Brett Kavanaugh, the embattled US supreme court nominee who is fighting to defend himself against mounting allegations of sexual misconduct, has gone on the media offensive, insisting in a TV interview that he was a virgin throughout high school and beyond and that “I have never sexually assaulted anyone in high school or otherwise.”
Kavanaugh used the secure environment of a Fox News interview broadcast on Monday to launch an extraordinary PR counter-attack, portraying himself as a lifelong campaigner for women’s equality. Sitting beside his wife, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh – her first appearance since the allegations surfaced – the judge was given free rein to deny accusations that have now been leveled against him by two named women in addition to a third whose identity and detailed claims still remain elusive.
The judge, an ultra-conservative who was on the verge of being confirmed to the nation’s highest court when the sexual assault allegations burst into the open a week ago, used the opportunity on Fox News to insist repeatedly that he was telling the truth.
"I'm not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process." —Brett Kavanaugh— Fox News (@FoxNews) September 24, 2018
Watch @MarthaMacCallum's full interview with Judge Kavanaugh and his wife Ashley tonight on Fox News Channel at 7p ET. https://t.co/QFmLfIwW4R pic.twitter.com/r8J2TUYQDj
He also rebutted the detailed allegations coming from the California professor Christine Blasey Ford, who was the first to accuse him of drunkenly sexually assaulting her while in high school, and Deborah Ramirez who told the New Yorker on Sunday she had also endured a sexual attack at at Yale university.
Of the social event at which Ford alleges his attack on her took place, Kavanaugh said: “I was never at any such party, I was not anywhere resembling that in 1982. I have never had any sexual or physical activity with Dr Ford.”
He added that he “did not have sexual intercourse, or anything close to sexual intercourse, in high school or many years after”. Asked whether that meant he was a virgin in all those years, he replied: “Correct.”
He said: “I know I’m telling the truth, I know my life-long record. I’m not going to let false accusations drive me out of this process. I have faith in God and I have faith in the fairness of the American people.”
After the interview the president tweeted in support of Kavanaugh.
The Democrats are working hard to destroy a wonderful man, and a man who has the potential to be one of our greatest Supreme Court Justices ever, with an array of False Accusations the likes of which have never been seen before!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2018
The setting of the Kavanaughs’ interview was carefully constructed to provide them with what amounted to a journalistic safe haven. Fox News is famously Donald Trump’s favorite news channel, a bond formalized in the summer with the appointment of the former Fox News co-president Bill Shine as deputy White House chief of staff.
The choice of Martha MacCallum as interviewer was also notable. She was a vociferous supporter of the late Roger Ailes in 2016 when the then Fox News chief was being sued for sexual harassment by anchor Gretchen Carlson, telling Mediaite that “Roger is such a terrific boss I don’t like to see anything that reflects negatively on him.”
Margaret Sullivan, the influential media columnist of the Washington Post, lamented on Twitter before the interview was aired that it “promises to be a challenge-free infomercial”.
Female interviewer, check. Fox News, check. Bill Shine approved, check. When an "exclusive interview" promises to be a challenge-free infomercial. https://t.co/fFCtNgZplO— Margaret Sullivan (@Sulliview) September 24, 2018
Certainly, some of the questions posed were so empathetic towards the Kavanaughs that they bordered on softball. MacCallum asked the couple: “Did you guys ever look at each other and say I’m out, this is enough, just isn’t worth it?”
Glancing at his wife, Kavanaugh replied: “We’re looking at a fair process where I can be heard and defend my integrity and my lifelong record of promoting dignity and equality for women.”
Kavanaugh appeared to well up with emotion when he went on to say: “Starting with the women who knew me when I was 14 years old. I’m not going anywhere.”
Ashley Kavanaugh echoed her husband’s denials in more personal terms, saying: “I’ve known him for 17 years and this is not at all … it’s really hard to believe. He’s decent, he’s kind, he’s good, this is not consistent with Brett.”
Further questions about the mores of Kavanaugh and his close group of male friends at high school in Georgetown Preparatory School were raised on Monday night by the New York Times, which analysed the 1983 yearbook in which he appeared. His self-description includes the cryptic phrase: “Renate Alumnius”.
The same phrase occurs in 14 entries in the yearbook, the newspaper discovered, including attached to a group photograph in which Kavanaugh appears of nine school football players who called themselves “Renate Alumni”. The Times reported that the phrase referred to a girl from a local Catholic school called Renate Schroeder.
A student at the school at that period, Sean Hagan, told the paper that the team-mates used to boast about their conquests. “They were very disrespectful, at least verbally, with Renate. I can’t express how disgusted I am with them, then and now.”
Contacted by the Times, Schroeder, who now goes by Renate Dolphin, said she hadn’t been aware of the use of the expression but said its insinuation was “horrible, hurtful and simply untrue”. A lawyer for Kavanaugh said that he and Renate had attended only one school event together and “shared a brief kiss good night”.
It was a highly unusual move for the supreme court nominee to go on what was an effective PR offensive while still going through the motions of senate confirmation. That he chose to do so was a sign of how fragile his position has become in a matter of days, both in the eyes of the US senators on whom his fate depends and in the eyes of Trump, to whom he might have been directing several of his comments via Fox News.
Among the most contentious remarks Kavanaugh made, from the perspective of the women who have accused him, were those in which he characterised himself as a champion of women’s equality. He went so far as to boast that he was “the leading federal judge in the country, the leader in the entire country, of promoting women law clerks to get supreme court clerkships”.
MacCallum did not put to the judge the Guardian’s revelation that the Yale professor Amy Chua told a group of law students in private last year that it was “not an accident” that Kavanaugh’s female law clerks all “looked like models”. Chua has since denied that she did so.
Kavanaugh grew most animated when asked by MacCallum about the new unsubstantiated claims from the lawyer Michael Avenatti, who said on Sunday he was representing an anonymous third woman. According to Avenatti, she alleged that Kavanaugh had participated in plying women in the early 1980s with drink or drugs “in order to allow a ‘train’ of men to gang rape them”.
“That’s totally false and outrageous,” the judge snapped. “Never done any such thing, known about any such thing.”