talking about her attacker.
Polygraph. Ford’s attorney supplied the Washington Post with polygraph results from August indicating Ford was telling the truth when summarizing her allegation. Some lawmakers are highly critical of using this as potential evidence, pointing to the flaws of polygraph tests.
- Friend Jim Gensheimer. Ford’s friend told the Los Angeles Times that Ford looked for homes with bedrooms that had two exit points. On July 11, Gensheimer says Ford told him and another friend that she was taking her story to the Post.
- Three other friends: Three of Ford’s friends filed sworn declarations that she had spoken of this incident in the past. Adela Gildo-Mazzon says Ford told her about the assault in 2013; Keith Koelger said she told him about it in 2016 and again earlier this year; and Rebecca White said Ford revealed the story to her in 2017.
People who dispute Ford’s account:
- Mark Judge. Kavanaugh’s former high school friend wrote the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 18., saying: “I have no memory of this alleged incident. Brett Kavanaugh and I were friends in high school but I do not recall the party described in Dr. Ford’s letter. More to the point, I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes.”
- Patrick J. Smyth. Another former schoolmate of Kavanaugh’s wrote to the Judiciary Committee after he was told that Ford had named a “P.J.” as also being at the party. Smyth said he had no knowledge of such a party or of any such improper conduct by Kavanaugh.
- Leland Keyser.Ford told the Washington Post that Keyser was among those at the party. While Keyser said she believes Ford’s allegations, she sent a letter to the Judiciary Committee saying she does not know Kavanaugh, nor recall being at a party with him.
Key stories and documents
- Ford and Kavanaugh each testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Sept. 27. Read a transcript of that hearing here.
- Ford came forward publicly with her claims in this Washington Post article published Sept. 16.
- Previously, articles in the Intercept (Sept. 12) and The New Yorker (Sept. 14) reported some specific allegations, but they did not name Ford.
- In July, Ford sent private letters to Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. She also called a Washington Post tip line at that time, she said.
Other potential witnesses of note:
- Timothy Gaudette: A high school friend of Kavanaugh’s, Gaudette is thought to be the “Timmy” who hosted a July 1, 1982 gathering that’s recorded in Kavanaugh’s calendar. He was also in a group photo tagged as “Renate Alumni” (see above).
- Chris “Squi” Garrett: Garrett was a friend of Kavanaugh’s in high school and his nickname appears on Kavanaugh’s 1982 summer calendar. In addition, Blasey Ford said she “went out” with him for a few months. Garrett’s attorneys confirmed he has spoken with the FBI.
- Bernie McCarthy: A high school classmate listed in Kavanaugh’s calendar as attending the July 1 gathering.
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:
- In a statement released Sept. 23 by the White House, Kavanaugh wrote: “This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen. The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple. I look forward to testifying on Thursday about the truth, and defending my good name—and the reputation for character and integrity I have spent a lifetime building—against these last-minute allegations.”
- Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 27 that he first heard of Ramirez’ allegations after they appeared in the New Yorker on Sept. 23.
Accusation details, according to Ramirez:
- When: The 1983-84 school year, according to Ramirez. At this time, Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale University.
- Where: A suite in Lawrance Hall, a Yale University dormitory, according to Ramirez.
- Who was there? An unknown number of other college students and friends.
People who support Ramirez’s account:
- Unnamed classmate who heard of the alleged incident second-hand: The New Yorker story quotes an unnamed classmate as saying that he remembers a party in that precise location, and heard about the incident either that night or within the next day or two. That classmate said he was “100 percent sure” that he was told at the time that Kavanaugh was the person who had exposed himself.
- Richard Oh: Now a physician, Oh remembers a tearful female student telling a friend about an incident involving a fake penis gag and then a student exposing himself.
- James Roche: Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate at Yale released a statement Sept. 24 saying Kavanaugh was a “notably heavy drinker” at the time and that “he became aggressive and belligerent when he was very drunk.” Roche, who said he became friends with Ramirez in school, wrote that he believes Kavanaugh’s circle of friends was capable of the actions Ramirez describes. “Debbie has a right to be heard and I believe her,” Roche wrote.
- Mark Krasberg. A former Yale classmate, Krasberg told the New Yorker that others who attended Yale along with him and Kavanaugh were texting recently about hearing of the incident in college.
- Ramirez’s mother and sister: Ramirez says she told her mother and sister about an “upsetting incident” at the time, but did not give them specifics.
Evidence connecting Ramirez and Kavanaugh
- 1997 wedding. A photo obtained by NBC News shows Ramirez and Kavanaugh in a group of wedding party members in 1997.
- Recent text messages. Kerry Berchem, a former Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s, told NBC that Kavanaugh and his legal team contacted his former friends about Ramirez’s accusation before Ramirez’s story was public. She pointed to text messages in which another friend, Karen Yarasavage, wrote of such contact. If true, that conflicts with Kavanaugh’s testimony that he learned of Ramirez’s allegations when they became public.
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.
- She saw Kavanaugh drink excessively at parties and “engage in abusive and physically aggressive behavior” toward some girls, including “pressing against girls without their consent” and “attempting to move or shift girls’ clothing to expose private body parts.”
- She further alleged that she “became aware of” efforts by “Kavanaugh, Mark Judge and others” to spike punch to make women more vulnerable, though she later said she never saw Kavanaugh or Judge specifically take such an action, she only saw them near the punch.
- In addition, she said she has a “firm recollection” of seeing Kavanaugh and Judge among boys lined up outside of rooms at parties waiting for what she described as “their turn” with a girl.
- Swetnick testified that she herself was a victim of such a gang rape in approximately 1982, and that Kavanaugh and Judge were present.
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:
- “I drank beer with my friends. Almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers. Sometimes others did. … But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone.
- When asked, “Have you ever passed out from drinking?” Kavanaugh responded, “No, but I’ve gone to sleep, but — but I’ve never blacked out.”
- To the question, “Was there ever a time when you drank so much that you couldn’t remember what happened, or part of what happened the night before?” Kavanaugh answered, “No, I — no. I remember what happened.”
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.
- His attorney released a statement Sept. 24, saying “Judge Kavanaugh was friends with Renate Dolphin in high school. He admired her very much then, and he admires her to this day. Judge Kavanaugh and Ms. Dolphin attended one high school event together and shared a brief kiss good night following that event. They had no other such encounter. The language from Judge Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook refers to the fact that he and Ms. Dolphin attended that one high school event together and nothing else.”
- Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “That yearbook reference was clumsily intended to show affection, and that she was one of us. But in this circus, the media’s interpreted the term is related to sex. It was not related to sex.”
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:
- Renate Schroeder Dolphin:Through an attorney, Dolphin told the New York Times that “I think Brett must have me confused with someone else, because I never kissed him.” Dolphin also insisted she had no knowledge of the references until this year.
- Sean Hagan: The high school classmate of Kavanaugh’s told the New York Times that the phrase was meant to boast of a conquest and that football players were, “very disrespectful, at least verbally, with Renate.” He added, “I can’t express how disgusted I am with them, then and now.”
- Anonymous other classmate: The New York Times cites another classmate who it says wished to remain anonymous as saying, along with Hagan, that the reference was meant to imply supposed conquests.