• Hearings Will Move Forward as Scheduled
• Democrats Prepare Hail Mary Passes
• Trump Gone Wild
• Rosenstein's Fate to Be Determined Today...Unless It's Not
• House Passes Spending Bill
• Democrats' Lead in Generic Ballot Is Growing
• Today's Senate Polls
Corker Will Vote for Kavanaugh
Flake Still Undecided on Kavanaugh
A Stark Choice for Senators
Republicans to Move Forward on Kavanaugh Vote
Trump Calls for Kavanaugh Vote
Graham Explodes During Kavanaugh Questioning
As he promised he would, on Wednesday lawyer (and master of publicity) Michael Avenatti revealed the identity of the third woman to come forward with charges against Brett Kavanaugh. Her name is Julie Swetnick, and she attended a high school located near the one that Kavanaugh attended. Her allegations, if true, would not only end Kavanaugh's bid to be on the Supreme Court, they would also likely bring his judicial career to an end, and could even put him in prison.
In a sworn statement, Swetnick asserts that she attended "well over ten" parties where Kavanaugh was present. She says that at those parties, she saw Kavanaugh "drink excessively and engage in highly inappropriate conduct, including being overly aggressive with girls and not taking 'No' for an answer." She further explains that, "This conduct included the fondling and grabbing girls without their consent." And so, while Swetnick cannot confirm the specifics of Christine Blasey Ford's allegations, she is certainly willing to put her name on the line and confirm the general pattern of behavior.
Swetnick's statement goes further, though. She also alleges that Kavanaugh helped "spike the punch at house parties," so as to "cause girls to lose their inhibitions and their ability to say 'No.'" She says she saw boys line up outside of bedrooms, preparing to take turns assaulting women who had been drugged, and that Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge were among those who lined up. Swetnick does not claim that she was personally assaulted by Kavanaugh, however, nor can she verify that any other woman was specifically assaulted by him. She is merely saying that she witnessed circumstances where it was a very real possibility.
This is, of course, pretty bad for Kavanaugh. Yes, Swetnick's inability to be specific on the worst and most violent acts gives him a little bit of wiggle room. However, if he spiked the punch at a party, and that led to the rape of one or more incapacitated women, he would be guilty of a felony, even if he didn't perpetrate an actual assault. The charges are serious enough that, as Slate's Mark Joseph Stern observes, Maryland police will pretty much have to investigate (remember, there's no statute of limitations on rape in Maryland). And if they do, then that means this whole thing will hang over Kavanaugh's head for a long time, and could possibly come back to bite him, even if he does get confirmed to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, even if the most disturbing parts of Swetnick's account are overlooked (by both politicians and police), due to their fairly imprecise and hard-to-prove nature, she is nonetheless quite certain about Kavanaugh's tendency to engage in the sort of behavior described by Ford. And if Ford is telling the truth—something that looks more and more certain every day—that alone should be more than enough to disqualify the Judge from the promotion he wants so badly.
Already, some potential dirt has come to light regarding Swetnick, which certainly suggests that some of Kavanaugh's supporters knew this was coming, and have been digging. The first "skeleton" is that a lawyer who works for the same firm as Debra Katz (Ford's lawyer) represented Swetnick in a sexual harassment case 10 years ago. The implication of this news, presumably, is that Katz might have recruited Swetnick to play the role of "victim #3." However, one can hardly take such a claim seriously. Beyond the fact that Katz would be putting her law license at risk pulling such a stunt, are we really to imagine she said, "We need a phony accuser—get me a random person that one of my colleagues represented a decade ago!"?
The other "skeleton" from Swetnick's closet is that an ex-boyfriend of hers, Richard Vinneccy, filed a request for a restraining order against her in 2001. That is to say, 17 years ago. Vinneccy also talked to the press on Wednesday, and declared, "I know a lot about her. She's not credible at all. Not at all." Needless to say, this does not increase confidence in the veracity of Swetnick's claims, but it's also hard to see that it does much to undermine them, either. Clearly there is bad blood between the ex-couple, so Vinneccy's critical remarks should be taken with more than a few grains of salt. Meanwhile, the same is true of the request for the restraining order, and for much the same reason. Even if the restraining order had been temporarily granted, that wouldn't mean all that much, since TROs are close to automatic. But, in this case, it never even got that far, as Vinneccy never paid the court fees. So, it's entirely possible that the filing was just sour grapes.
In any case, Swetnick wasn't the only new accuser to come to light on Wednesday. We also learned that sometime recently (exactly when is not clear), Sen. Cory Gardner's office received a complaint against Kavanaugh. That individual, who chose to remain anonymous, wrote:
I feel obligated to inform you of this 1998 incident involving Brett Kavanaugh...[My daughter's] friend was dating him, and they left the bar under the influence of alcohol. They were all shocked when Brett Kavanaugh shoved her friend up against the wall very aggressively and sexually. There were at least four witnesses, including my daughter. Her friend, still traumatized, called my daughter yesterday, September 21, 2018, wondering what to do about it. They decided to remain anonymous.
And if that is not enough, there is also a fifth accuser. The office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) received a complaint that a "close acquaintance" of one of the Senator's constituents was on a boat trip off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island and was "sexually assaulted by two heavily inebriated men she referred to at the time as Brett and Mark." The constituent who made the report says he realized who the alleged attacker was "when he saw Kavanaugh's high school yearbook photo on television over the weekend." It is not clear how the constituent would know what the attacker looked like, since he was not the victim.
Naturally, Kavanaugh has denied everything, both publicly and when he was questioned over the phone by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. For example, in response to Swetnick, he declared her story to be "ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone," and said "I don't know who this is and this never happened." Undoubtedly, the Judge and his supporters will grab onto the missing pieces in each of Wednesday's new stories in order to disqualify them. However, if these folks are making it up, they are doing an excellent job of describing the same pattern of behavior (abuse of alcohol leading to physical aggression). Further, there is more than enough at this point to suggest that if an investigation was conducted, there could be a sizable number of witnesses out there with information. Of course, just because an investigation is justified does not in any way mean one will actually happen, although Wednesday did see the first Republican come out and call for one. It's Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, whose R+13 district is pretty safe, so he's presumably not just trying to score some brownie points in advance of a tough campaign. If a few other GOP officeholders join him in speaking up, anything is possible. (Z)
What happens on Friday, and beyond, is anyone's guess. However, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is definitely going to move forward on Thursday with plans to have Brett Kavanaugh and accuser #1 Christine Blasey Ford appear before the committee. In the GOP's apparent quest to commit as many unforced errors as is possible, Grassley declared: "I feel like I have a definite responsibility to hold a hearing, not only for (Blasey Ford) but for Judge Kavanaugh." One could argue that Grassley's primary responsibility is to Ford, the potential victim, and making sure her story is heard and properly considered. One could also argue that his primary responsibility is to the American people, and to making certain that whoever ends up on the most important court in the land, where he might serve 40 years, is not a lecher. The one person who is owed nothing is Kavanaugh, who is definitely not a victim of a crime, is not entitled to a seat on the Supreme Court, and can still look forward to a peachy life with a generous salary as a high-ranking federal judge, even if this does not work out for him (assuming he is not criminally investigated, convicted, and sent to prison, which is not impossible but is pretty unlikely).
Already, Kavanaugh and Ford have filed their opening statements with the Committee. Both largely repeat what the pair have said publicly, although Kavanaugh's does acknowledge that, "I drank beer with my friends, usually on weekends. Sometimes I had too many. In retrospect, I said and did things in high school that make me cringe now." That's a somewhat different tune than the one he sung during his Fox News interview.
When Ford takes her turn (first), she is likely to give pretty compelling testimony. Unless one thinks she's a paid Democratic shill, she's got no reason to be anything other than completely honest, as best she can be. She's clearly a person of conscience, she's used to public speaking (albeit, not with millions watching), and these events are traumatic enough that she's likely to get a little bit (or a lot) emotional. If she does, that will be the clip that is replayed over and over again. Kavanaugh, for his part, will deny, deny, and deny some more. He, of course, does have reason to lie (or, at very least, to spin like a maniac). And the evidence we have, most obviously the Fox News interview, suggests he's not actually all that great at it. As we pointed out, he stumbled into a whopper or two while chatting with Martha MacCallum. Further, his repetition of his desire for "fairness" (he mentioned it 16 times in the interview) makes clear he was working from pre-scripted talking points. There's no reason to think today will be different. It's a rare person who can make such talking points seem genuine and spontaneous (Barack Obama? Ronald Reagan?) and Kavanaugh is not among that group. In short, the odds are pretty good that Ford comes off better than Kavanaugh today.
With that said, because Grassley is being very cagey about his plans, there are also a lot of "known unknowns" that could change the whole ballgame in one direction or another. He's going to allow each member of the Committee just five minutes for questions; who knows what each of them will do with them? And then there is the question of what will happen with the other four accusers. Will they be heeded at all, or will Grassley pretend that they don't exist? Given how rapidly this situation keeps developing, your guess may be as good as his. (Z)
As recently as 10 days ago, Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court was a done deal. Now, many outcomes are possible, and among them is that the GOP just rams him through despite all the baggage that has accumulated, midterm elections be damned. If that is indeed what comes to pass, some Democrats are already preparing countermeasures. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is readying a lawsuit asking that the courts grant an injunction against holding a vote on Kavanaugh until all records about him have been released, on the theory that the Senator's right and responsibility to "advise and consent" on nominees has been infringed upon. Meanwhile, a cadre of the leftiest Senators, including Merkley, Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are thinking seriously about an old-fashioned filibuster, of the type where they literally get up in front of the Senate and waste time reading the phone book, or explaining their mother's recipe for chicken soup, or whatever.
Neither of these maneuvers is going to amount to much of anything. Merkley's lawsuit is the longest of longshots, since the courts are leery of telling another branch how to conduct its business. And the filibuster would last only a few hours or so, and would only be political theater designed to register a symbolic protest against Kavanaugh (by three fellows who, just coincidentally, each happens to be thinking about a 2020 run for president). Presumably, party leadership is pulling its hair out over this. The charge that has been leveled at Democrats, over and over again this week, is that they don't actually care about sexual assault or #MeToo or any of that, and they are merely using Christine Blasey Ford, et al., as political pawns. Stunts like these will certainly give critics (i.e., the Republicans running for office in the midterms) plenty of ammunition in support of that argument. (Z)
We are pretty close to the point, if we're not already there, where "Trump behaves erratically" is a "dog bites man" kind of story. Still, the President has days where he's unusually unhinged, and Wednesday was certainly one of those, as he held a wild, hourlong press conference that was all over the place, and full of stuff that would slice 10 points off any other president's approval rating.
The major theme of the press conference, as CNN's Chris Cillizza observes, was "me, me, me, me". That's not so unusual for the President, either during his press availabilities or his rallies. No, what made it particularly out there was some of the territory he covered. In response to a question about whether he believed the women who have accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, he declared that this sort of thing gets made up all the time, and that "I've been accused...by four or five women, who got paid a lot of money to make up stories about me who made a lot of money." It is, of course, closer to 20 women, and there is zero evidence that any of them were paid to accuse Trump of wrongdoing. Yes, some of them got paid to stay quiet, but that's a different matter entirely. There is also, of course, no evidence that Trump's implication—that Kavanaugh's accusers are also being paid—is true, either.
Trump then went on to opine that all of this is a Democratic conspiracy. That's also not unusual for him, since he suggests that he and his appointees are the targets of one conspiracy or another on an almost daily basis. However, the President did raise eyebrows with the clumsy analogy he made in support of his complaint:
Look, if we brought George Washington here and we said, 'We have George Washington,' the Democrats would vote against him. And he may have had a bad past, who knows, you know? He may have had some—I think—accusations made. Didn't he have a couple of things in his past? George Washington would be voted against 100 percent by Schumer and the con artists. 100 percent. 100 percent. So it really doesn't matter from their standpoint.
Trump's grasp on history is very shaky, so it's hard to know what he might be thinking of here. It's possible that he is aware that Washington was accused (about 20 years ago, not during his lifetime) of fathering children with one of his slaves (named, appropriately enough for a sex scandal, Venus). However, this fact is pretty "inside baseball," and not the sort of thing the Donald is likely to know. If this did somehow come up in a hypothetical George Washington confirmation hearing, however, someone would presumably point out (very delicately) that the story isn't terribly likely to be true. It is generally understood that due to a vicious case of smallpox when he was a young man, the "father of his country" was, shall we say, shooting blanks. Oh, the irony.
It's also possible Trump was trying (and failing) to remember that Washington was...a slaveholder. Hard to believe that would slip someone's mind, but maybe. Anyhow, if we grant the anachronism of an 18th century slaveholder somehow being examined by a 21st century Senate committee, then yes, it is at least possible that the Democrats would reject old George. Which means that Brett Kavanaugh now has something to bring up in his defense today if he chooses: "Whatever my sexual past may be, I can say without hesitation that I do not now own, nor have I ever owned, African slaves." Kavanaugh 1, Washington 0.
Once Trump was done ruminating on the first ex-president, he turned to the most recent ex-president, and claimed that Barack Obama once came close to starting a war with North Korea. "You know how close he was to pressing the trigger?" Trump asked, while predicting that "millions of people would have been killed." This is not the first time the President has made this basic claim, and there is no more evidence for it now than there was the first time he made it.
As we have noted before, shredding a Donald Trump press conference (or rally) is like shooting fish in a barrel, particularly when he decides to play historian. We bring this up only because Trump generally gets this far off the rails only when something is really bothering him. There's nothing too much on the Mueller front right now, nor is there likely to be until after the midterms are over, so it's probably not that. The two most obvious possibilities are (1) That he's figured out that the UN was laughing at him on Tuesday, and he's upset and embarrassed, or (2) He has some sort of insider knowledge that Kavanaugh is in deep trouble. Could be either of these, or both, or something else entirely. Only the Donald knows for sure. (Z)
Donald Trump is currently at something of a loss as to what he wants to do about Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. On one hand, Trump very badly wants to lop Rosenstein's head off, ideally as prelude to getting rid of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his confounded investigation. And if ever the President is going to have cover for doing so, it's right now, following the revelation that Rosenstein (either jokingly or seriously) suggested that he wear a wire while talking to Trump, in preparation for invoking the 25th Amendment. On the other hand, the optics of canning Rosenstein would still be pretty bad. Further, Trump very much likes to appear magnanimous and forgiving (sometimes), and also to keep people guessing. He is, after all, a reality TV star at heart.
The evidence that Trump just can't figure it out is abundant. It was reported Thursday, for example, that AG Jeff Sessions' chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, was told by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to get ready to take over Rosenstein's job. That certainly suggests that the Deputy AG is about to be unemployed. On the other hand, Trump himself announced later in the day that he'd "prefer" to keep Rosenstein around. Further, the meeting scheduled for today—where Rosenstein was supposed to chat with Trump and learn what his fate is to be—may be rescheduled to sometime in the future. So, we may know everything by the end of the day today, or we may know absolutely nothing. (Z)
This has been rumored for several days, and on Wednesday it came to pass. The House passed an $854 billion spending bill by a huge bipartisan majority, 361-61. The Senate passed the same bill, 93-7. Now it heads to Donald Trump's desk for his signature. If he signs it, the government will be funded through December 7.
After the House's vote, Trump promised he would indeed affix his signature. On the other hand, he's not happy about the lack of funding for his border wall, and just this weekend he lambasted the bill as "ridiculous" and expressed anger that nobody is willing to get serious about border security. So, the signature is not a sure thing until the ink is actually dry. Either way, the House is going to adjourn until after the midterms tomorrow, so if Trump doesn't sign, he's probably going to get the government shutdown he claimed he wanted. (Z)
A new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is out, and it has worrisome news for the GOP. With six weeks before the midterms, the Democrats' lead on the generic ballot is as big as it's been all year, 55% to 41%. Perhaps even worse for the red team, the increase in Democratic support appears to be coming primarily from...suburban women. They now break 61% to 35% for the blue team, an increase of 9% since mid-summer in the same poll.
There's actually quite a bit of additional bad news for the GOP, when looking at the crosstabs. For example, 3 in 4 respondents said that they viewed their midterm vote as an opportunity to send a message to President Trump (and that message, by and large, is not "best wishes for a festive holiday season"). Also, echoing a finding from other polls conducted in the last few weeks, voters 65 and older are drifting in the blue team's direction, now preferring them 51% to 45%. And finally, few voters seem to care all that much that the economy is humming along.
Suburban and elderly voters have been the GOP's bread and butter for generations, at least back to the 1950s. If they begin to skew consistently Democratic, there just aren't enough disaffected blue-collar white men to offset the loss. In terms of this year's election, it's generally understood that the Democrats need to outpace the Republicans by about 7% to make retaking the House likely. If the blue team can do 13% or 14% instead of 7%, that makes the House close to a slam dunk (gerrymandering or not), and puts the Senate within definite reach. (Z)
The so-called "vulnerable Democrats" in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin may not be so vulnerable after all. They all have double-digit leads. Donors will see this and decide there are better places to spend their money, so those four are basically done deals now. That leaves six others. A poll in one of them, Indiana, shows Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) with a very small lead, so that is likely to continue being a close race. Other squeakers are expected in Florida, Missouri, and North Dakota. In Montana and West Virginia, the Democratic incumbents are slight favorites. (V)
|State||Democrat||D %||Republican||R %||Start||End||Pollster|
|California||Dianne Feinstein*||40%||Kevin de Leon (D)||29%||Sep 09||Sep 18||Public Policy Inst. of Calif.|
|Delaware||Tom Carper*||61%||Rob Arlett||24%||Sep 11||Sep 17||U. of Delaware|
|Indiana||Joe Donnelly*||46%||Mike Braun||43%||Sep 12||Sep 20||Ipsos|
|Michigan||Debbie Stabenow*||55%||John James||35%||Sep 14||Sep 24||Ipsos|
|Ohio||Sherrod Brown*||49%||Jim Renacci||35%||Sep 16||Sep 20||Marist Coll.|
|Ohio||Sherrod Brown*||50%||Jim Renacci||39%||Sep 13||Sep 21||Ipsos|
|Pennsylvania||Bob Casey*||53%||Lou Barletta||37%||Sep 12||Sep 20||Ipsos|
|Wisconsin||Tammy Baldwin*||52%||Leah Vukmir||39%||Sep 14||Sep 24||Ipsos|
* Denotes incumbent
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep26 Kavanaugh's College Roommate Supports Ramirez
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