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Whitehouse talks Kavanaugh, partisanship, sexual assault claims

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, to vote against confirming Kavanaugh, urges more thorough FBI investigation

Senior Staff Writer
Saturday, October 6, 2018

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, has represented the state in the U. S. Senate since 2007 and currently sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Before being elected to the Senate, Whitehouse was the Rhode Island Attorney General from 1998 to 2003. On Friday, he sat down with The Herald to discuss the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Christine Blasey Ford’s statement as well as today’s final confirmation vote.

Herald: If there’s anything you could say about the investigation and how thorough it was, what would you say?

Whitehouse: I would say that I found it incomplete, and that if the FBI had sent me a package like that when I was (a) United States Attorney, I would have sent it back for further investigation.

The New York Times reported that about nine pages of the report were about Mark Judge. Do you feel he made a significant impact in his statements?

We are in a strange situation on the witness summaries that we were provided by the FBI because there are quite strict rules about not discussing publicly any of the content. … (It’s) a little bit frustrating because the Republicans are saying things about the contents of the witness summaries in what seems to me to be a violation of those rules. And I’m not sure what I’m permitted to do in (the) wake of their having broken the rules, but my inclination is to stay within the rules. So, that very much limits what I can say about the contents of the witness summaries. One technical thing: What we were provided with was a series of witness summaries of interviews. There was not something that would be properly considered a report.

Do you think the investigation will ever be made public or will be made public soon considering there is a vote today?

I doubt that it will be made public. I guess I’ll just stop there.

Would there ever be a push to try to make it public from the Democrats?

I think the opening push should be for a complete, thorough investigation. That’s the key step. Making public witness summaries — or sections of witness summaries — that came out of a process that appears to me more designed to step around the truth than find the truth is not as helpful as actually getting a sincere and thorough investigation completed.

How will you vote today?

I was an early ‘no,’ right after the first Judiciary Committee hearing, when I had a chance to see Kavanaugh in action before the committee.

What factors led you to that ‘no’?

The biggest factor for me is the array of indicators that he would be a highly partisan Supreme Court judge and contribute to what is a very distressing trend at the Supreme Court of five-to-four partisan Supreme Court decisions that yield big victories for big Republican interests.

Following the second portion of the hearings, after Blasey Ford’s accusation came out to the public, what do you think … Kavanaugh’s (statements) revealed about his character and also his temperament?

To me, it confirmed concerns that I had about his temperament and his truthfulness and his partisanship. I thought the most telling part of his statement was when he called up the Clintons as participants in some kind of a conspiracy against him. To me, that seemed like (a) very far out conspiracy theory. And the fact that he was willing to go there was, to me, a very disturbing signal. It’s one thing to be angry, it’s another thing to have your anger take you into the land of conspiracy theory and false blame. False blame is a particularly dangerous thing from somebody who wants to be a judge.

What did you make of the Republicans choosing to have a prosecutor question Blasey Ford?

I think they were concerned about the appearance of the all elderly white male makeup of the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee. This was a vehicle for getting a female face into the equation.

Republicans had originally said they would yield all their time to a prosecutor, and then (starting) with Lindsey Graham, … comments from came from Republican Senators themselves. What do you make about some of the anger that came from those Republican Senators?

I think at some point in the day there came a realization that their strategy to hide behind a prosecutor was a complete failure and that Blasey Ford was, as President Trump himself said, a credible and compelling witness. They basically needed to change the narrative as urgently as possible.

What do you say to the Republican argument that Blasey Ford’s accusation and other accusations that have come out are really just an excuse to extend the confirmation process?

It’s an argument that doesn’t align with the facts. Particularly the facts about Ford having made so many prior, consistent statements corroborating her accusation of Kavanaugh and (having) begun to try to get information about the assault to the Judiciary Committee before Kavanaugh was even the nominee.  

Going back to last Friday, when there was the decision to start an investigation, can you describe some of the confusion or the atmosphere when Sen. Flake had what some are calling a ‘crisis of conscience’ that day?

I think there was indeed a crisis of conscience on the Republican side. I think Sen. Flake was the most visible and significant figure in all of this. But I do think our persistent and forceful arguments about the failure to reopen the background investigation for these new allegations were having an effect on other Republicans on the committee and on other Republicans watching from their offices.

Were there any personal experiences that you’ve had that affected your decision to vote against Kavanaugh or affected your reaction to Blasey Ford’s accusation?

The most personal reaction that I have had in this episode since Blasey Ford came forward was to the incredible outpouring of support from Rhode Islanders and particularly from a group of women who each separately wrote me from a wide variety of backgrounds, from college students to grandmothers, who tell me about sexual assaults they had experienced.

Do you think these hearings will affect the midterm elections? Is there anything you have to say to Brown students or students in general about the democratic process following these hearings?

Well, there’s a very simple reason that the Republicans were able to get away with all the many violations of Senate rules, Senate norms and simple decency in the rush to confirm this nominee and that is that there is no countervailing power in Washington against the monopoly on power that Republicans hold in the House, the Senate and the White House. And however strong your feelings are about what has happened in this process, I would hope the response is to get more engaged rather than to disengage, because the basic condition that allowed this to happen was a one-party monopoly on power and zero accountability as a result.

Can I say one other thing? … I’m stuck again by these women who wrote about their own experiences. Often in the letters they said they told no one, or they said they only told their husbands, or they only told a small circle of friends. And they were sharing this private experience — something often held by them for decades — because they’ve wanted me to believe Ford because her memory and her reaction were exactly consistent with their memories and their reactions to their sexual assaults. I think that many people coming forward — which has never happened to me before, (which I’ve) never seen before and which a lot of my other colleagues in other states are seeing as well — gives us the opportunity to really make this a moment so that, as one woman said to me, her daughter and her granddaughters don’t have to grow up in a world in which these sexual assaults have be held private and kept secret because of the culture around them. We can move on in that, that’s the one really decent and even potentially beautiful thing about this wretched episode.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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