Here's the Truth about "Here's The Truth About Brett Kavanaugh's Finances"

A closer look at seven bad takes from yesterday's "Mother Jones" article

Despite its condescending, know-it-all tone, “Here’s the Truth About Brett Kavanaugh’s Finances,” the Mother Jones piece by Stephanie Mencimer that dropped yesterday—and that calls me out by name, identifying me as a “novelist” to subtly discredit my work—contains numerous bad takes, false assumptions, and other errors.

Let’s examine some of them:

1/ “No, liberals, the Koch brothers don’t own him.”

That’s the subtitle of the piece, and it may well be that Mencimer did not herself write it. Magazine editors often handle that sort of work. But there it is, right above her name, so she will have to own it. First, no serious commentator, liberal or otherwise, believes that the “Koch brothers” own Brett Kavanaugh. One of the two Koch brothers is dead, for starters, a pesky detail that may have eluded Mencimer and/or her editors. More importantly, the whole point of the #WhoOwnsKavanaugh hashtag is that we don’t know who ponied up the dough for Kavanaugh’s down payment, or paid off his massive credit card debts. Our position is that the American people should be assured that the nine men and women of the Supreme Court are not compromised. I fail to understand why that is either controversial or conspiratorial.

2/ “The tweets are driven by frustrated liberals who continue to believe that the Trump-appointed justice has been bought off by a secret, deep-pocketed benefactor who has allowed him to live well above his judicial salary. . .The idea that Brett Kavanaugh has taken bribes to sustain his country club lifestyle is one of the hardiest conspiracy theories on the political left.”

Again, no serious person, liberal or otherwise, has suggested that Kavanaugh has been “bought off” or “taken bribes.” That misses the entire point of #WhoOwnsKavanaugh, which Mencimer is presumably bright enough to have gleaned, had she bothered to read the “thousands of words [devoted] to Kavanaugh’s finances on [my] Substack” that said hashtag leads you to when you enter it in the Twitter search bar. What LB and I charge in our five-part piece is simply that we don’t know where the money comes from. As I am the first “liberal” Mencimer cites as an example in her piece, I resent her putting words in my mouth (and LB, who wrote that series with me, more than resents it).

3/  “The vanishing debts, and their size, raised enough suspicion that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) even asked Kavanaugh in written follow-up questions whether he might have a gambling problem. (He said no.) Further concerns involved the purchase of his tony Chevy Chase, Md., house in 2006 for $1.225 million. How did Kavanaugh come up with a $245,000 down payment at a time when his financial disclosure forms indicated that he had a mere $10,000 in the bank outside of his federal retirement account?

“As it turned out, there were rather simple answers to most of those questions. Kavanaugh explained to the Senate Judiciary Committee that much of his credit card debt stemmed from either work on his fixer-upper mansion or buying Nats season and playoff tickets for himself and a handful of dudes who’d been going to the games together for years. They had paid him back in full, the White House said at the time.”

In these hard-hitting paragraphs, Mencimer puts on her forensic analysis visor, rolls up her sleeves, and crunches the numbers. Oh, wait, my bad, she does not do that at all. Rather, she merely summarizes what Kavanaugh himself said under oath, taking his shaky word at face value. (She also assumes, presumably because of the hefty price tag, that the house the Kavanaughs somehow managed to score in Chevy Chase is a “mansion.” It is not. And had she bothered to use the Google machine, and then the Zillow machine, she would know that.) If Kavanaugh had adequately explained the provenance of all his money, believe me, I would not be wasting my time relentlessly writing about this. But Brett did not do that. There were no “rather simple answers” to these questions.

No one wonders why Brett accumulated credit card debt; his salary as a circuit court judge was not nearly enough to cover his cost of living in Chevy Chase, even if he were a miser. Of course he used plastic.

LB and I do question the story about the baseball tickets—the “handful of dudes” Mencimer so colorfully cites. Since that “handful of dudes” is ultimately who gave him the cash to pay off that enormous credit card debt, as Kavanaugh explained under oath, we would like to know who they are, and why they opted to let the buddy who was already under a pile of credit card debt put those tickets on his Visa. As the PREVAIL contributor Moscow Never Sleeps elegantly put it, “Between $60-200K in debt disappeared in 2017 without credible explanation. As for the baseball [tickets] story, it ranks up there with ‘I caught it from a toilet seat’ or ‘we went to Salisbury to see the Cathedral.’”

4/ “As for the rest, while he was maddeningly obtuse in admitting it, Kavanaugh seems to have gotten lots of money from his parents.”

At last, Mencimer gets to the heart of the matter: the “truth about Brett Kavanaugh’s finances” promised in the clickbait title! Only. . . she doesn’t provide a definitive answer. Oops! “Seems to have gotten” is not a phrase that denotes certitude. She is assuming, based on her knowledge of financial disclosure rules, that this is the case. If she could say for sure, she would. But she can’t, so she doesn’t.

Too, Mercimer’s haughty implication is that “liberals” like Yours Truly had never considered that Old Man Kavanaugh might be the source of the money. I wrote about that possibility in my first big Kavanaugh piece in 2018, and LB and I examine that in depth in our five-part series. Ed Kavanaugh was a corporate lobbyist for the cosmetics industry who, a few months before his only child purchased the Chevy Chase home Mencimer believes is a “mansion,” got a buyout package from his employer worth some $14 million. Ed absolutely could have forked over a quarter mil for the down payment. Heck, he could have bought the whole house in cash (which would have been more prudent, as it wouldn’t have involved a bank, and thus opened up Brett to possible exposure down the line). That is the likeliest explanation. And I have zero problem with that! The guy is working as a judge instead of a corporate attorney; let his wealthy father buy him a house!

What I object to is the fact that Brett Kavanaugh didn’t just come out and say so. I mean, why didn’t he? Was he ashamed that he had to rely on Daddy’s largesse to underwrite his existence? Was he hoping to give the Stephanie Mencimers of the world something to write about three years later? Or did he not come out and say it because it isn’t true and he didn’t want to lie (again) under oath? I don’t know the answer, and as Mencimer all but admits by her weak-sauce use of the word “seems,” neither does she.

5/ “Say what you like about his jurisprudence and some of the odious people he’s worked for (i.e. Ken Starr), Kavanaugh has devoted almost his entire adult life to the judiciary. It’s hard to think of anyone who has been more single-mindedly determined to become a judge than Brett Kavanaugh. . . the one thing that doesn’t seem to have driven his life choices is money. He’s a guy who wanted to be a judge, not a hedge fund manager.”

This is true, up to a point. While Kavanaugh clerked for the right judges, and sucked up to the right people at the Federalist Society, he routinely involved himself in nakedly partisan activities that most aspiring judges would take great care to avoid. Judges, after all, are supposed to be impartial and apolitical, as that paragon of apoliticality Clarence Thomas recently explained. Aspiring judges don’t urge special prosecutors to ask questions about blowjobs during a Senate impeachment hearing. Aspiring judges don’t participate in schemes to hand a presidential election to the Republican on some legal technicality. Aspiring judges don’t cavort with the alt-right, or let people sit behind them during their confirmation flashing white power signs. Aspiring judges avoid getting bombed in public. Aspiring judges cultivate good relationships with their peers. Aspiring judges don’t demean women. And so on. Oddly, after asserting that Kavanaugh was laser-focused on being a judge, Mencimer paints a picture of a man who is not the typical aspiring judge:

But Bush nominated him again in 2003, 2004, 2005, and again in 2006, leading Sen. Dick Durbin to dub him the “Forrest Gump of Republican Politics.” On the last go-around, the American Bar Association downgraded their assessment of him to merely “qualified” for the job after interviewing a bunch of his former co-workers and judges he’d appeared before who took the opportunity to anonymously bash him as a condescending jerk who didn’t know his way around a courtroom. One judge he’d appeared before called him “sanctimonious” and said he demonstrated “experience on the level of an associate.” A lawyer said he’d “dissembled” in court, and another interviewee confirmed suspicions that he was a die-hard ideologue, noting that Kavanaugh was “immovable and very stubborn and frustrating to deal with on some issues.”

In other words, Brett is an asshole, and other judges think he sucks. That’s not true of serious aspiring judges.

6/ “That’s why it’s improbable that he’s been bought off by the Koch Brothers: He doesn’t need the Koch brothers.”

Yikes. I guess Mencimer can’t blame the subtitle on her editors, after all. David Koch has been burning in hell for two years. Also, please don’t capitalize the “B.” We’re talking about two wealthy, radical libertarians, not the Allmans or the Avetts or even the Jonases.

7/ “But there’s another major hole in the Kavanaugh conspiracy theory. None of its adherents seem to be able to explain why it would make any sense to bribe him.”

That’s because, again, no serious person has suggested that Kavanaugh is being bribed. This is real life, not an episode of Billions.

Here’s the deal: Trump must have had some good reason to select Kavanaugh—who, as Mencimer pointed out, was not on the original list of approved SCOTUS choices—just as Kavanaugh must have had some good reason not to withdraw his nomination in the face of so much public humiliation. Trump, a creature of the criminal underworld, saw some value in installing a nakedly partisan, misogynist, beer-swilling douche-bro with shady financial disclosure statements on the Supreme Court. Why is that? I don’t know, and neither does Mencimer.

And that’s why I will continue to ask: who owns Kavanaugh?

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Photo credit: White House. Brett Kavanaugh with President George W. Bush and other White House Staff, sometime between 2001-6, doing things aspiring judges don’t tend to do.