Who Owns Kavanaugh #3: The Basketball Coach & The Devil's Triangle
Just as the press begins to dig into Kavanaugh's finances and sketchy work with Bush 43, all hell breaks loose.
This series is written by Greg Olear in collaboration with Lincoln’s Bible.
TWO CONSPICUOUSLY TALL undergrads pounding beers at a dive bar in New Haven. Bikers doing shots. Townies munching on piping hot triangles of pizza. The smell of stale beer and sweat and urine. The lights go down, the music (Eurythmics? Prince? Mötley Crüe?) goes up. Tables give way to a crude dance floor. Bodies sway.
“Look at that guy,” says the shorter of the tall undergrads to his 6’ 11” friend, gesturing with his beer stein to a handsome guy sitting at a nearby table. “Dude, that’s the guy from UB40!”
“No, it’s not,” the taller one says. “Why would a rock star hang out in this shit-hole?”
“I’m telling you, dude, it’s him!”
The tall friends are too drunk to be subtle. The would-be lead singer of the radio hit “Red Red Wine” is now aware that he is being watched—and he doesn’t like it. He approaches the preppy pair, both of whom are pretty obviously students at Yale, and says, “Can I help you?” Or maybe he says something else. With the music cranked up, it’s hard to know.
Close up, the guy looks nothing like the singer of a British reggae band. He looks Italian. He looks local. And he looks pissed.
Whereupon the shorter of the two tall Yalies throws the icy remains of his rum-and-Coke in the guy’s face. An altercation ensues. In the blink of an eye, the local has the ice-throwing friend in a headlock—physically held down against his will. The taller one doesn’t like this, so he gallantly smashes his beer stein against the side of the local’s head.
The fight breaks up. The cops come—they are never far away from this particular dive bar—and take some statements. No charges are filed.
The taller of the two friends is Chris Dudley, star center of the Yale basketball team. He will go on to play for 16 years in the NBA, distinguishing himself by being one of the worst free throw shooters of all time, and will run for governor of Oregon, as a Republican.
The shorter of the two friends—the one in the headlock, the one who started the bar-fight—is Brett Kavanaugh.
I. The Basketball Coach
The key takeaway from the first few days of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, which began on September 4, 2018, was that the judge coached his eldest daughter’s Catholic middle school girls’ basketball team. Both Kavanaugh and his Republican handlers made such a big deal out of this that “Coach K” was the subject of a satirical column by Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post (“Brett Kavanaugh: ‘I Coach a Girls’ Basketball Team’”) and a sarcastic one by Bob Cook of Forbes (“One Thing We Know About Brett Kavanaugh: He’s a Girls’ Basketball Coach).”
But just in case the point was not lost on anyone viewing at home, Kavanaugh brought the actual Blessed Sacrament School team to the hearing. They sat behind him, prepubescent Catholic school girls in braces and pig-tails and Catholic-school-girl plaid jumpers: a strange, discomfiting backdrop.
The reason for including the girls was not immediately evident. But Leonard Leo and his crack PR team at the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) understood the power of a first impression. Although his 2006 confirmation hearing ran on C-SPAN2, Kavanaugh had been operating behind the scenes for decades. The hearing was the first time most Americans had laid eyes on him. The GOP wanted to portray their nominee as a family man, a loving father, and a trusted member of the community, rather than a staunch opponent of choice. As Sarah McCarron, an alumna of Blessed Sacrament School, wrote in Washington Monthly at the time: “Kavanaugh means peril for women. No amount of wholesome young girls in plaid uniforms can serve as a counter-argument.” The girls, she charged, were being used as a prop.
Maybe the objective was to produce wholesome counterprogramming for the questions that were sure to come about Kavanaugh’s relationship with his mentor, the disgraced former circuit judge Alex Kozinski. As discussed in Part One, Kozinski, Kavanaugh’s “good friend,” 1) kept a secret but publicly-available website where he archived peculiar pornography; 2) maintained an email list, named “The Easy Rider Gag List,” where he would share raunchy, sexually explicit jokes; and, most importantly, 3) had been accused by over a dozen women of sexual impropriety.
In hindsight, an even more sinister motive emerges. If his handlers knew about Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegation all along, and indeed anticipated that the “Devil’s Triangle” story would come out at some point during the hearing, they would want Kavanaugh to present as the last guy you’d think would force himself on someone. The presence of all those Catholic middle-schoolers created the impression of a kindler, gentler Brett Kavanaugh: Fear not, your girls are safe with me.
Whatever the case, the Republicans clearly felt the need to surround their nominee with a bevy of tween girls.
It had been over a month since Ford, who worked in Palo Alto, sent her email to Dianne Feinstein, the senior Senator from California, via her House Representative, Anna Eshoo. She had also spoken to reporters at the Washington Post, but declined to go on the record. So the sexual assault allegation was already out there. But for the first week of the hearings, as Kavanaugh was making his grand entrance with his basketball team, it was closely guarded. Ford’s name had not yet been released. Very few people knew any of the details. And besides, the Democrats had other avenues of inquiry to pursue.
Feinstein was not just the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee; she had also, back in 2006, yielded her time to Ted Kennedy, who had pressed Kavanaugh about his work in George W. Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel. That line of questioning continued in 2018. On Thursday, September 6, Corey Booker poked the bear, insisting to know the truth about Kavanaugh’s stint at the OLC. As CNN reported at the time,
Thursday’s hearing featured another bitter showdown between Democrats who are furious at the failure of the White House to hand over tens of thousands of key documents on time or at all, and at restrictions on the public release of material that was made available.
New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker said he was ready to risk expulsion from the Senate for making public documents pertinent Kavanaugh’s time as a top White House aide to President George W. Bush, but the GOP mocked him for grandstanding ahead of a possible 2020 run—saying it had already cleared the emails for release.
In a striking political gambit, Booker, backed up by Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, released emails—which had been designated as “committee confidential”—that reference Kavanaugh's position on racial profiling and thoughts on Roe v. Wade dating from his time as a White House official under Bush.
And the questions about Kozinski, Brett’s disgraced mentor, were just as uncomfortable as anticipated. Kavanaugh said he was “shocked” when he learned of the allegations against his friend—that the news was a “gut punch.” But others who clerked for Kozinski on the Ninth Circuit say that this could not possibly be true.
Fordham law professor Jed Shugerman recalls that, while at Yale Law School (Kavanaugh’s alma mater) in 1999, “I was told that women ‘don’t apply’ to clerk for Judge Kozinski. It is not credible that Kavanaugh didn’t know something. Because it was a badly kept secret among Yale Law students in the late 90s that Kozinski had some kind of problem with women.”
Heidi Bond, the best-selling novelist who, as a young attorney, had clerked for Alex Kozinski and Sandra Day O’Connor, commented on Kavanaugh’s dodgy answers:
In his hearings, Kavanaugh was asked by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mazie Hirono if he was aware of the email list, and if he had received emails from Kozinski with sexually explicit content. In response to these questions, he said he couldn’t recall anything like that. And, in response to a written question for the record—“Has Judge Kozinski ever made comments about sexual matters to you, either in jest or otherwise?”—Kavanaugh responded, “I do not remember any such comments.”
This last response leaves me wondering whether Kavanaugh and I clerked for the same man. Kozinski’s sexual comments—to both men and women—were legendary. When I first arrived in chambers, the outgoing clerks suggested that we should watch The Aristocrats, a documentary about a notorious dirty joke, to prepare ourselves for the upcoming year. Kozinski’s email list had hundreds of participants, and some of the jokes he shared were incredibly off-color
Sen. Patrick Leahy asked about the email “Gag List” in the written questions he asked Kavanaugh:
59. At your hearing last week, you and Senator Hirono had the following exchange:
SEN. HIRONO: Have you otherwise ever received sexually suggestive or explicit e-mails from Judge [Alex] Kozinski, even if you don’t remember whether you were on this “Gag List” or not?
KAVANAUGH: So Senator, let me start with no woman should be subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, and … [sic]
You avoided answering the question. Please go through your files and emails, and definitively state whether you ever received sexually suggestive or explicit emails from Judge Kozinski, whether as part of his “Easy Rider Gag List” or otherwise.
RESPONSE: I do not remember receiving inappropriate emails of a sexual nature from Judge Kozinski.
The bold is in Leahy’s question; the Senator clearly thought he was on to something.
What with the ugliness of his friend Kozinski, the fishiness of his legal activities working in the Bush 43 OLC, and the shadiness of his personal finances, the walls were closing in on Brett Kavanaugh. The Republicans—and the gray eminences like Don McGahn and Leonard Leo, who midwifed his nomination—had to have been uneasy. The prospects for a successful confirmation were slipping away.
But after the weekend, no one would be talking about gag lists or torture memos or down payments anymore.
II. The Letter
Ryan Grim of The Intercept—the publication founded by Glenn Greenwald, which had a year earlier so badly bungled the Reality Winner leak that it landed her in prison almost immediately—first broke the story of the existence of Ford’s letter to Eshoo and Feinstein, on September 12 (boldface is ours):
The letter took a circuitous route to Feinstein, the top-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. It purportedly describes an incident that was relayed to someone affiliated with Stanford University, who authored the letter and sent it to Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who represents the area.
Different sources provided different accounts of the contents of the letter, and some of the sources said they themselves had heard different versions, but the one consistent theme was that it describes an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman while they were in high school. Kept hidden, the letter is beginning to take on a life of its own.
Eshoo passed the letter to her fellow Californian, Feinstein. Word began leaking out on the Hill about it, and Feinstein was approached by Democrats on the committee, but she rebuffed them, Democratic sources said. Feinstein’s fellow senators want their own opportunity to gauge whether or not the letter should be made public, rather than leaving it to Feinstein to make that call unilaterally. The sources were not authorized to speak on the record, and said that no senators on the committee, other than Feinstein, have so far been able to view the letter.
The next day—September 13—Ariane de Vogue and Phil Mattingly of CNN expanded on the story:
Sources familiar with the matter say the letter Feinstein referred to the FBI had all the names redacted except for Kavanaugh’s.
Additionally, the sources say the information wasn’t disclosed elsewhere and the reason Feinstein didn’t come forward earlier with the information because the woman didn’t want to speak about it and didn’t want her name public.
A source familiar with the allegations says they stem from a sexual encounter that occurred when Kavanaugh was about 17 years old. Another source familiar with the matter says the information concerns allegations of misconduct against Kavanaugh. Sources caution, however, that few have seen the actual letter Feinstein referred to the FBI. A Democratic source says California Rep. Anna Eshoo had referred a letter about Kavanaugh from one of her constituents to Feinstein.
Multiple sources also said Feinstein received the letter in July, well before she met with the nominee and prior to Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings last week. It is not clear why the information was not relayed to the FBI until Wednesday night.
Then, within 48 hours of The Intercept’s scoop, Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley produced a letter signed by 65 (!) women who had known Kavanaugh since high school, vouching for his character (boldface ours):
We are women who have known Brett Kavanaugh for more than 35 years and knew him while he attended high school between 1979 and 1983. For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect. We strongly believe it is important to convey this information to the Committee at this time….Through the more than 35 years we have known him, Brett has stood out for his friendship, character, and integrity. In particular, he has always treated women with decency and respect. That was true when he was in high school, and it has remained true to this day.
How long would it realistically take to find 65 women to sign off on it? Could that really be accomplished in two days?
With the exception of one Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, lawmakers in both parties claimed to be blindsided by an anonymous allegation that Kavanaugh forced himself on a woman in a locked room at a high school party decades ago. Republicans scrambled to round up character witnesses, while Democrats largely remained mum, waiting to see what would drop next and whether they have an actual shot at derailing the nomination.
The White House first heard vague rumors late last week about the allegation against Kavanaugh, which was referred to the FBI late Wednesday by Feinstein, the Judiciary panel’s top Democrat. But the specifics of the alleged high-school sexual assault didn’t land on White House Counsel Don McGahn’s desk until mid-day Thursday, a White House aide said.
McGahn received the letter from the FBI around noon and immediately passed it to Capitol Hill, according to the aide. Kavanaugh and a network of clerks and former clerks who have been working with him during the confirmation process immediately lurched into action, contacting more than five dozen women who have known the judge since high school to sign the letter attesting to his character.
Did they really track down “more than five dozen women” at that moment, we wonder, or were all of them on standby?
Ford said that one summer in , Kavanaugh and a friend—both “stumbling drunk,” Ford alleges—corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County.
While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” said Ford, now a 51-year-old research psychologist in northern California. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”
Ford said she was only able to escape because Kavanaugh’s friend and classmate at Georgetown Preparatory School, Mark Judge, jumped on top of them, sending all three tumbling. She said she ran from the room, briefly locked herself in a bathroom and then fled the house.
(As a reminder: Kavanaugh knows what it feels like to be held against his will, fearing great harm, only to be saved by a third person—that’s what happened to him at that New Haven dive bar. Although Ford’s situation was, needless to say, orders of magnitude more perilous.)
Read that letter from the 65 women again. Look at the lines in bold. Why would Chuck Grassley think it was necessary to emphasize Kavanaugh’s respect for women when he was in high school, unless he knew about the allegations? Why would he feel the need to produce a letter like this in the first place?
Isn’t it more likely that the letter, and the introduction of Kavanaugh with the girls basketball team, was intended as a pre-emptive strike against sexual assault allegations that Grassley, and all of Kavanaugh’s other handlers, knew were coming? Isn’t that why it took so little time to track down 65 people? Are we really to believe that the first time any of them—Grassley, McGahn, Mitch McConnell, Leonard Leo, the JCN—heard the details of the allegations was when they read about it in the Washington Post on Sunday, September 16?
Because the real mystery here is this: Who leaked the story?
Ford didn’t. Feinstein didn’t. Eshoo didn’t. The reporters at the Washington Post didn’t. Those parties kept it under wraps for months. So, like, who did?
To answer that, we have to determine who else knew about Kavanaugh’s beery rape attempt in 1982—and who, among his allies, might have known, definitively, that Ford not only had a damning story to tell, but that there would be puerile yearbook references and contemporary witnesses to corroborate it.
There is a clue in the letter of September 18, 2018, by Ford’s attorneys, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, to Grassley and Feinstein: “In the 36 hours since her name became public, Dr. Ford has….been the target of vicious harassment and even death threats….Her email has been hacked, and she has been impersonated online.”
According to that letter, Ford became aware of an email breach after she went public. But for all we know, her account may have been infiltrated months before that. If a hacker were to have, say, logged into her account and read through her “sent” messages, to determine if Ford had contacted anyone in government about the sexual assault, how would she even have known?
For this to happen, Kavanaugh would have to have associates who trade in that sort of underhanded activity. Dirty tricksters who swim with alt-right trolls and hackers. Friends in low places.
One such individual comes to mind. He’s a rightwing provocateur who used to work for Tucker Carlson at the Daily Caller. He’s been friends with Brett Kavanaugh since their Georgetown Prep days—he even wrote a memoir about his experiences there, called Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk, that chronicles the culture of alcohol abuse and drunken hook-ups that marked his high school life. Most importantly: he was the third person in the would-be “Devil’s Triangle” with Kavanaugh and Ford on that fateful night in 1982—the only possible eyewitness to the alleged assault. His name is Mark Gavreau Judge.
After Judge categorically denied ever witnessing an attempted assault by Kavanaugh, I asked him if he could recall any sort of rough-housing with a female student back in high school (an incident that might have been interpreted differently by parties involved). “I can’t. I can recall a lot of rough-housing with guys. It was an all-boys school, we would rough-house with each other,” he said said. [sic] “I don't remember any of that stuff going on with girls.”
Judge says he still does not know the name of the woman who made the allegations.
However implausible this pre-emptive claim of ignorance was, Judge would find out her identity that weekend, when Ford came forward in the Washington Post piece. Maybe “Christine Blasey” rang a bell. At the time, she was dating another of their friends, Chris Garrett, aka “Squee.” It’s also possible that Judge never knew the name of the high school student he and his buddy Brett Kavanaugh cornered in that bedroom all those years ago.
Despite “categorical” denials from both Kavanaugh and Judge, ample evidence suggests that Ford is telling the truth. For one thing, Ford’s was not the only allegation made against Brett Kavanaugh. For another, Kavanaugh includes the term “Devil’s Triangle” in his high school yearbook, which was published after the alleged incident. When asked about the term during the hearing, he claimed it was a drinking game. This is a lie. “Devil’s Triangle” is a slang expression for a sexual three-way involving two men and one woman. In such an arrangement, one of the men would anally penetrate the woman. Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry contains the phrase, “Judge—have you boofed yet?” Judge’s contains the same phrase, but with the name “Bart”—a reference to Kavanaugh. At the hearing, Brett claimed that “boof” referred to “flatulence.” This is also a lie. Boof is a truncation of bufu, itself a truncation of butt-fuck. It could be argued that, taken together, these odd phrases refer to a sexual fantasy, or at least a running joke, the two friends had of having sex with the same woman at the same time—which is of course what they (allegedly) tried to do with Ford.
In the event, “he said, she said” became the story for the rest of the hearing. So effective were the allegations in diverting public attention away from both the secret documents and the money trail—so completely did the politicians and the media forget about Kavanaugh’s incredibly vanishing debt—that the end result could not have worked out better for Leonard Leo & Co. if Ford’s email to Senator Feinstein had been leaked on purpose: not by Democratic operatives hoping to kibosh the nomination, but by Republican operatives hoping to advance it.
But even the dirtiest of tricksters weren’t dirty enough to weaponize trauma, surely? They didn’t really trigger every sexual assault survivor in the country just to get their compromised guy on the Supreme Court…did they?
Mark Judge might be able to shed some light on the subject, but while the FBI had the opportunity to question him, the Senate never did. Indeed, the clincher, to us, is not some cryptic phrase written by two immature jerks 40 years ago, but rather how Judge behaved after giving his interview with the (friendly, for him) Washington Examiner. If it were us, and our old friend was on the verge of being nominated to the Supreme Court, and he was falsely accused of a sex crime, we would move heaven and earth to make sure the truth was told. We would insist on taking the stand. We would demand to go on record.
Judge didn’t do that. To the contrary: During the confirmation hearing, at the moment when his good buddy “Bart” most needed his support, Mark Judge skipped town.
*Note: The prologue is a dramatization of actual events, as described by an eyewitness, Chad Ludington, a teammate of Dudley’s on the Yale basketball team.