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Christine Blasey Ford's changing Kavanaugh assault story leaves her short on credibility

Put aside Christine Blasey Ford's emotional performance. Her testimony revealed her as a witness whose memories change at her convenience.

When Christine Blasey Ford testified last week before the Judiciary Committee, America witnessed a haunted woman recounting a devastating trauma. But putting aside Ford’s emotional performance and focusing instead on the professor’s testimony reveals numerous inconsistencies in her narrative that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her.

As a sex-crimes prosecutor, Republican questioner Rachel Mitchell is well-positioned to “know it when she sees it.” But rather than see Ford as a victim of sexual abuse by Kavanaugh, Mitchell saw her as a witness lacking in credibility. And this conclusion comes from an expert who knows that there are many reasons victims delay reporting sexual abuse. Mitchell also recognized that victims may legitimately not remember certain details related to an attack. 

But the problem for Ford is not that she doesn’t remember everything: It is that everything she remembers changes at her convenience. 

First, Ford’s testimony that the assault occurred in the summer of 1982, when just 15, conflicted with both her therapist’s notes and the text message Ford sent to the Washington Post. According to reporter Emma Brown, Ford claimed she had been assaulted in the mid-1980s; and the therapist’s notes stated Ford had been the victim of an attempted rape in her late teens. But by that time, Kavanaugh was attending Yale, so Ford’s recasting of the attack to the summer of 1982 is suspect. 

Ford's story changed in key ways

Ford’s retelling of the alleged sexual assault also included several conflicting accounts of the number of individuals at the gathering. The therapist’s notes stated that four boys had attempted to rape Ford. (Ford claims her therapist confused the total number of boys at the party with the number of boys who had attacked her.) 

Later, in her July letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Ford again placed the number of individuals at the party at five, stating the gathering included her and four other individuals. But Ford then identified the four by name, and that group included three boys and one girl. And finally, during her Senate testimony, Ford unequivocally stated that “there were four boys I remember specifically being there,” in addition to her friend Leland Keyser.

Another significant change in the scenario came when Ford testified about the location of the party. She had originally told the Washington Post that the attack took place at a house not far from the country club. Yet, when Mitchell revealed a map of the relevant locations and reminded Ford that she had described the attack as having occurred near the country club, Ford backtracked: “I would describe [the house] as it's somewhere between my house and the country club in that vicinity that’s shown in your picture.”  Ford added that the country club was a 20-minute drive from her home. 

More: Don't count on FBI to clear up the Kavanaugh-Ford mess. Its record is flawed.

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Finally, Ford altered her description of the interior layout of the home and the details of the party and her escape.  A “short” stairwell turned into a “narrow” one. The gathering moved from a small family room where the kids drank beer (and which Ford distinguished from the living room through which she fled the house) when she spoke to the Washington Post, to a home described in her actual testimony as having a "small living room/family room-type area.” And in an obvious tell to the change, Ford suggested that she could draw a floor plan of the house.

These four points are significant. First, because Ford had waited 30-plus years to report the purported attack, a therapist’s notes from Ford's sessions with her husband countered claims that Ford had invented the assault to derail Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But the notes did not name Ford’s attacker. And the timing of the assault summarized by her therapist, whom Ford saw individually the following year, conflicted with Ford’s current claims against Kavanaugh.

The final three contradictions are even more significant because in each circumstance Ford altered her story only after Kavanaugh and Senate investigators had obtained evidence to disprove her original tale. For instance, investigators had obtained statements from Kavanaugh and the two men and one female lifelong friend of Ford’s, and they all denied any recollection of the gathering. 

These contradictions mean Ford's not credible

Investigators also spoke with former classmates of Kavanaugh, including two men who showed staffers the “party houses” near the country club during the relevant time period. And the detailed description of the home interior Ford originally provided allowed investigators to compare her story to the layout of the homes of the individuals Ford identified. But then Ford changed her description of the house’s floor plan. 

Since media leaks of Ford’s charges first broke, Kavanaugh and his supporters have stressed the impossibility of proving the negative: Kavanaugh could not prove he did not attack Ford. But Kavanaugh could prove that Ford’s story could not possibly have happened by showing that none of the individuals at the supposed party lived in a house near the country club, and that none of their houses matched that described by Ford.  Kavanaugh and investigators were poised to do so when Ford changed her story.

Open-minded Americans of all stripes should see that — emotions aside — Ford’s testimony is completely devoid of credibility: so much so, that Mitchell told the Senate this week that Ford’s allegations do not even meet the preponderance of evidence standard. That standard, which governs in civil litigation, asks whether it is more likely than not that an event occurred. 

Yes, victims must be believed. But Ford is not a victim — at least not of Kavanaugh.

Margot Cleveland is a lawyer and an adjunct instructor at the University of Notre Dame. Follow her on Twitter: @ProfMJCleveland

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