The defense of Judge Brett Kavanaugh took a soap opera turn this week when allies of the Supreme Court nominee suggested a look-alike had committed the sexual assault of which Kavanaugh has been accused.
Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center think tank and former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, spent much of the week hinting that he could disprove Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations that Kavanaugh had drunkenly assaulted her at a party when the two were teenagers. On Twitter, Whelan said there was “compelling evidence” and predicted Democrats would be apologizing to Kavanaugh. Politico reported that Whelan was so confident that he “told at least three associates that his confidence level in his assertions is ‘close to 100 percent.’”
Conservative social media lit up with the prospect that Whelan, regarded (at least until now) as a responsible commentator and political operative, had proof that would settle the issue in Kavanaugh’s favor. “Ed Whelan is the model of careful, discerning legal analysis and commentary. It’s why all of us who know him take everything he says and writes so seriously,” Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, told Politico. Whelan writes on judicial issues for the magazine.
On Thursday evening, Whelan laid out his theory in a now-deleted Twitter thread that suggested Ford was indeed assaulted — but by another Georgetown Prep student who looked like the teenage Kavanaugh. Using a floor plan found in a Zillow listing and Google Maps, Whelan claimed to have identified the house described by Ford in her account. Whelan named the man he is accusing, but most news organizations have chosen not to.
Ford immediately dismissed the claim in a statement, saying that she knew both Kavanaugh and the classmate, and there was “zero chance” she would have confused them. On Friday morning, Whelan deleted the thread after hours of criticism, even by allies of Kavanaugh. Commenters pointed out the risk that the man he named — who has not spoken publicly about the accusation — could plausibly press a claim for defamation.
“I made an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment in posting the tweet thread in a way that identified Kavanaugh’s Georgetown Prep classmate,” wrote Whelan. “I take full responsibility for that mistake, and I deeply apologize for it. I realize that does not undo the mistake.”
The groundwork for the claim that Kavanaugh was misidentified was laid on Monday. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of the most senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee told CNN, “I think she’s mistaken. I think she’s … she’s mistaken something that I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know her.” While it’s possible Hatch meant she was mistaken in general, a tweet from the senator’s deputy chief of staff seems to tie his office directly to Whelan’s theory.
“Keep an eye on Ed’s tweets the next few days,” wrote Matt Whitlock in a tweet Wednesday morning, referencing a tweet from Whelan that claimed Ford had the wrong guy. Whitlock deleted the tweet sometime Thursday during Whelan’s flameout, writing that he did so “because I didn’t want to promote a thread that dragged an unrelated private citizen into this unfortunate situation” and saying he had “no idea” what Whelan was planning. A spokesperson for Senate Judiciary said the committee had no knowledge of Whelan’s plan.
On Tuesday evening, the Washington Post published an op-ed from conservative columnist Kathleen Parker headlined “Is there a Kavanaugh doppelganger?” — a sincere piece wondering whether or not Kavanaugh had an evil twin wandering the D.C. suburbs. “Could there have been another, Kavanaughish-looking teen at the house that night, who might have attacked Ford?” wrote Parker.
After Whelan’s Twitter meltdown, the Washington Post reported that Kavanaugh, his allies and Whelan had been working together to come up with a defense that would concede Ford was attacked but clear Kavanaugh of the crime. Per the Post:
Whelan has been involved in helping to advise Kavanaugh’s confirmation effort and is close friends with both Kavanaugh and Leonard Leo, the head of the Federalist Society who has been helping to spearhead the nomination. Kavanaugh and Whelan also worked together in the Bush administration.
Kavanaugh and his allies have been privately discussing a defense that would not question whether an incident involving Ford happened, but instead would raise doubts that the attacker was Kavanaugh, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
Whelan denied that he had communicated his theory to those in the administration on Friday morning.
“I have not communicated at all with [White House counsel] Don McGahn or anyone at the White House, or Judge Kavanaugh, about the topic of the Twitter thread,” said Whelan in a statement to the Post.
The White House didn’t distance itself from the idea that Ford was assaulted by a different person. Kellyanne Conway, special counselor to President Trump, floated the theory on CNN Thursday night.
“Is it possible that they are both right?” Conway asked. “Is it possible that something terrible happened to her and that Judge Kavanaugh was not there?”
On Friday morning, Fox News recounted Whelan’s theory, asking, “Is this a case of mistaken identity?” and stating that Kavanaugh and the classmate indeed looked a lot alike.
Kavanaugh’s defenders in the heated confirmation battle have been using a variety of arguments, including the suggestion that Ford is simply lying to smear him and that even if she is telling the truth, adults shouldn’t be held responsible for what they did as teenagers. Trump began attacking Ford Thursday night, asking why she didn’t contact the FBI after she was sexually assaulted as a 15-year-old.
Ford’s attorneys have said she is willing to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary next week as long as certain terms, including a guarantee of her safety, are met. She has also requested that the FBI investigate her claims.
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