Sep 16, 2019

Is Brett Kavanaugh guilty of sexual assault?

Is Brett Kavanaugh guilty of sexual assault?

What each side is saying about Kavanaugh and the attack in Saudi Arabia.

Today’s read: 8 minutes

A breakdown of the new Brett Kavanaugh story, what we know about the attack in Saudi Arabia and a massive workers strike.

Photo Credit: The White House

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What D.C. is talking about.

Brett Kavanaugh. On Saturday, The New York Times published an essay from an upcoming book on its opinion page. In it, the two Times reporters who authored the book tell the story of Deborah Ramirez, the second woman to claim she was sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh. Reminder: Kavanaugh is the conservative justice who was nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court in the summer and fall of 2018. Ramirez previously  alleged that at a dormitory party during her freshman year at Yale, in 1983, Kavanaugh “pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her, prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it.” Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing was derailed by Ramirez’s allegations along with those of Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged that he held her down on a bed during a party when they were teenagers, covered her mouth and tried to force himself onto her before she escaped. This new book takes a deep dive into both allegations, but also references a previously unreported third story about Kavanaugh from a different party in which a classmate claims to have seen Kavanaugh and his friends pushing his penis into the hand of a different female student. The classmate, Max Stier, said he told the FBI about this story but they never investigated it.

What Democrats are saying.

The details put forth in this new book, which was reported out for 10 months, are grounds for impeaching Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court. During his confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh defended himself by saying if Ramirez’s story were true, it would have been the talk of campus. Now this reporting suggests it was, in fact, the talk of campus. The Times reporters say several friends remembered the story of Ramirez and had spoken about it in the days after it happened. The reporters also said they found Ford’s testimony “credible” during their 10-month investigation, which Democrats are quick to note was far more time than the FBI or Republicans spent on the allegations. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro and Bernie Sanders all reacted to the excerpt’s publication by calling on Kavanaugh to be impeached. Other liberal activists are noting that the FBI was not given enough time to conduct their investigation, and had they been they would have found what these reporters found: that the allegations were credible and there were more than just two.

What Republicans are saying.

You wanna do this again? For most conservatives, nothing during Trump’s presidency has united the right like the allegations against Kavanaugh, which were widely derided as flimsy and slanderous. This new writing just adds to the pile of shoddy reporting and half-baked allegations from four decades ago. First off, the “new” allegations aren’t even recalled by the woman who allegedly experienced them. Max Stier is the only witness testifying to those events. The New York Times had to include the following editors note after publication to clarify that the woman Stier says was forced to hold Kavanaugh’s penis declined to be interviewed for the book and her friends said she didn’t recall the incident.

Also, buried at the end of the new book is a new piece of information getting far less coverage: that Ford’s lifelong friend Leland Keyser didn’t believe Ford’s account of what happened. Keyser was named by Ford as a witness to the events, but this excerpt caught a lot of conservatives’ attention:

We spoke multiple times to Keyser, who also said that she didn’t recall that get-together or any others like it. In fact, she challenged Ford’s accuracy. “I don’t have any confidence in the story.”

Keyser also told the reporters that she was threatened by mutual friends to “comply” and support Ford’s claims more publicly, and if she didn’t, rumors would be spread about her. The reporters confirmed these claims to be true.

My take.

What is most compelling to me about the Kavanaugh saga is that you can predict whether someone finds the allegations against him credible based almost entirely on their politics. It’s a scary sign of the times that political ideology is the strongest predictor of how two people view an identical set of facts (or, in this case, whether people are even working with the same set of facts). Writing about these allegations against Kavanaugh is a wrought affair. Two New York Times reporters spent 10 months fleshing these stories out, and while they land on words like “credible” to describe Ford’s allegations they also write about their own “gut instincts” and concede  hard evidence was hard to come by. I rememeber watching Ford’s testimony and being so struck by her pain in detailing what happened to her that I was certain she was telling the truth and Kavanaugh’s nomination was sunk. Then, minutes later, I found Kavanaugh nearly as compelling in his defense and the nature with which he defended  his own character struck me as convincing, even if it was at times a bit unhinged for a judge on the highest court in America. I can’t presume to know what happened on any of the three nights these assault allegations took place, though I’m inclined to pause anytime someone has been accused of three separate incidents of this kind of behavior. What I do know is the political fight that will come from this is a dangerous game for both sides. So many conservatives view what happened to Kavanaugh as a smear that even the ones who tepidly support (or totally dislike) the president could coalesce behind him if Democrats try to remove Kavanaugh from the court. On the other hand, so many women (particularly educated, suburban, registered-voting women) are so tired of having their voices silenced when they come forward with allegations of harassment or assault. Mocking these allegations as absurd could just as easily alienate and motivate those voters.


The New York Times opinion section took a lot of heat for the tweet below, which it eventually deleted and apologized for.

Some numbers.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Tangle is about streamlining the information news consumers want to know. My job is to simplify and condense the news so you can stay informed without having to wade through story after story. If you have a question you want answered, you can simply reply to this email.

Q:  What happened in Saudi Arabia?

- Kimberly, Charlotte, NC

Tangle: On Saturday, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company Aramco was attacked by what’s being called “multiple projectiles,” presumably from a drone strike. The attacks crippled the plant, cutting its production by half and momentarily sending oil prices skyrocketing (Aramco produces around 10 percent of the world’s oil).

The Houthi rebels, who control Yemen’s capital, claimed responsibility. They’ve been at war with Saudi Arabia for years. But the Houthis are yet to provide any evidence they were behind the attack — and there is plenty of skepticism. In fact, U.S. officials have been citing “U.S. intelligence” that pegs the attack on Iran, who has a well-documented history of supplying the Houthis with weapons (if this is starting to get confusing, you’re not alone). Here is a simplified breakdown:

On one side is Saudi Arabia and the United States, who are allies, though that alliance has been strained by the killing of Washington Post reporter Jamaal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was allegedly murdered at the direction of Mohammed Bin Salman (aka MBS, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince). On the other side are Iran and the Houthis, who have been working together to keep the region chaotic. Iran is under the thumb of U.S. sanctions and the Houthis are a rebel group that forced out Yemen’s president in 2015. Worried about the Houthi encroachment in the region, Saudi Arabia began attacking them. Stuck in the middle are the Yemeni people, who have suffered unimaginable consequences as a result of the war. The U.S. has also been hammered for its role supplying the Saudis with weapons that have been used to kill civilians, as well as its support for the Saudis even as the kingdom orchestrates food and medicine blockades in Yemen.

There are all sorts of other nuances and subtleties here. Perhaps most notably is that Trump tore up the controversial Iranian nuclear agreement crafted during the Obama administration and replaced it with a “maximum pressure campaign” that includes crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy. Iran’s response to that campaign has been a predictable escalation throughout the region. In the wake of this attack, the bells of war are ringing. Trump, Republicans and some establishment Democrats are blaming Iran for the attack and threatening military action in response. Others on the left, and some anti-establishment, anti-intervention Trump supporters are taking a hardline anti-war stance, asking why we need to get involved with another Middle East conflict and hoping Trump doesn’t drag us into a new war. They’re also skeptical of unnamed U.S. intelligence officials and are asking for specific evidence that Iran was behind the attack, which has not yet been made public (though politicians keep insisting it exists).

As for who was actually behind the attack, Ben Van Heuvelen, the Editor in Chief of Iraq Oil Report, told Tangle he felt a fair degree of confidence the attack was ordered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (this is a military arm of Iran dedicated to defending its political and religious goals outside of Iran’s borders). He acknowledged there is still no hard evidence, but cited plenty of circumstantial evidence, including a similar drone strike on a Saudi pipeline in May.

Then, like now, Houthi militants in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack. But satellite information and other intel showed the attack had actually come from southern Iraq, and the only groups in that area who would carry out such an attack work under the direction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. U.S. officials eventually accepted that the attack had, in fact, come from Iraq and not from Yemen. Van Heuvelen also noted that Iran has a clear motive to carry these attacks out via proxy groups and Iran hawks in the U.S. have a clear motive to peg the attacks on Iran. The proxy groups give Iran plausible deniability, and leaves the U.S. with “proportionate” response options that include going after those proxy groups instead of a key piece of Iranian infrastructure. On the other hand, if you’re a hawk in the Trump administration, this is an opportunity to prove an attack came from Iran and use that as justification to launch missiles at their critical infrastructure.

In the last few hours, the Trump administration has begun claiming the attacks weren’t just orchestrated by Iran, but originated there. Now, journalists and politicians will wait to see if any hard evidence — think satellite photos, leaked documents, intercepted communications — emerge to decisively determine who was behind the attacks. Then we’ll all wait anxiously for President Trump’s decision on how to respond.

A story that matters.

Nearly 50,000 members of the United Automobile Workers union went on strike at General Motors this morning, setting off picket lines across the Midwest and southern  United States. It’s the first walkout since 2007 and the union is calling for better wages, re-opening plants and to narrow the gap between new hires and veteran workers. Despite making significant profits, G.M. idled three plants last year and is asking its employees to shoulder more health care costs and “increase work force productivity,” according to The New York Times. All this is going down as the trade war with China hamstrings manufacturing and could increase the opportunity for Democratic candidates to court swing state workers in the 2020 election. Read more.

Have a nice day.

A volunteer pilot surveying the wreckage in the Bahamas doubled back on an area he had passed over the day before based on an “intuition” and discovered a village of 40 or 50 people in desperate need of care. Justin Johnson was flying with a news reporter who pointed out a pile of debris and asked if anyone could be down there. Johnson initially dismissed the idea, but after sleeping on it for a day decided to head back to the spot the reported had pointed out. There, he found an entire group of people who climbed out from the debris and needed supplies — then helped bring in tents, food and water for the group. You can read more here.

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