I used to know Brett Kavanaugh pretty well. And, when I think of Brett now, in the midst of his hearings for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, all I can think of is the old “Aesop’s Fables” adage: “A man is known by the company he keeps.”
And that’s why I want to tell any senator who cares about our democracy: Vote no.
Twenty years ago, when I was a conservative movement stalwart, I got to know Brett Kavanaugh both professionally and personally.
Brett actually makes a cameo appearance in my memoir of my time in the GOP, “Blinded By The Right.” I describe him at a party full of zealous young conservatives gathered to watch President Bill Clinton’s 1998 State of the Union address — just weeks after the story of his affair with a White House intern had broken. When the TV camera panned to Hillary Clinton, I saw Brett — at the time a key lieutenant of Ken Starr, the independent counsel investigating various Clinton scandals — mouth the word “bitch.”
But there’s a lot more to know about Kavanaugh than just his Pavlovian response to Hillary’s image. Brett and I were part of a close circle of cold, cynical and ambitious hard-right operatives being groomed by GOP elders for much bigger roles in politics, government and media. And it’s those controversial associations that should give members of the Senate and the American public serious pause.
Call it Kavanaugh’s cabal: There was his colleague on the Starr investigation, Alex Azar, now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Mark Paoletta is now chief counsel to Vice President Mike Pence; House anti-Clinton gumshoe Barbara Comstock is now a Republican member of Congress. Future Fox News personalities Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson were there with Ann Coulter, now a best-selling author, and internet provocateur Matt Drudge.
At one time or another, each of them partied at my Georgetown townhouse amid much booze and a thick air of cigar smoke.
In a rough division of labor, Kavanaugh played the role of lawyer — one of the sharp young minds recruited by the Federalist Society to infiltrate the federal judiciary with true believers. Through that network, Kavanaugh was mentored by D.C. Appeals Court Judge Laurence Silberman, known among his colleagues for planting leaks in the press for partisan advantage.
When, as I came to know, Kavanaugh took on the role of designated leaker to the press of sensitive information from Starr’s operation, we all laughed that Larry had taught him well. (Of course, that sort of political opportunism by a prosecutor is at best unethical, if not illegal.)
Another compatriot was George Conway (now Kellyanne’s husband), who led a secretive group of right-wing lawyers — we called them “the elves” — who worked behind the scenes directing the litigation team of Paula Jones, who had sued Clinton for sexual harassment. I knew then that information was flowing quietly from the Jones team via Conway to Starr’s office — and also that Conway’s go-to man was none other than Brett Kavanaugh.
That critical flow of inside information allowed Starr, in effect, to set a perjury trap for Clinton, laying the foundation for a crazed national political crisis and an unjust impeachment over a consensual affair.
But the cabal’s godfather was Ted Olson, the then-future solicitor general for George W. Bush and now a sainted figure of the GOP establishment (and of some liberals for his role in legalizing same-sex marriage). Olson had a largely hidden role as a consigliere to the “Arkansas Project” — a multi-million dollar dirt-digging operation on the Clintons, funded by the eccentric right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and run through The American Spectator magazine, where I worked at the time.
Both Ted and Brett had what one could only be called an unhealthy obsession with the Clintons — especially Hillary. While Ted was pushing through the Arkansas Project conspiracy theories claiming that Clinton White House lawyer and Hillary friend Vincent Foster was murdered (he committed suicide), Brett was costing taxpayers millions by pedaling the same garbage at Starr’s office.
A detailed analysis of Kavanaugh’s own notes from the Starr Investigation reveals he was cherry-picking random bits of information from the Starr investigation — as well as the multiple previous investigations — attempting vainly to legitimize wild right-wing conspiracies. For years he chased down each one of them without regard to the emotional cost to Foster’s family and friends, or even common decency.
Kavanaugh was not a dispassionate finder of fact but rather an engineer of a political smear campaign. And after decades of that, he expects people to believe he’s changed his stripes.
Like millions of Americans this week, I tuned into Kavanaugh’s hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee with great interest. In his opening statement and subsequent testimony, Kavanaugh presented himself as a “neutral and impartial arbiter” of the law. Judges, he said, were not players but akin to umpires — objectively calling balls and strikes. Again and again, he stressed his “independence” from partisan political influences.
But I don’t need to see any documents to tell you who Kavanaugh is — because I’ve known him for years. And I’ll leave it to all the lawyers to parse Kavanaugh’s views on everything from privacy rights to gun rights. But I can promise you that any pretense of simply being a fair arbiter of the constitutionality of any policy regardless of politics is simply a pretense. He made up his mind nearly a generation ago — and, if he’s confirmed, he’ll have nearly two generations to impose it upon the rest of us.