Donald Trump held a rally in Las Vegas for Sen. Dean Heller. R-Nev., on Thursday night. (Heller faces a tough re-election fight against Rep. Jacky Rosen, a moderate Democrat well liked in Nevada.) His crowd was as ecstatic as usual, lustily chanting "lock her up" and booing energetically when Trump asked sarcastically, "What about our Justice Department, huh?" It's still jarring to see a president ginning up citizens to demand that his former political rival be put in prison, but this new disgust for federal law enforcement is downright disorienting.
Trump was introduced by Wayne Allen Root, author of "Angry White Male: How the Donald Trump Phenomenon Is Changing America." Root claimed that Trump had specifically requested him, which is probably true. They are both conspiracy theorists, having originally bonded over the "birther" craze that first put Trump on the wingnut radar. If they had a chance to chat last night in Vegas it is almost certain they talked about this:
That story had been teased in right-wing circles for a few days, even making it into the Washington Post opinion page when Kathleen Parker published a fatuous op-ed suggesting that Brett Kavanaugh must have an evil twin (she called it a "Kavanaugh doppelganger") who attempted to rape Christine Blasey Ford at a high school party. Most people not steeped in the right-wing fever swamps thought Parker's piece was just a bizarre fantasy, but those who are tuned in to social and professional GOP establishment circles understood that she was previewing a quasi-official alternative theory of the case.
What makes this whole thing important is that the person who concocted this story is a man named Ed Whelan who operates at high levels of the conservative legal establishment and is close to major players in the White House and to Kavanaugh himself. It is a testament to his reputation inside the Beltway that members of the press, as well as top Republicans, were all aquiver for the last few days waiting to hear what Whelan had.
When he finally laid it out on his Twitter feed on Thursday night, with diagrams and floor plans that prove nothing and a lot of speculative folderol, it landed with a thud that sent shockwaves through the media and the political world, for reasons nobody expected. The story he lays out is not just embarrassingly feeble but also recklessly defamatory. His alternative theory is that Ford mistakenly identified Kavanaugh as her attacker, a charge telegraphed early on by Sen. Orrin Hatch when he said that he had spoken with Kavanaugh and believed Ford was "mixed up." But then Whelan actually throws suspicion onto a named individual who went to school with Kavanaugh. It's a shocking thing to do to this person who, as it happens, even signed one of the letters of support for Kavanaugh.
The Washington Post characterized the reaction this way:
Republicans on Capitol Hill and White House officials immediately sought to distance themselves from Whelan’s claims and said they were not aware of his plans to identify the former classmate, now a middle school teacher, who could not be reached for comment and did not answer the door at his house Thursday night.
Saying they weren't aware that he was going to name another man as the attacker doesn't really get those Republicans off the hook. As the Post reports:
Whelan has been involved in helping to advise Kavanaugh’s confirmation effort and is close friends with both Kavanaugh and Leonard Leo, the head of the Federalist Society who has been helping to spearhead the nomination. Kavanaugh and Whelan also worked together in the Bush administration.
Kavanaugh and his allies have been privately discussing a defense that would not question whether an incident involving Ford happened, but instead would raise doubts that the attacker was Kavanaugh, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
That means Kavanaugh was personally involved in this inane charade, which would be in keeping with his experience as a professional political operative and hardcore partisan hit man. Unfortunately for him, his skills are obviously a little rusty.
In any case, Kavanaugh's supporters seem to have done no real investigation beyond looking at a couple of yearbook photos and determining that the two high school boys looked similar (although anyone can see they aren't the same person). They neglected to inquire if any relationship had existed between Ford and the other man. As it turns out one did:
“I knew them both, and socialized with” the other classmate, Ford said, adding that she had once visited him in the hospital. “There is zero chance that I would confuse them.”
That Kavanaugh and his allies would think it necessary to go to these ridiculous length speaks to serious insecurity about his denials. If he was involved in this inane plot it is yet more evidence that Kavanaugh is completely unfit for the Supreme Court -- or any other position of high authority.
This may explain why Republicans are so reluctant to get the FBI involved. As I mentioned, Orrin Hatch (as well as his deputy chief of staff) gave away the game early on as to why GOP senators were pretending there was no precedent for asking the FBI to interview some witnesses if new information emerged during a confirmation hearing. The last thing they want is for the FBI to go around digging into a story everyone has worked madly to cover up.
One can imagine that under current conditions the FBI doesn't really want to get involved in a partisan maelstrom like this either. The president and his minions' relentless smearing of the bureau has to be making its agents second-guess themselves in ways they normally wouldn't -- which is exactly the point. (Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse D-R.I., told CNN's Jake Tapper on Thursday that he's concerned about that. He probably should be.)
Trump, on the other hand, had his own reasons for keeping the FBI out of it by falsely asserting that the FBI doesn't do those kinds of background checks. After all, he has called the agency a "cancer on the country," and undoubtedly assumes bureau officials will retaliate in any way they can. (Since that's how he operates, he thinks everyone else behaves the same way.)
Trump's staff has urged him to hold fire on Kavanaugh's alleged victim, which he has done for the most part, staying on message even though it obviously pains him to do it. But in a live interview with Sean Hannity at his Las Vegas rally, he couldn't hold back entirely, saying, "Frankly, Sean, to see what is going on is very, very sad. Why didn’t somebody call the FBI 36 years ago?" Once more he reveals that he is incapable of ever learning anything.
Get ready for an eventful week. At this writing, Ford's attorneys and the Senate Judiciary Committee are negotiating terms for her to appear for a public hearing, although it almost certainly won't be as soon as Monday. I don't think anyone knows how this one is going to turn out.