The authors of a hotly controversial new book about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that Democratic presidential candidates calling for his impeachment were engaged in a “rush to judgment” without having actually read their “nuanced” account of the sexual misconduct allegations that were leveled against him.
“It’s dismaying to see the rush to judgment,” said Kate Kelly, a New York Times reporter and co-author of “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh,” in an interview on the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.”
“We definitely have been grappling with it for sure,” said co-author and fellow Times reporter Robin Pogrebin when asked about the firestorm the initial accounts of their book triggered. “There was a sense going into this that nuance doesn’t make headlines, ... that people were going to pull stuff out. ... People saw what they wanted to see before learning any of the facts, or didn’t even make much of an effort to pay attention to the facts.”
At the same time, Kelly and Pogrebin acknowledged there were “errors in the process” of preparing an opinion article in the Sunday paper about their book that resulted in Times editors removing “significant” information favorable to Kavanaugh’s defense from an early draft.
The article stated that, in the course of researching their book, the authors had uncovered a “previously unreported” allegation that Kavanaugh, while a freshman at Yale University, was at a drunken dorm party where “friends pushed his penis” into the hand of a female student.
The allegation in the report triggered demands — led by a half-dozen Democratic presidential candidates, including Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg — for Kavanaugh to be impeached.
But the Times article left out a key detail that is included in the book: that the woman at the party in the new allegation never spoke to the authors and, according to several of her friends, didn’t recall the event ever happening.
“Obviously, it was an oversight,” said Kelly. “We corrected it as soon as we could, added the information in. There’s an editor’s note explaining that we regret this. It’s unfortunate, and just speaking for Robin and myself, there’s no attempt to conceal information from our readers.”
The authors also acknowledged that they actually know few details about the new allegation against Kavanaugh. It was first passed along to Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware by Max Stier, a Washington lawyer who once worked against Kavanaugh during a court battle over Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Coons then wrote a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray urging the bureau to interview Stier, but there is no indication that ever happened.
But the Times reporters were unable to flesh out any details about what Stier actually saw at the college dorm party more than 35 years ago, including whether he recalls anybody else who was there and how he communicated his recollections last year to Coons and others. Asked if Stier put his account of what he remembered in writing, Pogrebin replied: “I can’t say I know that.”
Much of the article about their book in Sunday’s paper involved seven witnesses who, the authors claim, corroborated aspects of a separate account by another former Yale classmate, Deborah Ramirez, that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at another dorm party. Such corroboration would be significant given that, according to initial accounts last year, Ramirez had been initially uncertain about Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident
But the authors acknowledge that none of those corroborating witnesses actually were present at the dorm party. Several of them — including Ramirez’s mother — had been told about the incident but with no reference to Kavanaugh being the offender, and two others only “vaguely” recalled it without being told it involved Kavanaugh. Ken Appold, one of those who did hear that it was Kavanaugh, wasn’t present at the event and, according to the Times reporters, couldn’t remember who told him about it. Yet another of the corroborators heard that it involved Kavanaugh — but only from Appold.
Against these details, the book also includes passages boosting Kavanaugh that also were left out of the Times article. The authors report that Leland Keyser, a onetime friend of Christine Blasey Ford, came to question Ford’s account that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school house party. Keyser had been named by Ford as one of those present at the party when the assault occurred. But Keyser — after initially saying she didn’t remember being at the party but that she believed Ford — no longer does so and told the authors that she was pressured by Ford’s allies to change her story. “I was told behind the scenes that certain things could be spread about me if I didn’t comply,” she is quoted as saying.
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The authors also noted that they had found no evidence of Kavanaugh mistreating women as an adult — to the contrary, he had heavily promoted and mentored them — and that the image of him in some circles as a hard-right conservative was off. “This is a jurist who is known for his thoughtfulness, who’s known for pragmatism, and less kind of predictably ideological,” said Kelly.
But he was also a jurist who sought to be less than forthright about any interviews he might give the authors. Kelly and Pogrebin described their efforts to negotiate an interview with Kavanaugh for the book.
“We kept the justice just apprised of what we were working on throughout, asked him to consider meeting with us very early on,” said Kelly. “It didn’t seem to be something he was seriously considering until kind of late in the process. We asked several intermediaries to talk to him about it, and they did, and we were made to understand that he was thinking about it.”
But, she added, the negotiations “broke down over ground rules. ... He wanted us to say in the book that he had declined to be interviewed, and we were not comfortable doing that.”
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