Thanks to Senate confirmation hearings, we now have hours and hours of video of Judge Brett Kavanaugh at our disposal. If there were any body language pattern to establish from these, it's that he seems scared. He squirms, he smirks, he mugs — and he evades questions.
Kavanaugh has reason to be scared — he has had multiple sexual assault allegations brought against him, and on Thursday, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is slated to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about the night he allegedly drunkenly forced himself on her in high school.
On Monday night, Kavanaugh and his wife Ashley sat down for a largely friendly interview with Fox News' Martha MacCallum in which he asked for a "fair process where I can be heard and I can defend my integrity" 12 times.
Body language expert Patti Wood, author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma, says that his conduct in the interview said volumes about his past. "What happened was very complex," she tells Refinery29. "It was not a real interview. He controlled what was happening. He was not surprised by any questions. He spent the majority of the time, according to my transcript analysis, talking about what a good guy he was."
So, what exactly is Brett Kavanaugh trying to tell us with his perpetual smug grin? Ahead, read Wood's further analysis of the Fox News interview, as well as key moments in Kavanaugh's hearings, for insight into what the Supreme Court nominee is truly thinking.
Fox News Interview
When analyzing the transcript of the Fox News interview, Wood highlighted two types of statements: Kavanaugh's denials ("I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone in high school or otherwise") and his statements about how wholesome he is ("I was focused on trying to be number-one in my class and being captain of the varsity basketball team and doing my service projects, going to church").
She found that the amount of time he spends on his good-behavior statements — when he talks about church, friends, and school — far outweighs how long he dedicates to denials. "Normally an innocent person wants to spend a lot of time denying what happened," she says. "They want to make sure you know they didn’t do it. They don’t change the subject to another part of their life and talk about going to church."
In the opening statement of his confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh expresses a platitude about friendship, something he also said in his commencement speech at Catholic University Law School: "Cherish your friends. Look out for your friends. Lift up your friends. Love your friends. … I thank all my friends." Then he pauses to take a long drink of water.
"It was at the time interesting to me, as he was very emotional in the delivery of that message and then he rather nervously took that sip of water, leaning out over the glass instead of bringing the glass back to him in a more confident manner, sure of the statement he just made," Wood says. "It was very important for him to say this. He's nervous about that statement. I can't tell you why, but that's interesting. It's not the delivery you'd expect."
Wood says she can't speculate on why Kavanaugh would be feeling particularly nervous when talking about friendship, but knowing what we know about the allegations — specifically his high schoolbest friend Mark Judge'switnessing of the alleged assault — it becomes a bit clearer.
Exchange With Kamala Harris About Mueller Investigation
In this particularly tense exchange, Kavanaugh deviates from what Wood calls his "baseline" behavior. Every time Sen. Harris asks him the question, there is at least 10 seconds of silence before he starts talking, while normally his responses would be quicker. He evades the question, asks Harris questions in response, and touches his face "in self-comfort."
"It's as though there's a game taking place," Wood says, recalling White House press secretarySarah Huckabee Sanders' common expression of "duping delight,"or smiling out of context because your subconscious mind is taking pleasure in having fooled somebody. "The self-satisfied smile — that smug grin — is on the very edge of 'duping delight,' something Sarah Huckabee Sanders does full-on. He's in game mode there, and she, well, she's always in game mode. He's thinking,I'm winning in this game, I'm getting away with not giving you the answer."
At one point, a protestor bursts into the hearing, yelling, "Be a hero and vote no!" After that, Wood notes (around 4:12), Kavanaugh takes a sip of water and sticks his tongue out in what she calls a "tongue thrust."
"Think someone who got away with something on the playground, like got something over on a bully, and they stick their tongue out rather than punch the bully," she says. Taking a sip of water, she adds, is a way of covering his true emotions. "That is a coached move and he is using it to cover his anxiety and the tongue thrust shows his suppressed anger."
When Harris questions him again, he again doesn't answer the question, and he holds his body away from her. "It's interesting that he is 'acting' like he does not understand what she is asking," says Wood. "I know he is acting as I have analyzed his baseline and compared his responses to more difficult and complex questions, and more specifically how his cues are timed. He hesitates, then he gives a perplexed look. He is not looking perplexed as he is asked, or even a moment later."
Turning Away From Fred Guttenberg
In this exchange, just as Kavanaugh gets up for a recess, Fred Guttenberg, the father of Parkland victim Jaime Guttenberg, approaches him and tries to shake his hand. Kavanaugh briefly looks at him with bewilderment, then doesn't shake his hand, and quickly walks in the other direction. Later, he would say he didn't recognize Guttenberg. "It had been a chaotic morning,"Kavanaugh wrote. "I unfortunately did not realize that the man was the father of a shooting victim from Parkland, Florida. Mr. Guttenberg has suffered an incalculable loss. If I had known who he was, I would have shaken his hand, talked to him, and expressed my sympathy. And I would have listened to him."
To put this in context, Kavanaugh has been skeptical about any type of gun reform. "He is clearly on the record expressing the view that it is illegal to restrict access to assault weapons like the one used in Parkland," Adam Skaggs, chief counsel at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, toldVice. "He has made fairly clear that he believes regulating who can carry concealed weapons in public is constitutionally suspect. And he has outlined a view of how courts should approach Second Amendment questions that would call into question a host of the types of laws legislatures in many states have passed after Parkland."
"The handshake is not a simple read," says Wood. "He would not normally shake hands in these circumstances; it's important to point out that that would be bizarre. And it's important to note that he has been under scrutiny and questioning for hours. He thinks he is done and can turn off. That time when someone thinks they can turn off is one of the most honest and revealing times. Having said that, you can see Kavanaugh's face go from bewilderment to anger to sadness as he turns away."
The sadness is particularly telling, Wood says. "Sadness in that context wouldn't make sense to me with a stranger. What would make sense to me is that he did recognize who this was."
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