Witcover: When journalism, social media and politics collide
By Jules Witcover
Sep 20, 2019 | 6:00 AM
The Senate heard testimony from Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Ford testified she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh, who testified he was innocent. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun video)
Four 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have called for impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh for alleged sexual misconduct, in a bizarre rerun of similar allegations raised a year ago in his Senate confirmation.
Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Obama Housing Secretary Julian Castro all seized on a New York Times account and resulting social media chatter to make the demand.
The newspaper report itself came in a review of a forthcoming book by two women who interviewed a onetime Yale male classmate of the alleged female victim who said he had witnessed the abuse at a college party in the 1980s. He said he had so informed the FBI, which never investigated his story.
Ms. Harris, who had voted against Mr. Kavanaugh’s conformation, tweeted: “He was put on the Court through a sham process and his place on the Court is an insult to the pursuit of truth and justice. He must be impeached.”
Ms. Warren, who also voted against the confirmation, said the vote “was rammed through the Senate without a thorough examination of the allegations against him. Confirmation is not exoneration, and these newer revelations are disturbing. Like the man who appointed him, Kavanaugh should be impeached.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic race, limited himself to saying, "we need to get to the bottom of whether the Trump administration and Senate Republicans pressured the FBI to ignore evidence or prevented them from following up on leads...."
President Trump tweeted Sunday morning that Mr. Kavanaugh should “start suing people, or the Justice Department should come to his rescue. The lies being told about him are unbelievable. False Accusations without recrimination. When does it stop? They are trying to influence his opinions. Can’t let that happen!”
Joining the pushback, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered that the "far left's willingness to seize on completely uncorroborated and unsubstantiated allegations during last year's confirmation process was a dark and embarrassing chapter for the Senate."
But the rush of the quartet of Democratic presidential hopefuls to leap ahead and talk of impeaching Mr. Kavanaugh smacks of transparent political expedience that could reflect negatively on them. Impeachment is reserved in the Constitution for committing high crimes and misdemeanors in office, and Mr. Kavanaugh was not yet on the Supreme Court at the time, nor accused of any such offense himself.
What also is remarkable about this episode is the way a news report in a New York Times book review has been seized by other newspapers and various social media outlets as fodder for declared Democratic presidential candidates to elevate their own voices and public presence.
It has invited revisiting a year-old Supreme Court confirmation that has already proved critical to Mr. Trump’s grip on the judicial branch. It comes as the Democratic majority in the House presses for federal court support for subpoena power to investigate grounds for impeaching Mr. Trump.
Congressional Democrats continue to complain about Mr. McConnell’s refusal to permit confirmation hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of liberal Judge Merrick Garland in 2016, which would have denied Donald Trump the majority he achieved with Mr. Kavanaugh’s appointment and confirmation.
In any event, the notion that at this late stage any talk of re-examining the Kavanaugh confirmation, let alone charge impeachment, could go anywhere now smacks more of political wishful thinking than of reality.
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Kavanaugh confirmation, brushed aside the latest furor, saying there was "no credible evidence" to support the new allegations. "Let me be clear," he said. "This is not an allegation. It's barely a third-hand rumor."
Ms. Harris, Ms. Warren, Mr. O’Rourke and Mr. Castro can more constructively serve their own 2020 Democratic nomination prospects by spelling out their policy and governing agendas, and by so doing advance their collective mission of defeating an incumbent who has been so abusive of American values.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power” (Smithsonian Books). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.