Greg Dennis: Revisiting Justice Kavanaugh and Sen. Leahy
As Justice Brett Kavanaugh hears his first case on the Supreme Court this week, it’s worth looking back at the role played by Vermont’s longtime senator, Patrick Leahy, in his staunch opposition to confirming Kavanaugh.
No senator shined as brightly as Leahy did during the confirmation battle. The senator, now 78, has slowed down in recent years. But in his sometimes angry and ultimately convincing opposition to having Kavanaugh on the court, he showed that even aging lions can roar magnificently.
Leahy was among the strongest voices calling out Kavanaugh’s fudging of the facts about the role he played, as part of the George W. Bush administration, in receiving and using digital files stolen from the Democrats.
The senator claimed Kavanaugh was “not truthful” when he denied knowing he had received stolen documents. “There were numerous emails sent to him that made it very clear this was stolen information, including a draft letter from me,” Leahy told the Washington Post.
Leahy led the call for the release of Kavanaugh’s paper trail. Those revelations showed what a political creature Kavanaugh is and how deep a grudge he holds against Democrats.
Kavanaugh was part of Kenneth Starr’s team investigating Bill Clinton’s illicit affair with Monica Lewinsky. He pushed Starr to ask the president a long list of sexually explicit questions about the affair — all of them laid out in a graphic memo Kavanaugh wrote to Starr.
During Blasey Ford’s testimony, it was Leahy — the skilled former courtroom lawyer — who elicited the most touching statement from her.
He gently asked her what she remembered most about being assaulted by Kavanaugh and his friend. She replied that it was “the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
Leahy closed his questioning with this: “No matter what happens to this hearing today, no matter what happens to this nomination, I know — and I hear from so many in my home state of Vermont — there are millions of victims and survivors out there who’ve been inspired by your courage, and you sharing your story is going to have a lasting positive impact on so many survivors in our country.”
The senator’s stand caught the eye of President Trump. During a political rally last week, he mocked Blasey Ford in disgusting fashion (watch it here: tinyurl.com/ycuk25wm). Then the president smeared Leahy by suggesting he had a drinking problem. (A reporter for the Washington Post quickly dismissed that claim after interviewing congressional aides from both parties.)
And Leahy? He memorably called Trump’s claim “bogus baloney.” Not just bogus. Not just baloney. But bogus baloney.
A couple of other Vermont-related notes about the subject of sexual harassment:
The Burlington Book Festival recently cancelled the appearance of author and radio humorist Garrison Keillor at a festival fundraiser. Keillor’s appearance, for which he was not being paid, was cancelled after some Vermonters objected to his participation. Minnesota Public Radio cut ties to Keillor last year after a colleague accused him of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching, which Keillor denied.
I was sorry to see the festival cancel Keillor’s appearance. He’s a major cultural figure and a minor author. Books should stand for the freedom to debate ideas and conduct in public. And if he deserves to be pilloried, well, the book festival would have been a good chance for his critics to do so.
But I am also sympathetic to women’s concerns that it’s too soon for accused men like Keillor to expect to be welcomed back onto the public stage.
Meanwhile, in Barnet, the Karme Choling retreat center is facing a crisis over charges of sexual misconduct against its leader, Sakyong Miphong Rinpoche. He is the son of Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan refugee and Buddhist teacher who founded Karme Choling in Barnet back in 1970. It was the first Tibetan Buddhist retreat center in the U.S. and has become a sort of mother ship for the now-worldwide Shambhala organization.
According to a report on VTDigger.com, Sakyong Miphong “has taken leave as independent investigators review allegations that he, like his father, has abused alcohol and had sex with followers, all while a circle of fellow men witnessed and covered up the misconduct.”
Returning to the subject of Christine Blasey Ford, I join millions of other women and men in saying that I believe and deeply sympathize with the many survivors of sexual assault. As Ford indicated, you don’t forget the identity of the teenage boys who sexually assaulted you. Especially when you were afraid one of them might accidentally kill you.
But as so often happens in these cases, the conservative defenders of conservative nominees went after the women, not the assault or the assaulter.
Ford had to leave her family home after receiving death threats. Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s who said he humiliated her during a heavy drinking episode in college, was called “messed up” by Trump and a “phony” by Sen. Orrin Hatch. (Hatch, it’s worth noting, was one of the panel of aged white male Republicans who were too scared to speak directly to Ford about her testimony because they knew how bad it would look.)
Julie Swetnick, after alleging sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh during high school, was attacked by Republican senators who released a former boyfriend’s uncorroborated slur against her.
In response to these and other outrages, hundreds of brave women trekked to Washington on their own dime to support Ford’s testimony and oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation. For their trouble, they were dismissed by Trump and other Republicans who falsely claimed they were “paid protestors.”
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell swept aside women’s cries that we should believe Ford and other survivors of sexual assault. Instead, McConnell claimed, it was GOP senators who were “literally under assault” for supporting Kavanaugh.
Obviously the majority leader doesn’t know the definition of “literally.” But Christine Blasey Ford and all the other survivors do.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: GreenGregDennis.
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