Dear Sens. Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski,
There was a time — fleeting as it was — when it seemed President Donald Trump would give the proper respect and deference due to Christine Blasey Ford, the 51-year-old psychology professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party when she was 15. Last week after her testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Trump called her “very compelling” and a “very credible witness.” And so she was, as most who attended the hearing observed, including many from your side of the aisle. She had not sought the spotlight, but she courageously bared her scars nonetheless. Even those who believe passionately in Judge Kavanaugh acknowledged as much.
Mr. Trump’s civility did not last, of course. He eventually got around to speculating about how she, or her parents, would surely have reported the incident to police decades ago had it really happened — ignoring the reality of such trauma and how rarely it comes to light. But the president hit rock bottom Tuesday when, speaking before a political rally in Mississippi, he savagely mocked Ms. Ford. “‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ ‘Upstairs? Downstairs? Where was it?’ ‘I don’t know,’” Mr. Trump said in his shameful attempt to imitate her testimony. “‘But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.’”
It went on from there. Perhaps you saw it. It’s quite painful to watch such willful cruelty. We know what the usual Trump apologists will say. They’ll say he’s a “counter-puncher” or that this was a political setting where hyperbole is expected or, perhaps most flagrantly fraudulent of all, that he’s genuinely concerned that we are approaching a world where privileged white males such as the Georgetown Prep and Yale University-educated Mr. Kavanaugh will face a legion of false allegations of sexual misconduct. As if the scales of justice are in serious danger of tilting toward sexual assault victims.
What followed this public sadism? Cheering. Laughter. Applause. One of Ms. Ford’s attorneys, Michael R. Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general, called the performance a “vicious, vile and soulless attack.” He was being generous. He also questioned what this would mean for other victims of sexual assault. Would they come forward? Would they risk this kind of ridicule from a president of the United States. “She is a remarkable profile in courage,” Mr. Bromwich tweeted. “He is a profile in cowardice.”
We write to you, senators, because you know — as all Americans must know — that you hold the future of the Kavanaugh nomination in your hands. It’s clear most senators have already made their choices in this matter following the customary lines of Washington’s tribal politics. Senator Flake, in particular, demonstrated that while he may be inclined toward consenting on the nominee, he can recognize that something seriously wrong is happening right now on Capitol Hill. His choice to force a further FBI inquiry into Mr. Kavanaugh’s background was at least a step toward making things right. But it’s proving to be an inadequate one.
One week was always a tough deadline to expect the FBI to do a meaningful investigation but what’s come out so far — of its limited scope and rigor (interviewing as few as four individuals, according to some accounts) — suggest the effort is more a fig leaf than an attempt to gain insight. Meanwhile, there’s the matter of Mr. Kavanaugh’s own testimony before the committee, his sharply partisan tone that seemed inappropriate to a first-year District Court judge let alone a Supreme Court justice. Senator Flake recently admitted he was troubled by the “tone” of Mr. Kavanaugh’s remarks. How often does a nominee talk about “revenge for the Clintons” or other perceived partisan slights as Mr. Kavanaugh did last week? And then there’s the matter of how often the nominee evaded questions about, or outright misrepresented, his heavy drinking to the Senate committee and the prospect that his memory of events in 1982 is hazy at best.
Don’t let this train leave the station, senators, not if you care about decency, about the integrity of the court, about what this episode is telling victims of sexual abuse. President Trump can always go back to the Federalist Society and pick some other conservative to fill this vacancy. Judge Kavanaugh can remain on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. And victims of sexual abuse can be shown that speaking out is not a lost cause, not a one-way ticket to public shaming and derision from a powerful man. The country will be better for it.