FACT CHECK: Have Multiple Allegations Against Kavanaugh Been Corroborated?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

Senators and other people on Twitter said that multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, namely those from Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, have been corroborated.

“There are now multiple, corroborated allegations against Judge Kavanaugh, made under the penalty of perjury, all of which deserve a thorough investigation,” Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer tweeted Wednesday.

“With another credible, corroborated allegation of sexual misconduct against Brett Kavanaugh, it’s time for him to do the right thing. Withdraw your nomination, Judge Kavanaugh,” Democratic Sen. Ed Markey said in a tweet Sunday night.

“Important to note: This new allegation about Kavanaugh is not he said/she said. It’s corroborated,” Vulture journalist Mark Harris tweeted about Ramirez’s allegation Sunday.

Verdict: Unsubstantiated

Accusations from Ford and Ramirez have not been corroborated by eyewitnesses.

Some argue that evidence like therapist notes and statements from people who remember hearing about the events at the time corroborate the claims.

Law professors say that there is no legal standard for corroboration that applies for these allegations and that corroboration is ultimately a matter of opinion.

Fact Check:

Kavanaugh and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that the accusations from Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, and Ramirez, who attended Yale University with Kavanaugh, are uncorroborated.

“Last night, another false and uncorroborated accusation from 35 years ago was published,” Kavanaugh said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein Monday following the publication of Ramirez’s allegation in The New Yorker.

“Senate Democrats and their allies are trying to destroy a man’s personal and professional life on the basis of decades-old allegations that are unsubstantiated and uncorroborated,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday.

Ford alleged in a July 30 letter to Feinstein and in a Sept. 16 Washington Post article that Kavanaugh tried to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth at a house party when they were in high school in the early 1980s. Ramirez told The New Yorker in a story published Sept. 23 that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her in front of a group of students in a dorm room during their freshman year.

Julie Swetnick, a woman represented by lawyer Michael Avenatti, accused Kavanaugh of being present at parties in the early 1980s where girls were “gang raped,” but has only publicly offered a Sept. 25 sworn declaration of her allegations. An anonymous letter from Sept. 22 with no identifying information sent to Republican Sen. Cory Gardner also alleges misconduct by Kavanaugh. “We have no reason to assign the letter credibility,” a spokesman for Grassley told NBC News.

Kavanaugh has strongly denied all allegations against him.

Neither Ford nor Ramirez’s allegations have been corroborated by firsthand witnesses. Three people who Ford said were at the party – Mark Judge, Leland Keyser and Patrick J. Smyth – said that they do not remember the party she described. The New Yorker could not confirm with anyone at the dorm party Ramirez described that Kavanaugh was there.

Corroborating evidence is not limited to eyewitnesses, however. “Corroboration can be by eyewitness testimony or by facts and circumstances,” Donald Beskind, a law professor at Duke University, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “An email written about the event, a description of the event told to another or others having been in situations involving the same people where results were similar” could count as corroboration by facts and circumstances, Beskind said.

Ford has provided several pieces of evidence that could be considered corroboration of her claims. Her therapist’s notes reviewed by WaPo showed that during couple’s therapy in 2012, she talked about being attacked by students from “an elitist boys’ school,” and during an individual therapy session in 2013 she described a “rape attempt” in her late teens.

She also took a polygraph test that concluded she was being truthful when she said her allegations were accurate. Three of her friends signed sworn affidavits that said she confided in them about the assault in 2013, 2016 and 2017.

New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer, a co-author of the story about Ramirez, said that one of Ramirez’s classmates corroborated her story even though he did not witness it because he remembered hearing about the incident at the time. He “independently recalled many of the same details offered by Ramirez, including that a male student had encouraged Kavanaugh as he exposed himself,” the New Yorker story read.

Richard Oh, another classmate, also told The New Yorker that he recalled overhearing a student talk about a party in which a student exposed himself. Ronan Farrow, the other co-author of the story, said that Ramirez’s story had “significant corroboration.” He cited Oh and other classmates as people who corroborate the story during a segment on PBS News Hour.

Classmates’ memories of hearing about the event would not count as corroboration in court, according to Gail Heriot, a law professor at the University of San Diego. “In a real lawsuit, the testimony of individuals who were not present, but simply heard about the incident from someone else, would not be admissible as evidence to prove the incident happened. Such testimony would be hearsay,” Heriot told TheDCNF in an email. (Some forms of hearsay can be admissible in court under certain exceptions.)

However, the allegations are not being considered in a court of law, but by the Senate and in the court of public opinion. “At a Senate hearing, nothing is technically ‘inadmissible,'” Heriot said.

The credibility of the evidence presented and whether it corroborates an allegation is ultimately a matter of opinion.

“As for who has or has not been corroborated in this situation, that is not a legal question since the value of corroboration depends on the credibility of the persons, circumstances or documents that provide it. That is always a jury question, or in this instance, at least initially, a question for the Senators on the Judiciary Committee,” Beskin explained.

“I think using the word ‘corroborated’ to describe Ms. Ramirez’s story is really pushing it,” Heriot said. “But I wouldn’t say that it is out-and-out false, since corroboration is, to some degree, in the eye of the beholder.”

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter