A year after Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial confirmation, all eyes are back on the US supreme court justice. The New York Times published “a previously unreported story” last weekend that said that, during a party at Yale, a classmate of Kavanaugh saw friends of the future justice pushing “his penis into the hand of a female student”. A number of high-profile Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, are now calling for Kavanaugh to be impeached.
Kavanaugh isn’t fit to preside over any court, let alone the supreme court. But, let’s face it, he isn’t going anywhere. There isn’t a hope in hell that these new allegations will get Kavanaugh impeached or compel him to resign. If anything, the bungled way in which the Times’ report was published – more on which later – may bolster support for Kavanaugh. It may even help Trump get re-elected next year.
If you haven’t read the Times’ story (which was excerpted from a book, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation, by two of the paper’s reporters), there are three key claims underpinning the calls for impeachment. The first is that Kavanaugh lied during the Senate confirmation hearings, when he refuted allegations that he had thrust his penis at a student called Deborah Ramirez, saying if something like that had occurred it would have been the “talk of the campus”. Well, the Times says, it was. The reporters found classmates who learned of it “just days after the party occurred”.
The second issue is the Times’ story. The account as reported provides evidence that Kavanaugh engaged in a pattern of sexual misconduct. Finally, there is the fact the FBI didn’t seem to take its investigation into Kavanaugh seriously. The story says the alleged witness “notified senators and the FBI about this account, but the FBI did not investigate”.
This reporting doesn’t make Kavanaugh look good, but it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know before. It seemed clear at the time that the FBI wasn’t going above and beyond in its Kavanaugh investigation. While the new allegations may support suspicions that Kavanaugh is a scumbag who is unfit for office, there is no way they will be enough to force him out – particularly since convicting someone in impeachment proceedings requires approval from two-thirds of the Senate, which the Republicans control.
Further, the Times’ handling of the allegations may end up helping Kavanaugh and Trump play their favourite role: that of the victim, rather than the predator. Among other blunders, the story – published, for some reason, in the opinion section of the paper – failed to make it clear that the female student in the previously unreported penis-pushing incident didn’t remember the alleged event. This important detail was later clarified in an editor’s note.
Predictably, conservatives had a field day when this omission was revealed: it fitted right into their narrative that Kavanaugh is the target of a liberal witch-hunt. “I call for the Resignation of everybody at The New York Times involved in the Kavanaugh SMEAR story,” Trump tweeted on Monday, “and while you’re at it, the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax, which is just as phony!” Trump immediately spun the Times’ editorial error into proof that you can’t trust the media, including its allegations against him. This won’t be a one-off tweet, either: expect to see Trump bring up the Kavanaugh story again and again.
Here is the thing about Kavanaugh, you see. He is not just a supreme court justice; he is the embodiment of a divided US. The hearings last year weren’t so much about his behaviour as they were about privilege and power – who gets to make the rules and who gets to break them. Depressingly, it doesn’t really matter what new allegations emerge when it comes to Kavanaugh; a large number of conservatives are never going to change their opinion of him. This is why it is so important that progressive Democrats are elected next year and, instead of trying to changing intransigent minds, we start changing the entire system.
•Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist