The faded references to heavy drinking and sexual pursuits had taken on evidentiary significance, and he was pressed by senators to acknowledge their meaning. Judge Kavanaugh instead offered benign alternative explanations — an apparent reference to throwing up from drinking could have referred to spicy foods upsetting his stomach, he said.
So it went for hours, as Judge Kavanaugh mounted an emotional defense against allegations of sexual misconduct and excessive drinking. It was the second time he had testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the first being earlier in September when he was asked mostly about his legal career.
The New York Times fact-checked his testimony, comparing his statements against the recollections of former classmates and acquaintances from his youth, as well as records from his time working in the administration of George W. Bush.
The combative nominee was compelled to answer questions he clearly found embarrassing or offensive. What emerges is the image of a skilled lawyer who, when pressed on difficult subjects, sometimes crafted responses that were misleading, disputed or off point. When asked about his alcohol consumption in high school, he said his classmates were “legal to drink” in their senior year, even though the legality of the drinking was not the issue (and, in fact, he could not legally drink because the age was raised to 21 before he even turned 18).
It was a performance that evolved with the increasingly fraught tenor of the proceedings. At his first hearing, Judge Kavanaugh, a Yale Law School graduate, fielded questions on policy and political work in the bland, studiously noncontroversial tradition of nominees to the high court. Still, even then some answers raised flags, as when he claimed not to know or suspect that internal Democratic documents about judicial nominations, shared with him when he worked in the Bush administration, had been stolen from Democrats’ computers.
But Thursday’s hearing sharpened the focus on a nominee in a way not seen since the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings of 1991. As in that earlier case, seemingly small details suddenly loomed large in importance.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, reminded Judge Kavanaugh that juries were routinely instructed that they can “disbelieve a witness if they find them to be false in one thing.”
“So the core of why we’re here today really is credibility,” he said.
The Alleged Attendees
Judge Kavanaugh repeatedly testified that three people had exonerated him of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that he sexually assaulted her during a gathering of teenagers outside Washington in the summer of 1982. “Dr. Ford’s allegation is not merely uncorroborated, it is refuted by the very people she says were there, including by a longtime friend of hers,” he said on Thursday, punctuating his statement with an extra “refuted.”
This is misleading.
While it is true that the three people did not corroborate Dr. Blasey’s account, they did not “refute” it either. Dr. Blasey had said that two of them were in the house, and one of them was in the room at the time of the alleged assault.
All three said they did not recall the gathering, and two of them — friends of Judge Kavanaugh’s — said they had not, in general, seen him act in an aggressive manner.
Leland Keyser, a longtime friend of Dr. Blasey’s, submitted a short statement through her lawyer saying that she did not know Judge Kavanaugh and had “no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present, with, or without, Dr. Ford.”
Aside from her lack of recollections, Ms. Keyser separately told The Washington Post that she believed Dr. Blasey’s account, the newspaper reported.
During the hearing, Dr. Blasey said she did not expect that Ms. Keyser would remember the gathering because it was “a very unremarkable party” for her. She also noted that Ms. Keyser “has significant health challenges,” adding that “she let me know that she needed her lawyer to take care of this for her, and she texted me right afterward with an apology and good wishes.”
Dr. Blasey recalled Patrick Smyth, known as “P.J.,” as attending the gathering. But through his lawyer, Mr. Smyth issued a statement that he had “no knowledge” of the party or the allegations. Dr. Blasey testified that, like, Ms. Keyser, it was not surprising that Mr. Smyth would not have memories of the gathering.
Mark Judge was “a different story,” Dr. Blasey said. “I would expect that he would remember this happened.” Dr. Blasey accused Mr. Judge, a close friend and classmate of Judge Kavanaugh’s at Georgetown Preparatory School, of being in the room during the alleged assault and jumping onto the bed.
In his statement to the committee, Mr. Judge, through his lawyer, wrote that he had “no memory of this alleged incident” and that he did “not recall the party described.”
Judge Kavanaugh portrayed himself in his testimony as enjoying a beer or two as a high school and college student, but not as someone who often drank to excess during those years. “I drank beer with my friends,” he said. “Almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers. Sometimes others did. I liked beer. I still like beer. But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out,” he said.
This is disputed.
His statements are at odds with how some of his classmates remembered him. In interviews before his testimony, nearly a dozen college classmates of Judge Kavanaugh’s said they recalled him indulging in heavy drinking, some saying it went beyond normal consumption. (To be sure, a smaller number of classmates said his drinking was unexceptional.)
Reached after the hearing, Lynne Brookes, an undergraduate classmate of Judge Kavanaugh’s at Yale University, said she believed he had “grossly misrepresented and mischaracterized his drinking.”
“He frequently drank to excess,” she said. “I know because I frequently drank to excess with him.”
Ms. Brookes was roommates with Deborah Ramirez, who told The New Yorker that Judge Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drinking game while they were students.
Like Judge Kavanaugh, Ms. Brookes, a Republican, was an athlete who went to a prestigious graduate school after Yale. She disputed the implication in his testimony that he could not have overindulged because he was too busy studying and competing in athletics. “It is completely possible to do both,” she said.
Another Yale classmate, Elizabeth Swisher, now a Seattle physician, said: “I drank a lot. Brett drank more.”
“I definitely saw him on multiple occasions stumbling drunk where he could not have rational control over his actions or clear recollection of them,” said Daniel Lavan, who lived in Mr. Kavanaugh’s dorm freshman year. “His depiction of himself is inaccurate.”
Judge Kavanaugh disputed such accounts, saying they did not point to specific instances. But his own recollections have offered clues about his drinking. His high school yearbook, for example, refers to him as the treasurer of the Keg City Club, noting “100 Kegs or Bust.” Multiple high school classmates, in interviews, described Judge Kavanaugh as a heavy and frequent drinker.
As an undergrad, he was affiliated with two organizations known for hard partying, including the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon.
He also recounted his own drinking exploits in speeches. In a 2014 address to Yale Law students, he recalled a night of “group chugs” in Boston that ended with his group “falling out of the bus onto the front steps of Yale Law School at about 4:45 a.m.”
A Display of Affection
A substantial portion of Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony was devoted to discussing his 1983 senior yearbook. In one entry, he described himself as a “Renate Alumnius,” referring to Renate Schroeder, now Renate Dolphin, who attended a nearby Catholic school. A number of his football teammates had similar entries. Judge Kavanagh said: “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.”
This is disputed.
Four of Judge Kavanaugh’s former schoolmates, including Sean Hagan, said the notion that the phrase was meant affectionately did not ring true. They said that Judge Kavanaugh and his friends often made disrespectful sexual comments about Ms. Dolphin, and that the understanding at the time was that the many yearbook references to her were boasts about sexual conquests.
On Monday, Judge Kavanaugh’s lawyer told The Times that the “Renate Alumnius” note referred to a school event that he and Ms. Dolphin attended, after which they “shared a brief kiss good night.” Ms. Dolphin responded that they had never kissed.
On Thursday, Judge Kavanaugh steered away from the idea that the yearbook reference had any sexual connotations. “We never had any sexual interaction,” he said.
After his testimony ended, Mr. Hagan wrote on Facebook: “So angry. So disgusted. So sad. Integrity? Character? Honesty?”
Judge Kavanaugh’s yearbook page included the entries “Judge — Have You Boofed Yet?” and “Devil’s Triangle.” On Thursday, he said that “boofed” meant “flatulence” and that “Devil’s Triangle” was a drinking game in which three glasses were arranged in a triangle.
This is disputed.
“Boofed” in the 1980s was a term that often referred to anal sex, and that is how Judge Kavanaugh’s classmates said they interpreted his comment. They said they had never heard it used to refer to flatulence.
Similarly, they said that they had never heard of a drinking game called Devil’s Triangle, but that the phrase was regularly used to describe sex between two men and a woman. “The explanation of Devil’s Triangle does not hold water for me,” said William Fishburne, who managed the football team during Judge Kavanaugh’s senior year.
“Our senior yearbook pages were a place to have a little bit of fun with commemorating inside jokes,” said Bill Barbot, who overlapped with Judge Kavanaugh at Georgetown Prep, an all-boys Catholic school. “However, the spin that Brett was putting on it was a complete overstatement of the innocence with which they were intended.”
His Social Circle
Asked about the intersection of his and Ms. Blasey’s friend groups, Judge Kavanaugh said: “When my friends and I spent time together at parties on weekends, it was usually with friends from nearby Catholic all-girls high schools — Stone Ridge, Holy Child, Visitation, Immaculata, Holy Cross. Dr. Blasey did not attend one of those schools. She attended an independent private school named Holton-Arms, and she was a year behind me.”
This is disputed.
Judge Kavanaugh’s implication is that students at Holton-Arms, an all-girls school, didn’t mingle much those who attended Georgetown Prep. Two of Judge Kavanaugh’s former schoolmates said on Friday that this was not true and that Holton-Arms students were routinely present at parties with Georgetown Prep boys.
“Holton-Arms was definitely part of our social scene,” Mr. Barbot said. Another Georgetown Prep alumnus who was in Judge Kavanaugh’s class said, “Holton was as much a sister school as the others.”
Spying on Democrats
During his confirmation hearings earlier this month, Judge Kavanaugh said that when he worked in the White House of George W. Bush, he was unaware that a Republican staffer had stolen documents about judicial nominations from the computer servers of Democratic lawmakers. He maintained that receiving the documents did “not raise red flags” because “information sharing was common.”
This is disputed.
Documents released by the National Archives show that Manuel Miranda, the Republican aide, had sent Judge Kavanaugh several of the stolen files between 2002 and 2003. One email chain released by the Archives describes wanting to meet at Mr. Miranda’s house so that Judge Kavanaugh, who was a White House lawyer working on judicial confirmations, could receive “useful info” about two Democratic senators.
Mr. Miranda told The Times that he had never informed Mr. Kavanaugh about the computer servers. Democrats say the documents show that Judge Kavanaugh must have been aware that the information he was receiving from Mr. Miranda was stolen from Democratic computers. Emails from Mr. Miranda to Judge Kavanaugh included remarkable detail about Democratic plans, and some were marked as “highly confidential” or “intel.”
But Judge Kavanaugh offered a more benign interpretation, saying that he merely assumed at the time that Mr. Miranda had received the information from friendly Democratic staffers.
Contested Judicial Nominees
In 2006, Judge Kavanaugh told senators that when he was in the White House Counsel’s Office, he did not work on a controversial appeals court nomination and played only a small role in another. The nomination of Judge William H. Pryor Jr. was “not one that I worked on personally,” he said. He also said that Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. was “not one of the judicial nominees that I was primarily handling.”
This requires context.
Emails released after Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court showed that during his White House tenure, he was invited to participate in a conference call on Judge Pryor’s confirmation. The email went to a group called the “Pryor Working Group.” The emails also show that he worked on the Pickering nomination, and was called by one colleague “much more involved in the Pickering fight.”
It is clear that Judge Kavanaugh — in 2006 and again this year — sought to downplay his role. Democrats believe that he actively misled the Judiciary Committee, hoping that the true extent of his involvement would not be revealed.
Judge Kavanaugh has sought to assure some senators — and the abortion rights groups that support them — by calling Roe v. Wade a matter of settled law. At a hearing on Sept. 6, he said the case was “an important precedent” and “has been reaffirmed many times.”
This requires context.
At the same hearing, the judge declined to directly answer questions by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, as to whether he believed the 1973 ruling was “correct law.”
Other comments by Judge Kavanaugh have given abortion supporters pause. Last year, he cited Roe v. Wade as an example of former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s “massive and enduring impact on American law.” Chief Justice Rehnquist had dissented in the case.
In a March 2003 email, Judge Kavanaugh also appeared to question whether the abortion rights case was indeed “settled law.” In congressional testimony, he defended that email as being concerned with accuracy, and he is correct that some legal scholars do not view the case as settled law.
At his initial confirmation hearing in September, Judge Kavanaugh told Ms. Feinstein that he believed a 1974 ruling, United States v. Nixon, was “one of the four greatest moments in Supreme Court history.” In it, the court ruled that the president could not invoke executive privilege to block a subpoena from the Watergate special prosecutor to turn over audiotapes of White House conversations.
Democrats have pointed to remarks Judge Kavanaugh made about the case to suggest he would shield President Trump from a similar subpoena.
This requires context.
Judge Kavanaugh accurately noted that he had praised the decision. He referred to it in a 2016 law review article, stating that the “greatest moments in American judicial history have been when judges stood up to the other branches, were not cowed, and enforced the law.” He also heralded it as “one of the two most significant cases in which the Judiciary stood up to the president” in a 2014 law review article.
But the judge has also questioned the Nixon ruling. In a 1999 round-table discussion, he drew a direct link between court rulings during the investigation of President Bill Clinton and the Supreme Court decision against Richard Nixon. He posed the possibility that the Nixon case “was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so.” He also said, “Maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision.”
And he even raised the possibility that it should be overturned. “I’m curious to know what people who are upset by the recent privilege decisions think about the Supreme Court’s ruling in Nixon,” Judge Kavanaugh said during the discussion. “Should United States v. Nixon be overruled on the ground that the case was a nonjusticiable intra-branch dispute? Maybe so.”
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