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The Unsatisfying Conclusions of ‘The Education of Brett Kavanaugh’

A new book by two New York Times reporters offers more questions than answers

Pity the judge who has to rule on the case of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh: The basic facts are as disputed today as they were during his confirmation hearings a year ago.

In months of investigation for their new book, “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh,” New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly match rigorous reporting with a common-sense approach as they flesh out Kavanaugh’s past and try to determine whether the accusations of sexual assault and harassment against him are credible. The book, published on Tuesday, includes additional corroboration for one accuser’s story, a potential new case of sexual misconduct that was never investigated by the F.B.I., and a portrait of Kavanaugh’s past drinking that suggests he misled senators and the public during his September 2018 testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But the reporters didn’t find a smoking gun.

“As people, our gut reaction was that the allegations … from the past rang true,” the authors write in the book. “As reporters, we uncovered nothing to suggest that Kavanaugh has mistreated women in the years since.”

“The Education of Brett Kavanaugh” will not satisfy readers seeking a definitive account of what exactly happened at the party where Christine Blasey Ford says she was sexually assaulted by a drunk Kavanaugh, or at the Yale party where Deborah Ramirez says a drunk Kavanaugh thrusted his penis in front of her face.

Cover to "The Education of Brett Kavanaugh" book

Courtesy of Portfolio

Instead, the writers followed a guiding principle that Kavanaugh’s own mother, a judge herself, often referred to: “Use your common sense. What rings true? What rings false?” With these questions in mind, they found a story about the cultural impact of Kavanaugh’s appointment and the ways in which character — that malleable, subjective thing — is built.

The two reporters are upfront about the questions that linger in their authors’ note:

“If Kavanaugh mistreated Ford and Ramirez but has conducted himself honorably in the past thirty-six years, does he deserve to be on the court? If there is not dispositive proof that Kavanaugh engaged in such misbehavior, were the accusations enough to eliminate him from consideration? Was his temperament during the last day of testimony in itself disqualifying?

We leave those conclusions to our readers. No doubt they will be debated for many years to come.”

These questions certainly were agonized over in the days and weeks and months after Kavanaugh’s confirmation, when public responses were, for the most part, divided into two camps: Some strenuously objected to Kavanaugh’s lifelong appointment to the most powerful court in America, in light of the accusations, Ford’s account before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kavanaugh’s own combative testimony, and the fast F.B.I. investigation.

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, after watching Kavanaugh’s testimony last year, publicly rebuked Kavanaugh and said he was not fit for the court. Since the book’s release, several lawmakers have also called for Kavanaugh’s impeachment. “I sat through those hearings,” senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris tweeted. “Brett Kavanaugh lied to the U.S. Senate and most importantly to the American people. He was put on the Court through a sham process and his place on the Court is an insult to the pursuit of truth and justice.”

For others, particularly the lawmakers who voted to confirm Kavanaugh and for President Trump, the appointment was the rightful conclusion of a charged confirmation process for a conservative justice whose reputation was smeared by two allegations from the past. They saw Kavanaugh as a victim of partisan attacks. “He is an innocent man who has been treated HORRIBLY. Such lies about him. They want to scare him into turning Liberal!” Trump tweeted on Sunday.

Kavanaugh supporters also gained fodder this week when the Times released an excerpt from the book that initially omitted a key detail regarding a new allegation that Kavanaugh exposed his penis to another Yale student at a party: that she declined to be interviewed for the book, and that her friends told the reporters that she does not recall the incident.

As one former clerk for Kavanaugh told the reporters, “Everyone who watched the testimony of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh saw in there what they wanted to see.”

The same can be said for those who read “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh.”