A surprise documentary unveiled at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday night revealed new sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and raised disturbing questions about whether the FBI ever actually investigated his behavior.
The most heart-wrenching footage in the documentary by director Doug Liman and producer Amy Herdy involved a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale. Deborah Ramirez went on camera for the first time to detail her story of being sexually harassed by Kavanaugh in front of their friends during a drunken college party in the 1980s.
Ramirez previously alleged in a New Yorker piece by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer that Kavanaugh pushed his penis in her face in front of a group of friends at a party, humiliating her. Kavanaugh has denied the incident ever occurred. Ramirez was never called to testify by the Senate Judiciary Committee that confirmed Kavanaugh.
But the documentary makes a convincing case that a number of Yale classmates attempted to cover up the incident months before it ever came out in The New Yorker.
Ramirez was clearly traumatized by what she remembers happening. Her humiliation for Kavanaugh’s amusement sounds eerily similar to the testimony of Christine Blasey-Ford before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which Blasey-Ford recalled Kavanaugh laughing while attempting to force himself on her at a teenaged party. She escaped the room and fled, but never forgot the attack. Kavanaugh denied that the incident ever occurred.
The film also surfaces a smoking gun: Max Stier, a suitemate of Kavanaughs’ at Yale, left a phone recording for the FBI, played in the documentary, in which he recalled learning at Yale of a incident involving a “very drunk” Kavanaugh with his pants down, having a female freshman hold his penis, while laughing.
The woman’s name was redacted, and the film said she has elected not to come forward.
The film, Liman’s first documentary, elicited both cheers and groans at various points during the premiere screening. And Liman recognized that in the current polarized political climate, it may not change the minds of those with strong, fixed views on Kavanaugh’s appointment.
“Maybe the truth matters, it matters now, and in 100 years the film will exist,” said Liman.
Herdy said she didn’t agree. “I hope this triggers outrage, action and a real investigation with subpoena powers,” she said.
But clearly this is high stakes and high sensitivity material. The filmmakers kept the entire documentary under wraps until the day before it screened, requiring all participants to sign non-disclosure agreements.
“Some material we uncovered is the machinery that is put into place when people dare to speak up,” said Liman. “We knew that machinery would be turned against this film.”
Meanwhile, the film shockingly reveals that the FBI, which was mandated to investigate Kavanaugh for a week while the Senate waited to vote, in fact did nothing with 4,500 leads that came into field offices and tip lines. Instead, those tips were handed to the White House.
As Herdy put it at the premiere: “Those tips went to the White House or the garbage can.”
The documentary is for sale, though Liman said in the wake of new tips that continue to roll in after the film was announced that the work on it would continue.