If the White House had qualms about openly challenging the first woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, its reservations disappeared the instant a second accuser spoke up.
In the 15 hours or so since the New Yorker published an allegation by Deborah Ramirez — that Kavanaugh exposed himself and shoved his penis in her face during a drinking game in college in the 1980s — a White House spokeswoman has called her story a “smear.” President Donald Trump has called it “totally political.” And the administration has released a page of talking points obviously designed to undermine the accuser’s credibility.
That’s a night-and-day difference from the restraint the White House showed when Kavanaugh’s first accuser went public a week earlier — when President Donald Trump’s surrogates urged her to tell her story to the Senate panel reviewing the nomination.
But then, Kavanaugh’s confirmation seemed in less danger at the time.
When the Washington Post on Sept. 16 published Christine Blasey Ford’s account that a teenage Kavanaugh tried to rape her in the early 1980s, the White House pointed to the nominee’s denial but added no comment of its own. For nearly a week, the administration tried to keep Kavanaugh’s confirmation on track without directly contradicting his accuser — at least until Trump broke the streak Friday with a tweet challenging Ford.
Some assumed that strategy had been in deference to the MeToo movement, or out of fear of contradicting a woman’s memory of sexual assault. In any case, no such restraint has been shown to Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh assaulted her at a dorm party at Yale University about two years after he allegedly attacked Ford.
The New Yorker’s article included a statement from White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec: “This 35-year-old, uncorroborated claim is the latest in a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man. “
The White House followed up a few hours later with a remarkable memo e-mailed to reporters shortly before midnight, titled: “What you need to know about the allegation made in the New Yorker article on Judge Brett Kavanaugh.”
“What you need to know,” according to the White House, was a page full of talking points and quotes pulled from the article itself — essentially everything the New Yorker had written that cast doubt on Ramirez’s claim.
“The New Yorker admits it has not confirmed through eyewitnesses Kavanaugh was even present at the party,” the statement reads, for example, “and other students who knew Kavanaugh said they never heard of the incident.”
This was true, though the magazine also quoted two of Ramirez’s former classmates who remembered hearing about the alleged assault shortly after the party. The White House didn’t mention that in its memo.
If there was any doubt that the strategy to salvage Kavanaugh’s nomination has become dramatically more aggressive, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway dispelled it early Monday.
“This is starting to feel like a vast left-wing conspiracy,” she told “CBS This Morning.”
One week earlier, Conway had set the tone for the White House’s restrained response to Ford’s accusations when she argued that the accuser “should not be insulted, she should not be ignored.”
Conway did not insult Ramirez on Monday. But when CBS asked if she thought Ramirez’s story might be made up, Conway replied: “There’s a great deal of suspicion.”
“I know there’s pent-up demand for women to get their day, women who have been sexually harassed and sexually assaulted. And I personally am very aggrieved for all of them,” Conway said. But, she added a few minutes later: “I just don’t think one man’s shoulders should bear decades of the MeToo movement.”
It’s unclear what prompted the White House’s new tone — whether it comes down to differences in the way it views the women’s claims, or a growing fear that Kavanaugh’s nomination could collapse under the weight of multiple allegations, or something else.
Where that tone comes from is more obvious. Speaking to reporters Monday at the U.N., Trump not only challenged the second accuser’s motives but applied his suspicions retroactively to the first.
“For people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago and 30 years ago and never mention it, all of a sudden it happens,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s totally political.”