In their various attempts to justify supporting embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the wake of sexual assault allegations, Republican senators — and one key swing vote Democrat — coalesced around a variation of the same theme: I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was assaulted by someone, I just don’t believe it was Brett Kavanaugh.
It may seem like a nod to Ford’s detailed, heart-rending testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, but in reality, this contradictory stance is an outgrowth of a baseless conspiracy theory spread by a Kavanaugh supporter.
“I believe that she is a survivor of a sexual assault and that this trauma has upended her life,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said in a drawn-out speech announcing her support for Kavanaugh Friday. “Nevertheless, the four witnesses she named couldn’t corroborate any of the events of that evening where she said the assault occurred… Therefore, I do not believe that these charges can prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the Court.”
Collins took time to pick apart Ford’s account, pointing exclusively to what she perceived as holes in the story, before offering lip service to the “Me Too” movement. She did not mention the fact that Ford testified she was “100 percent” certain Kavanaugh was the person who assaulted her.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), another critical vote, echoed the same sentiment when he announced his intention to vote “yes” on Friday.
"I believe Dr. Ford," says Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). "Something happened to Dr. Ford. I don't believe that the facts show it was Brett Kavanaugh."
— Matt Viser (@mviser) October 5, 2018
Several Republican senators used a version of the line when pledging their support for Kavanaugh prior to the FBI’s constrained, incomplete investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh. “In all likelihood, she absolutely has had a traumatic experience. It was a long time ago,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said in a radio interview. “But you know Judge Kavanaugh knows what categorically and without any hesitation denying something means… and there are some things in your life that you absolutely know you never did, and if you believe him, this kind of behavior with anybody is one of those things.”
Crapo says that he believes that Ford was testifying truthfully that she was the victim of a sexual assault. He then says that he believes Kavanaugh was testifying truthfully. He then concludes: "Because of that, I will vote yes today" to advance Kavanaugh's nomination.
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) September 28, 2018
The senators’ attempt to walk a crooked line — supporting Ford and survivors everywhere while still throwing their weight behind Kavanaugh’s bid for a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court — began with a crackpot conspiracy theory on Twitter.
Ed Whelan, head of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center and a friend of Kavanaugh’s, unleashed a bizarre Twitter thread shortly after Ford’s allegations became public, claiming Ford was mistaking Kavanaugh for another man who tried to rape her.
Whelan apologized, deleted the baseless tweets, and is currently on a leave of absence, but the damage was done.
The theory quickly took root among conservatives, spread by Fox News hosts as a reasonable possibility of mistaken identity, trumpeted by the far-right, and ultimately, embraced by U.S. senators. Even President Donald Trump said, “Something clearly happened to this woman, but it wasn’t Brett.”
As Vox’s Jane Coaston wrote earlier this week, embracing a third path, no matter how implausible, gave conservatives “a way for two credible-seeming people to both be telling the truth.”
Of course, if you were truly listening to Dr. Ford’s testimony about the alleged incident, they cannot both be telling the truth. Not only did Ford assert that she was completely certain Kavanaugh attacked her, she said his laughter is locked in her brain. “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter — the uproarious laughter between the two and they’re having fun at my expense,” Ford told Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
While Ford testified that the doppelganger named by Whelan was her only mutual friend with Kavanaugh in high school, and someone she briefly dated, senators failed to ask Kavanaugh whether he was at all involved with or aware of Whelan’s plan to make the conspiracy theory public.
As ThinkProgress’ Joshua Eaton wrote in the aftermath of the hearing, “No one asked if Kavanaugh, either directly or through intermediates, had contact with Whelan or helped propose the ‘lookalike’ theory to cast doubt on Ford’s account.”
With Kavanaugh’s confirmation all but settled, Ford’s lawyers decried the effort to undermine her credibility. “Whatever the outcome, Senators deserve to know the truth: An FBI investigation that did not include interviews of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh is not a meaningful investigation in any sense of the word,” they said in a statement.
“We believe Christine Blasey Ford and we fully support her.”