Who believes what depends on what you believe in our divided nation. Political war wrapped in misogyny leads to one of history’s most explosive Senate confirmations
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us.
The crack in the chasm that divides America’s political and social beliefs were exposed in 1991, when Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court. The depth of that chasm erupted when Dr. Blasey Ford testified that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her 36 years ago. Her testimony was moving, powerful, and hard to refute. His testimony was angry, at times a tearful denial, whose spear was a political attack on the motivations of the Democrats he said were trying to destroy him, his reputation, and his family.
What gets lost at times in all this is the pivotal role the Supreme Court plays in how America defines itself in almost every political, social, and cultural context. Many thought Kavanaugh’s nomination was toast after Ford’s powerful testimony. But the anger of Judge Kavanaugh buoyed and his supporters on the committee and throughout America. They just took the vote this afternoon that sent Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor, and even that process was filled with conflict.
We’re joined once again by Lisa Graves, who is a senior fellow and former executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, until she became president of True North Research, and codirector of DocumentedInvestigations.org. I should say, Lisa, welcome, good to have you back.
LISA GRAVES: Thank you so much for having me.
MARC STEINER: So this has been a pretty stunning moment. I know I remember in 1991 covering and watching what happened when Anita Hill made her testimony, and how people dismissed her. And it was, it was a horrible thing to watch, what she went through. But now we have this. And it’s not so much redux as what I was saying earlier in the opening, as kind of really showing the chasm that we have in America over what we believe and how we believe it, what we see and don’t see, and how we interpret what we actually see.
LISA GRAVES: Well, I think that one of the things that should be, should be known to people is that, in fact, Dr. Ford has been treated far worse than Anita Hill was.
MARC STEINER: What do you mean by that?
LISA GRAVES: And what I mean by that is that when when Prof. Hill came forward she was permitted to have witnesses testify along with her to testify about the things that she told them, character witnesses for her, other people who who could talk about what they had heard. And so at that reopening of the hearing for Clarence Thomas, there were, I think, in total between his witnesses or her witnesses nearly 20 people who testified. And that testimony came on the heels of having the FBI go back out and interview witnesses. Now, not all the witnesses that might have been relevant then were allowed to testify. But a substantial number were. And it was treated as completely an uncontroversial matter to go back to the FBI and have them do the interviews that would help inform the Senate. The interviews are conducted on an impartial basis by freshly trained investigators who don’t have time constraints in, you know, not, like, five minute increments for questions, that sort of thing. They’re allowed to speak to witnesses and gather that information.
For Dr. Ford, Sen. Grassley refused the request by Democratic members of the Senate to go back to the FBI, as is the normal course of things in nominations, to do a supplemental background investigation. It happens all the time. It’s happened before in this year with other nominees. Has always been the norm, going back to at least the 1960s, for requests for the FBI supplemental to be relayed by the chairman and ranking member, and for the FBI to do that as a matter of course. Here with Dr. Ford there was a refusal to follow that process, and a refusal to allow other witnesses to testify, other witnesses that Dr. Ford asked to be heard, and other witnesses who have come forward to say that they, too, were mistreated by Brett Kavanaugh.
And so you had a setup yesterday that was much more like she said-he said, because it was structured to be precisely that. And there were no other witnesses, including one of the most relevant witnesses who have testified, Mark Judge. And so I think in that way, Dr. Ford was certainly treated worse than Anita Hill, as bad as that hearing was in terms of how Sen. Hatch and others went after Anita Hill back in 1991. That didn’t happen this time because the Republicans hid behind a prosecutor they hired only to question Dr. Ford, and barely to question Brett Kavanaugh. And so, you know, that’s why I think that she was treated worse.
Now, this morning we have new developments about that FBI investigation proceeding. And I think that’s a good thing for the Senate and for the country.
MARC STEINER: I want to come to that in a moment, about what could happen going forward. But it seems to me one of the things that Democrats in this process are being accused of by Republicans are interfering with the process and just trying to stymie this and end this nomination to the Supreme Court. But taking a step backwards over the last several years, the combination of McConnell and Grassley stopping Obama’s appointment at the end of his term, and the way some of this stuff has actually been railroaded through, it’s almost as if there’s nothing anybody can do about it. It just gets pushed forward. And pushed in any way that the leadership of the Senate seems to want to push it. And there’s Democratic pushback, but there’s very little it seems people can do to to stop McConnell or Grassley, McConnell really at this moment behind the scenes is pushing really hard to get this thing done quickly, though more may happen when it gets to the floor.
So this, what I’ve talking about earlier was this is a, this is a very serious political battle going on. And it’s about what happened with Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh, but it’s even deeper than that.
LISA GRAVES: Well, you know, one of the things that people should remember if they haven’t heard is that Sen. McConnell, who’s the majority leader for the Senate, he’s a Republican elected from Kentucky, has said that his proudest moment in his entire tenure in the United States Senate was blocking Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, blocking him from ever even getting a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, let alone a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, let alone a vote on the floor. He has called out that act of obstruction that left a vacancy on the Supreme Court for more than 400 days the high point of his entire Senate career.
And so, you know, this is an extremely, extremely partisan leader of the Senate; someone who then, when he has the chance now to install someone like Brett Kavanaugh, who is extremely controversial even apart from these very serious charges against him, and the evidence that has been made against him is extremely controversial, and even McConnell has been determined to rush him through as quickly as possible. Even promising outside special interest groups that he would deliver Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. One of those groups he spoke to her a week ago was is the Family Research Council Action. FRC Action is the group that was created, basically part of the evangelical movement, but it’s not just that. It’s a group that has received substantial funds through the Koch’s Freedom Partners operation to pass through LLCs that have names like ORRA LLC, An [Evange] for Change LLC, in order to basically distort the elections in this country.
So there are some substantial things going on behind the scenes where McConnell is more than happy to delay for any amount of time a Democratic nominee to the Supreme Court, but will not brook even minimal delay to get the truth- in fact wants to stop any real effort to get the truth- about Kavanaugh in the record. He wants to put him on the court before that truth and more truth can come out. Today it appears that he’s been stymied in that, because it doesn’t look like he has the votes to ram Kavanaugh through the Supreme Court without allowing an FBI investigation for at least a week to look into the charges against Brett Kavanaugh, that he would not necessarily have the votes to proceed. But we’ll see over the next couple days what happens.
But McConnell is a person who basically is using raw power, naked partisan power, to try to distort the U.S. Supreme Court, make it into a vehicle for his funders, his donors, his base, and in fact really twist the court for the next 20 or 30 years, were Kavanaugh confirmed, to [inaudible] what he wants.
MARC STEINER: I’m sorry.
LISA GRAVES: Yes, no problem. You know, I was on a roll there, but that’s okay. I appreciate the intervention.
MARC STEINER: So there are two things I want to kind of wrestle with here, before we, before we go. I want to first play this quick clip. And this is a clip of the end of today’s hearings as the vote was about to be taken. And you’ll hear what Senator Flake had to say, and we’re going to come back and talk a bit about what a weeklong FBI investigation could do, but then also examine what’s really at stake here with the Supreme Court that I was alluding to at the beginning of this, and what Lisa was just talking about, as well. But let’s check this out, first.
JEFF FLAKE: … for up to but not more than one week, in order to let the FBI continue to do an investigation limited in time and scope to the current allegations that are there, and limit in time to no more than one week. And I will vote to advance the bill to the floor with that understanding. And I’ve spoken to a few other members who are on my side of the aisle that may be supportive as well. But that’s my position.
MARC STEINER: So, Lisa, I mean, you know- I, over the course of my life I’ve, I’ve had interactions the FBI, given the work that sometimes I’ve done over the years. So I’m just curious, from your perspective, what can they accomplish in a week?
LISA GRAVES: Well, of course I’d prefer they had as much time as they needed and not an artificial limit. But in fact they can seek to interview Mark Judge, they can try to determine the location of the assault that Dr. Ford has described, they can validate her statements about knowing Mark Judge and where he worked, and things of that nature. And I think that they can also interview other students about- other students from that time, other alumni from that time about Brett Kavanaugh’s claims regarding his sort of choir boy behavior that summer, which he sort of put forward as, in essence, an alibi that he couldn’t, couldn’t do this; that, you know, his calendar, so to speak.
And so I think there’s there are things the FBI could do. I don’t know that it would be conclusive, but it would certainly be more thorough than what Sen. Grassley has allowed, which is basically extreme partisan action by his counsel and a refusal to even have witnesses be asked questions by federal law enforcement as part of a supplemental background investigation. To take Mark Judge’s letter at face without any examination, you know, it’s really an unacceptable way to proceed when the matters are so serious and when, when in essence we’re being faced with the choice, or in essence, the effort to install someone into the U.S. Supreme Court where there is credible evidence, eyewitness testimony has been given, that he sexually assaulted a young woman.
MARC STEINER: To me it’s kind of stunning that the way we can look at this same, the same event, and see it very differently. And you, when we saw the testimony of Dr. Ford, but then saw the testimony later of Judge Kavanaugh, and it just … It was clear that people are going to see what they want to see in this. And I think some of the deeper issues here, besides the misogyny that runs very deep in all of this is that you can speak to, is also what’s at stake here for the future of the court and the future of the country.
LISA GRAVES: Well, I think that’s right. I also think it’s important to understand motives. As I’ve said, Dr. Ford has everything to lose by coming forward and telling the truth. She’s lost her privacy. She might not even be able to return to her house and live peacefully. Who knows about her security in her teaching role. Brett Kavanaugh has everything to gain by lying, by obstructing, and by yelling about what has been charged against him. In fact, there’s an old saying by trial lawyers that if you don’t have the facts, argue the law; if you don’t have the law, argue the facts; and if the facts and law are against you, yell like hell and pound the table. And that’s what we saw yesterday. I don’t think that’s convincing. It’s certainly convincing, I suppose, to some people. But it’s not evidence.
MARC STEINER: It’s always really enlightening to talk to you, Lisa. I appreciate you taking the time with us once again, and look forward as this unfolds over the next whatever that’s going to be, week, two weeks, in the U.S. Senate and how that plays out to hear your analysis and reflections. Thank you so much for joining us.
LISA GRAVES: Thank you for having me on. It’s a pleasure to be on your show.
MARC STEINER: Always good to have you with us. And I’m Marc Steiner for The Real News Network. We’ll be focusing like a laser beam on this nomination process and what happens. We have more to come. Thank you all for joining us again, once again, at The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Take care.