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A year after his confirmation hearing, Brett Kavanaugh faces a new sexual misconduct allegation

The Supreme Court justice faces a new allegation, and fresh corroboration of an old one.

Women carry read and black signs reading, “Kava - Nope”
Protesters demonstrate against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at the US Capitol in October 2018.
Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

A new allegation of sexual misconduct has been levied against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh by journalists investigating the accusations that roiled his confirmation hearings last fall. The New York Times details new corroborations of an allegation of sexual misconduct brought by Kavanaugh’s classmate, Deborah Ramirez, as well as a previously undisclosed allegation that mirrors the one Ramirez made in 2018.

The report also found the FBI declined to follow up on any of the 25 witnesses Ramirez provided to confirm her allegation, and that the agency also did not investigate the new allegation, which accused Kavanaugh of forcing his penis into the hand of a female classmate while drunk. Ramirez has said the Supreme Court justice did something similar to her at another party, exposing his penis to her, forcing her to touch it in an attempt to get away.

These new allegations emerged just a day after the New York Times reported that the Justice Department will present the prestigious Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service to the lawyers who supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation. According to an email reviewed by the Times, Attorney General William Barr will present the award, which typically goes to people or teams who work on prosecution cases, next month; DOJ officials declined to comment.

Kavanaugh vigorously denied this allegation during his confirmation hearing, and also denied the allegation of Christine Blasey Ford, who said he had pinned her down, covered her mouth, and groped her during a high school party. He called these allegations politically motivated, and ultimately squeaked through to being confirmed to the bench by a vote of 50-48.

At the time of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Democrats raised concerns that he may have perjured himself on several occasions. These concerns were dismissed, however.

But the new account of sexual misconduct, its similarity to Ramirez’s allegations, and fresh information about the number of people willing to confirm Ramirez’s account have once again raised concerns over the justice’s honesty during his confirmation hearings. And the fact he repeatedly denied any and allegations against him have led to new questions over whether Kavanaugh may have perjured himself, as well.

The new allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, briefly explained

Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, the journalists behind the report, spent 10 months investigating the accusations against Kavanaugh. They found Ramirez’s allegation to be credible, in part because their work showed that Yale students, as well as Ramirez’s mother, had discussed the incident at the party in the weeks following Kavanaugh’s alleged harassment.

The authors were also told of a similar incident at a separate party by Kavanaugh’s classmate Max Stier, who currently runs a nonprofit in Washington, DC. Stier said he told senators and the FBI about his experience with Kavanaugh, alleging the justice forced his penis into the hand of a woman during his freshman year. The FBI did not investigate Stier’s claims, however.

Nor did the agency interview anyone on the list of at least 25 people that Ramirez’s legal team provided in order to corroborate her story. Two FBI agents reportedly told Ramirez that they found her story to be credible, but said that their team could not conduct a full investigation without the support of the Republican-controlled Senate. They, of course, did not have this support, and so no investigation occurred. Ramirez did not testify during the confirmation hearings, either.

Without her present and lacking any questioning of her witnesses, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) ultimately found Ramirez’s allegation to be uncorroborated, and almost all Senate Republicans — joined by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted to confirm Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh declined to be interviewed by the journalists, whose work will soon be collected into a book, and has not released any kind of statement since the new allegations were made public. But on Twitter, President Donald Trump, who nominated Kavanaugh and celebrated his confirmation, blasted the claims and encouraged the justice to begin libel proceedings against his accusers.

The new allegations have led to fresh calls for impeachment

The latest allegations against Kavanaugh, and the new reporting on Ramirez’s witnesses brought on a fresh wave of calls to remove the justice from the Supreme Court Sunday. On Twitter, #ImpeachKavanaugh began trending amid questions of possible perjury, and some Democrats, including presidential candidates Julián Castro, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Kamala Harris joined in these calls for impeachment.

Another Democratic candidate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, did not call for impeachment, but on ABC’s This Week Sunday, said of Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, “I think the whole thing was a sham.”

Kavanaugh’s critics first began contemplating the prospect of his impeachment immediately upon his confirmation, which was voted on by the narrowest margin in 130 years, and which followed three named accusations of sexual misconduct. (A third accuser, Julie Swetnick, said she was gang raped at a high school party at which Kavanaugh was present.)

As Vox’s Dylan Matthews has written, impeaching a sitting Supreme Court justice is a process just like impeaching a president, and requires substantial political support. No Supreme Court justice has ever been removed from office through this process, and judges from lower courts who have been removed from office were typically involved in cases on which both political parties agreed that wrong had been committed:

These five most recent cases involved judges whose wrongdoing was recognized by both political parties in Congress, and who had few if any defenders in the Senate. Kavanaugh and Thomas both have enthusiastic supporters in the Senate, and even if Democrats retake both houses of Congress, it’s doubtful that enough Republicans will defect from Kavanaugh to make removal viable.

That said, there is no clear definition of a “high crime or misdemeanor.”

“The precedents in this country, as they have developed, reflect the fact that conduct which may not constitute a crime, but which may still be serious misbehavior bringing disrepute upon the public office involved, may provide a sufficient ground for impeachment,” Bazan writes, citing the case of Judge John Pickering, who was convicted on charges including mishandling cases in his capacity as a judge. That’s not a criminal offense, but the House and Senate considered it sufficiently serious to justify impeachment.

“What constitutes an impeachable offense,” Bazan concludes, “is less than completely clear.” The best answer might be that an impeachable offense is whatever the House and Senate think it is.

And as Vox’s Tara Golshan has reported, questions of perjury are equally opaque. “If he deliberately misled a senator, that could qualify as perjury,” Golshan explains, but proving someone deliberately misled a senator, while not impossible to do, would take substantial evidence.

The bitter political dispute over Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation means that no element of the case for or against him will be treated as clear-cut. And with a Republican-majority Senate, it seems unlikely that any case for impeachment will pick up steam. However, Democrats’ calls for an investigation could be answered in the House, where that party has a majority.

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