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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse On What He'll Be Listening For During The Kavanaugh Hearings


More women are making allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. One of them is speaking out by name. Julie Swetnick came forward today to say she observed Kavanaugh as a teenager drinking excessively at parties and pressing himself against girls without their consent among other things.

Christine Blasey Ford had already accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were both teenagers, and Deborah Ramirez says he exposed himself to her when they were both college students. Kavanaugh denies all the allegations, and the Senate Judiciary Committee so far is sticking with its plans to have Ford and Kavanaugh testify tomorrow in a public hearing.

Earlier today we spoke with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a Democrat on the committee.


Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, welcome to the program.

SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

CORNISH: When Julie Swetnick came forward today, conservatives immediately cast doubt on her story and pointed to her attorney, Michael Avenatti. He also represents Stormy Daniels. How do you think the committee should handle these latest accusations?

WHITEHOUSE: I think that every person who makes a credible allegation that they have been assaulted in this way is entitled to an investigation. Having been a prosecutor, I can tell you that one of the worst things that you have to do is to tell a victim that you're not going to go forward with their case after they had the courage to come forward because the evidence isn't there. But their consolation is that you gave it a sincere effort.

And the Republicans have provided zero in the form of a sincere effort to corroborate and investigate these claims. They just want to turn it into a believability contest in front of a jury of Republican senators who are heavily biased in favor of one side because of the politics that lurks behind all of this.

CORNISH: I want to talk about that idea of an investigation. Here's President Trump speaking at a conference at the U.N. today.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So it wouldn't have mattered if the FBI came back with the cleanest score - and you understand that very well, John. If they would have come back with the most perfect - we found everything, and he's perfectly innocent of everything - it wouldn't have made a difference. You wouldn't have gotten one vote.

CORNISH: What's your response to that this idea - that additional FBI investigation wouldn't make a difference?

WHITEHOUSE: I think it would've made a huge difference. The Republicans are in the position where they're in some cases actually challenging these women's recollection as being uncorroborated while, at the same time, they're denying them the investigation that would corroborate their testimony.

CORNISH: With Chuck Grassley saying that...

WHITEHOUSE: It's almost like a card trick of some kind.

CORNISH: You have Chuck Grassley, though, the committee chairman, saying that along with agents on loan from federal agencies, that there are 20 committee investigators who are trying to track down the allegations and talking to witnesses and gathering evidence. It seems like you think this isn't enough.

WHITEHOUSE: I'm not even sure that that's happening. The only thing that the Democrats have been made aware of is the occasional transcript when they call up and ask Judge Kavanaugh to deny the new allegations. And if the plan is you're going to deny and we're just going to vote for you and we're just going to bowl through this, then that is exactly consistent with that. But it's not consistent with a meaningful investigation.

If the FBI were to investigate this, there would end up being a report. And there would be an effort to bring out other witnesses. And there would be - it would be thorough, and people would be under oath. If you don't, for instance, even interview the person who Dr. Blasey Ford says was also in the room when she was assaulted by Kavanaugh, you're really not in a position to claim that you've investigated seriously.

CORNISH: The sexual misconduct allegations aside for a moment, one theme running through all this is that in high school, Brett Kavanaugh was often at parties where alcohol was involved, that he was a drinker. He plans to tell the committee tomorrow that it was juvenile misbehavior. Does this present a problem for you considering how he's portrayed himself before the committee to this point?

WHITEHOUSE: I think the problem that he has is that what some of his college friends and acquaintances have said and what's been disclosed about his high school behavior and what he himself wrote in his yearbook are all consistent with the kind of behavior that Ms. Blasey Ford alleges. You know, she was actually right about a lot of this stuff that we know to be true. They are in fact friends. They did in fact drink heavily. They were part of a party crowd. It was in that geographic area.

You know, a lot of the early tests of credibility - his own statements and his own record provides corroboration for the atmosphere in which something like this could happen. So you really want to go on and go to the next step and talk to the people who were there. And to me, it's pretty fatal that Mark Judge, the other young man alleged to have been in the room, hasn't given a sworn statement, was not properly interviewed by anybody from law enforcement and at this point is apparently, you know, allowed to be in hiding.

CORNISH: Each Senator has just a few minutes to question Ford and Kavanaugh. What question do you plan to raise?

WHITEHOUSE: Oh, I don't want to telegraph that. But I will say that if the Republicans were serious about having no investigation but have the Senate Committee process be the investigation, then giving senators one five-minute period to ask questions is really not consistent with a serious Senate investigation. There is - particularly when you have somebody who is as demonstrably adept at - as Judge Kavanaugh at killing time and filibustering in his answers.

CORNISH: Well, then let me ask you this question because Republicans have a female assistant - right? - an experienced sex crimes prosecutor from Maricopa County. She's going to be doing the questioning on their behalf. What do you make of that?

WHITEHOUSE: I make of that that they have practically zero confidence in their own ability to get through asking questions themselves without embarrassing themselves and that they're just simply trying to avoid having 11 elderly white men asking questions of Ms. Blasey Ford and perhaps providing YouTube moments when they are inappropriate. And this is a defensive maneuver to protect them against that. It's highly, highly unusual. So it's a sign that something is very weird.

CORNISH: But you don't have faith in this prosecutor to do a good job.

WHITEHOUSE: Oh, it's not a question of her doing a good job. It's a question of the fact that she's there reflecting that they feel incapable of doing a good job.

CORNISH: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, thank you for speaking with us.

WHITEHOUSE: Thanks. Good to be with you.

CORNISH: Sheldon Whitehouse is a Democrat from Rhode Island. He sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee which will question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford tomorrow. NPR has contacted every Republican member of the committee. As of this afternoon, none has agreed to an interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOVE-SADKID'S "SUMMER NIGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.