Call them the two Brett Kavanaughs: One was a rowdy frat boy who once bragged about “100 kegs.” The other was a studious rule-follower who spent his free time going to church, volunteering and remaining chaste.
Making the contrast even stranger is the fact that both versions have been offered by Kavanaugh himself.
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As the battle over Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination places his adolescence and young adulthood under the microscope, critics are asking which version of the man is real — and whether the conservative judge has represented himself to the public honestly.
The war over the nomination has produced neck-snapping moments of cognitive dissonance. When former high school classmates accused Kavanaugh of making a crude joke in his yearbook about having sex with a girl from a nearby high school, Kavanaugh’s lawyer countered that he was simply commemorating a “brief kiss good night.” When Kavanaugh insisted he was a virgin through high school and for “many years thereafter,” a college classmate challenged him on Twitter. Following the discovery that a high school buddy’s memoir depicted a “Bart O’Kavanaugh” who partied so hard he sometimes passed out, Kavanaugh told Fox News he never drank to the point of not remembering the previous night.
To some degree, the dueling narratives reflect a national partisan divide, in which Republicans and Democrats are unable to agree on the most basic political facts.
“I think we’re seeing two entirely different people here in Kavanaugh because Democrats and Republicans are living in two completely different worlds,” said GOP strategist Alex Castellanos. “Republicans think this is about whether Judge Kavanaugh is qualified to be on the Supreme Court, and Democrats think this is about whether the progress that women have made in achieving independence should be set back. There’s no meeting ground on that.”
But some Kavanaugh critics say the gap between his self-presentation in the weeks since President Donald Trump tapped him for the Supreme Court and a growing list of anecdotes about his younger years raise questions about his credibility, including but not limited to his denials of two accusations of sexual misconduct lodged against him this month that have placed his nomination in grave jeopardy.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters Tuesday that Kavanaugh’s interview with Fox News on Monday night “raises and expands the credibility problems that Judge Kavanaugh may have with respect to his relationships to women, drinking, his high school years, the hiding of documents, and the blocking of an FBI investigation.”
The White House and Kavanaugh’s allies accuse his critics of obsessing over decades-old incidents to stop Trump from tipping the balance of the Supreme Court rightward following the retirement of the swing-voting Justice Anthony Kennedy. A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Democrats counter that everything is fair game when weighing whether Kavanaugh should be granted a lifetime court seat — and they are likely to question him about the seeming contrasts in his self-presentation during a scheduled Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, at which both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of assaulting her at a high school house party, will testify.
To hear Kavanaugh tell it recently, he has lived a thoroughly wholesome, God-fearing life with nothing to hide.
“I went to an all-boys Catholic high school, a Jesuit high school where I was focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday at Little Flower, working on my service projects and friendship,” he told Fox News host Martha MacCallum.
But Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook is less house of prayer and more Animal House. Included in Kavanaugh’s personal blurb: “100 kegs or bust”; “have you boofed yet” — an apparent reference to vomiting from heavy drinking; and “Renate alumnius,” a phrase that two former classmates told The New York Times was “part of the football players’ unsubstantiated boasting about their conquests” with Renate Schroeder, a student at an all-girls Catholic school in the area.
Kavanaugh’s own speeches also suggest the image of someone who embraced partying from high school through law school. In a 2015 speech at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, Kavanaugh told the audience “what happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep,” adding “that’s been a good thing for all of us, I think.”
More explicitly, in a 2014 speech to the Yale Law School Federalist Society, Kavanaugh reminisced about an evening of bar hopping in Boston that ended with he and his classmates “falling out of the bus onto the front steps of Yale Law School at about 4:45 a.m.” He added that a friend of his was on the bus “reading his notes while people were doing group chugs from a keg.” In the same speech, Kavanaugh described another party before which he and a classmate “had more than few beers before the banquet.” By the end of the evening, his friend broke a table.
“How did he break it, you might ask?” Kavanaugh said. “The old-fashioned way. He lost his balance and fell into the table, drink in hand, and the table collapsed.”
While Kavanaugh has not directly addressed the seeming contrast between such remarks and the way he has described himself in forums like his Fox News interview, critics are hopeful that he will be confronted with it at Thursday’s hearing.
Nan Aron, founder and president of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal group that focuses on the federal judiciary, said Kavanaugh’s statements “don’t quite jibe with his yearbook page and some of the remarks made by some of his friends over the years.”
“They certainly don’t remember … Brett Kavanaugh as being a choir boy,” she said.
Even before the sexual harassment allegations became public, the White House went to great lengths to highlight Kavanaugh’s support for women. At his confirmation hearing, he highlighted his experience coaching his daughters’ basketball teams and noted that the majority of clerks he has hired are women. (Last week, the Guardian reported that Amy Chua, a Yale Law professor, told female law students applying to work for Kavanaugh they should look “model-like” in their interviews. Chua denies she said this.)
Trump, furious about what he believes are unfair attacks on Kavanaugh, is standing firmly behind his nominee. “This is a con game being played by the Democrats,” he said earlier Tuesday at the United Nations. The president and his allies express confidence that the Kavanaugh fight will energize Trump’s conservative base ahead of the midterms — although Democrats are just as confident that it has infuriated and energized female voters of both parties to their advantage.
Many Republicans insisted that Democrats have overplayed their hand, arguing that the scrutiny of Kavanaugh’s adolescence could forever change the Supreme Court confirmation process.
“Personal lives are always under the microscope, but this feels like inspecting through nanotechnology,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist who helped Trump’s White House with Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination last year. “Many nominees are really going to think twice about whether they’re going to go through that process.”