A lack of contemporaneous evidence was always the greatest weakness of Christine Blasey Ford's allegation that at a high school party in 1982 — 36 years ago, when she was 15 years old — a drunken 17 year-old Brett Kavanaugh forced her onto a bed, tried to undress her, and, when she tried to scream, covered her mouth with his hand.
But the second biggest weakness in Ford's story was that it did not appear to fit into any pattern. There were no other allegations that Kavanaugh had done anything similar to anyone else. In the notorious #MeToo cases of the past year — which all involved powerful adult men, like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, and not adolescents like the Kavanaugh of 1982 — the man abused a number of women. It was not something he did just once and then stopped.
But in the case of Kavanaugh, Ford stood alone. Alone, that is, until two stars of the New Yorker — Ronan Farrow, who wrote key exposes of the #MeToo scandal, and Jane Mayer, who was attacking Republican Supreme Court nominees when Farrow was in grade school — published the story of Deborah Ramirez. Ramirez claimed that sometime during the 1983-1984 academic year at Yale, when both she and Kavanaugh were 18 year-old freshmen, there was a small dorm-room party at which Ramirez — drunk, 'on the floor, foggy and slurring her words' — remembered Kavanaugh exposing himself to her.
[Click here for complete Kavanaugh coverage]
Ramirez admitted that there were "gaps" in her memory because of drinking. And she suggested that as recently as a few weeks earlier she barely remembered the alleged incident, if at all. It was only after "six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney" that she recovered enough recollections to come forward.
Despite contacting "several dozen" classmates, Mayer and Farrow could not find any eyewitnesses to confirm that Kavanaugh was at the party, much less that they witnessed the alleged event happening. But Mayer and Farrow did find one classmate, who would not allow his name to be used, who "said that another student told him about the incident either on the night of the party or in the next day or two." The classmate said he was "100 percent sure" that he was told about Kavanaugh's alleged misconduct at the time.
Some Republicans ridiculed the story for its flimsiness. The New York Times reported that it "had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate [Ramirez's] story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge." But Democrats had a second sexual-misconduct allegation against Kavanaugh. It could be the beginning of a pattern.
Then came Michael Avenatti, whose hours of appearances on CNN and MSNBC bashing the president and touting his client, the porn star Stormy Daniels, had given him a following among the resistance. (That exposure also served as a base from which Avenatti is now exploring a Democratic run for president.) Shortly after the New Yorker story broke, Avenatti came forward with a new client, a woman named Julie Swetnick, who said that in 1981 and 1982, when Kavanaugh was 16 and 17 years old, she "became aware" of "efforts" by Kavanaugh to spike the punch at house parties she attended.
"I also witnessed efforts by [Kavanaugh friend] Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh and others to cause girls to become inebriated and disoriented so they could then be 'gang raped' in a side room or bedroom by a 'train' of numerous boys," Swetnick wrote. "I have a firm recollection of seeing boys lined up outside rooms at many of these parties waiting for their 'turn' with a girl inside the room. These boys included Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh."
Swetnick wrote that she herself was raped at a party "where Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh were present."
The Avenatti-Swetnick story represented the moment when the anti-Kavanaugh forces jumped the shark. The allegation was off-the-scale serious: Who knew Brett Kavanaugh was a high-school Bill Cosby? But Swetnick produced no witnesses to the events she alleged, nor could she produce witnesses who confirmed even that such events occurred, nor could she produce witnesses who confirmed her presence at any such events, and, she was not even part of Kavanaugh's social circle at the time (Swetnick was older than the others and from a more distant suburb of Washington and attended public school there, outside the tight-knit group of private school students with whom Kavanaugh hung out).
In short, Avenatti and Swetnick had nothing beyond an incendiary accusation. Nevertheless, some Democrats embraced the story to push the notion that there was an accumulating weight of sexual misconduct accusations against Kavanaugh.
"We already have three credible reports of sexual misconduct by Judge Kavanaugh," said Sen. Mazie Hirono, referring to Ford, Ramirez, and Swetnick. Pressing for an FBI investigation, Hirono said it "certainly should cover the three credible reports that have come forward."
"We now have three credible accusers of sexual assault," said Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a press release headlined: "Senate Democrats: FBI Must Investigate All Three Credible Allegations of Sexual Assault Against Judge Brett Kavanaugh." Other Democrats on the committee sent out the same release.
The talking point got some pickup in the press. ABC News asked President Trump: "Mr. President, there are now three women accusing Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Are you saying that all three of these women are liars?"
Democrats had their pattern. They demanded Trump order the FBI to interview people who might have knowledge about all three accusations.
[Related: It’s not over: Democrats vow to investigate Kavanaugh]
But at the same time, there were doubts. Some Kavanaugh opponents were hesitant to embrace Swetnick's allegation; it seemed too much, even for Resistance-minded Kavanaugh opponents. And then, right before the vote, Mayer and Farrow published an update to the Ramirez story in which they convinced their previously anonymous source who had heard of the alleged incident to speak on the record. That source, a college professor named Kenneth Appold, said that he had tried to contact the other student who told him about the incident.
"[Appold] said that he had not been able to get any response from that person, despite multiple attempts to do so," Mayer and Farrow reported. "The New Yorker reached the classmate, but he said he had no memory of the incident."
And that was that.
The FBI interviewed four people about the Ramirez allegation: Ramirez herself, two alleged witnesses named by Ramirez, and a friend of Ramirez's from college. (A third alleged eyewitness refused to talk.)
As for Swetnick, the FBI interviewed Mark Judge, who also figured in other allegations, but did not interview Swetnick herself.
The much-demanded investigation apparently added little or nothing to what was already known about the Ramirez and Swetnick stories. And that meant the Kavanaugh matter was back to square one, Christine Blasey Ford. In that case, FBI interviews with six people associated with the allegation also apparently produced no more supporting evidence than was known before.
By the time the Senate voted, the Democrats' pattern of "three credible accusers" had fallen apart, and the original allegation was as unverifiable as it had been on the day it was made. Some Democrats began to point fingers at Avenatti for messing everything up. One Democrat, Sen. Gary Peters, said Avenatti's involvement had turned the Kavanaugh confirmation "into a circus atmosphere."
But it wasn't just Avenatti. There was, in fact, a pattern in the allegations against Kavanaugh — a pattern of progressively weaker and more desperate-sounding accusations. The Ford allegation came without any contemporaneous evidence to support it. The Ramirez allegation was vague to begin with — the accuser admitted she was drunk and had a poor memory — and fell apart completely for lack of corroboration. And then Avenatti brought the circus.
Together, the allegations created the impression of Democrats grasping at any straw they could find to stop Kavanaugh. First came their faith-based "I believe Dr. Ford" declarations of support for Ford. Then came Ramirez and Swetnick. Successively weaker allegations against Kavanaugh did indeed do damage, but against the accusers more than the accused. And now there is Justice Kavanaugh.