With no physical evidence or corroboration --- indeed, witnesses who contradict her story about their presence at a party at which she says she was assaulted --- Christine Blasey Ford’s case comes down to the truth of her recollections. Not what she recalls, because she could be wrong, but the accuracy and specificity of those memories as they relate to Brett Kavanaugh. Not “her” truth –- THE truth. In the end, that is all that matters. So let’s take a look at the science of memory.
Dr. Ford is a research psychologist and psychology professor, so it’s not surprising that she would have responded to questions about her memory in neuroscientific jargon. When asked how she could be sure Kavanaugh was her attacker, this was her answer: “Just basic memory functions. And also, just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that sort of, you know, encodes –- that neurotransmitter encodes memories into the hippocampus. And so the trauma-related experience is then sort of locked there. Whereas other details kind of drift.”
She says that’s why she can’t remember key details such as the location, how she got there and how she got home. But she rejected even the possibility of mistaken identity, saying she was 100 percent sure that her attacker was Kavanaugh. Still, it’s crucial to note that just because a memory is “indelible in the hippocampus” doesn’t mean it’s of something that actually happened. There are other ways it could have been planted there, whether it happened or not.
And the “drifty” parts don’t make sense. A 15-year-old girl who doesn’t drive goes to a party seven miles or so from her house and is there with her close girlfriend. How did they get there? The girls may or may not have gotten there before the two boys but she knows the boys had been drinking before they got to the house. How did she know that? After the assault, and she leaves the house, does she realize her good friend is still there, left behind as the only girl in a houseful of drunken boys? Wouldn’t that make this quite a memorable party for the other girl, who somehow had to fend off the drunken boys and get home?
And wouldn’t the other girl wonder what happened to her friend? (After all, she wasn’t the one who was assaulted and would conceivably have had a clearer head.) Wouldn’t she call Christine later that night or the next morning to ask, “Are you okay? You just disappeared –- where did you go?” And, of course, there’s still the mystery of when and how either of them got home to their respective houses.
After watching Kavanaugh’s sincere, impassioned and at times gut-wrenching denial on Thursday afternoon, it was virtually impossible to consider him capable of committing this crime (and, yes, it is a crime, with no statute of limitations in Maryland). As for evidence, he was the only one who produced anything tangible: a calendar from the summer in question that showed how busy he was with other activities in other locations. No party. And no one else placed by Dr. Ford at the party can recall being there.
And yet Dr. Ford seemed thoroughly genuine –- with real, lasting emotional pain –- despite the vagueness of many of her answers. Some of her wording did seem coached, however; I could be wrong, but if memory serves, it wasn’t until the hearing that she qualified her description of fearing Kavanaugh might kill her, adding the word “accidentally.” That sounds like a lawyerly tweak. She also had no idea who was paying for what in her legal defense, and I have a strong suspicion her lawyers are deliberately keeping her ignorant of that so she won’t reveal too many details on the stand. We already knew that both attorneys are working pro bono. One is Andrew McCabe’s lawyer; the other is a Trump “resister” whose firm happens to have represented one of the other Kavanaugh accusers in a different case. Dr. Ford insisted she is “no one’s pawn,” but rest assured, she is.
As for evidence, she had nothing except the results of a polygraph that had measured responses to just two very general questions. Of course, if she BELIEVED what she had put into her statement, regardless of its accuracy, she would have passed with flying colors, even if Kavanaugh is completely innocent.
Perhaps the only way to reconcile Kavanaugh’s raw believability with Dr. Ford’s clear emotional damage is through the probability of mistaken identity. (If not that, then perhaps an especially vivid dream that got “embedded in her hippocampus”?) Dr. Ford insists it is not mistaken identify, but how sure can she be? If her specialty as a psychologist were criminology, she would surely know how common it is. Consider The Innocence Project, which has brought about the release of 362 (at last count) of wrongly convicted inmates by arranging and paying for DNA tests for men serving long sentences for sexual and other violent crimes. They say that 70 percent of those who are exonerated were convicted on the basis of wrong identifications.
These mistakes typically occur during lineups or photo IDs, which present different challenges than do cases such as this one, but, in general, witness IDs are notoriously unreliable. In fact, many of those victims whose testimony puts innocent men away for decades claim to be “100 percent sure.”
The thing is, Senate Democrats are “100 percent prepared not to care” if Kavanaugh is innocent. They are desperate to keep him off the Court and will do whatever it takes. Anyone who gets hurt in the process is just collateral damage.