We never did find out #WhoOwnsKavanaugh. And a lot of other things.
By Greg Olear
THE IMPEACHMENT TRIAL of Donald John Trump, culminating in the mobster president’s acquittal on 5 February 2020, was the second sham proceeding in the Senate in the last year-and-a-half. The prototype for that travesty of justice—the Palace of Pleasure to impeachment’s Romeo & Juliet, the Controversy to its Purple Rain—was the 6 October 2018 confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh.
Like the Trump impeachment trial, the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing was rammed through at a Showtime-Lakers-on-the-break pace by Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, to deny Democrats the chance to depose key witnesses. Like the Trump impeachment trial, the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing made Susan Collins clutch her pearls and Trump hostage Lindsey Graham lose his shit. Like the Trump impeachment trial, the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing was a narrow, almost-party-line decision, which saw a solitary GOP Senator yield to his or her conscience (Mitt Romney; Jeff Flake and then Lisa Murkowski). And like the Trump impeachment trial, the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing produced the awfullest result, using the shoddiest methods, with the highest possible stakes. It put the OOF in BOOF.
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear two cases related to the release of Trump’s tax documents, let us explore the enduring mysteries of Brett Kavanaugh. There are so many open questions! When you get right down to it, the only thing we know for sure about Big-Brained Brett are his feelings about beer, which are a matter of Senatorial record. On that subject, at least, he did not perjure himself.
In the half century since Justice Kegstand was confirmed just 18 months ago, our collective attention has understandably been focused elsewhere. But all the uncomfortable questions surrounding Kavanaugh that popped up like bad acne in the fall of 2018 remain, frustratingly, unanswered.
Did Trump make some sort of threat involving Justice Kennedy’s son?
When Justice Anthony Kennedy unexpectedly decided to retire, we learned that his son, Justin Kennedy, was global head of Deutsche Bank’s real-estate capital markets division when that division was literally the only financial institution in the Western world that would lend money to Donald Trump. Trump has made threats before, but usually on the golf course (see also: “Paul, Rand” and “Graham, Lindsey”.) It could be just a huge coincidence, of course, but the guy who exploited the presidency to extort an ally in order to help the hostile foreign power who owns him would think nothing of ordering an ancient judge to retire or else.
What did Trump say to Justice Kennedy?
The president was walking with Kennedy at Kavanaugh’s swearing in, when Trump mumbled something, and the Justice started like a cat presented with a cucumber. We don’t know what was said. It may be that the conversation was completely innocuous. But it didn’t look that way.
How did Trump decide on Brett Kavanaugh?
When Supreme Court vacancies came through, Trump had been provided with a list of Federalist Society-approved nominees. Kavanaugh, oddly, was not on the list. His selection was something of a surprise. Who told Trump that this was the guy? Was it Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh once clerked for? And if so, why?
Why did Trump pick someone so nakedly partisan?
Kavanaugh is like a “Forrest Gump, Esquire” of Republican legal fuckery. He worked closely with Ken Starr on the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and with the Bush II Administration on the use of torture. Judges are supposed to present as impartial. Again: we are really to believe that Kennedy, the swing vote for the last 25 years, suggested this brazenly partisan guy because he clerked for him a million years ago?
Didn’t former President George W. Bush endorse Kavanaugh?
Yeah, but I suspect that had more to do with the fact that Kavanaugh’s wife, the former Ashley Estes, once worked as his private secretary.
How did the Kavanaughs afford their $1,225,000 home?
Brett and Ashley Kavanaugh are sheltering in place in one of the toniest zip codes in the country. I wrote about this at length in 2018. Nutshell version: the Kavanaughs did not have a pot to piss in, yet they somehow managed to secure a mortgage for just south of a million bucks; scrounge up a $245,000 down payment, as one does; and meet their monthly expenses based on his modest federal salary and her meager part-time-job earnings. At four percent interest, the mortgage payments would have been $4,600 a month, or $55,200 a year—more than what Kavanaugh took home in 2006 after taxes. None of this big money was in the documents he was made to file every year as a federal judge, and the math simply doesn’t add up.
Kavanaugh was carrying huge credit card balances that were paid off a year before he was nominated. How did he manage that?
In his 2009 financial disclosure report, Kavanaugh listed four credit cards, issued by USAA, Citibank, Chase, and Bank of America. He reported balances of between $5,000 and $15,000 on the first two credit cards, and balances between $15,000 and $50,000 on the second two. (The documents require a range of debt be reported, not an exact figure.) At the absolute minimum, he was carrying $40,000 on his four credit cards—a significant figure—and could have accumulated up to a staggering $130,000 in credit card debt. Put another way: by the end of 2006, Brett and Ashley Kavanaugh owed five financial institutions, combined, a cool million dollars. He carried that debt for years.
In 2016, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh, who had been a stay-at-home mother prior to 2016, took a job as the Town Manager of Section 5 of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Curiously, this coincided with a big spike in credit card debt, not a decline, as one might expect. In 2016, Kavanaugh was again “Code K” across three credit cards and the TSP loan. All four liabilities were between $15,000 and $50,000 each, meaning his total debt load was between $60,000 and $200,000.
A year later, this was paid off. We still don’t know how they managed it.
What was Brett spending all this money on?
Home improvements, he claimed:
Over the years, we have sunk a decent amount of money into our home for sometimes unanticipated repairs and improvements. As many homeowners probably appreciate, the list sometimes seems to never end, and for us it has included over the years: replacing the heating and air conditioning system and air conditioning units, replacing the water heater, painting and repairing the full exterior of the house, painting the interior of the house, replacing the porch flooring on the front and side porches with composite wood, gutter repairs, roof repairs, new refrigerator, new oven, ceiling leaks, ongoing flooding in the basement, waterproofing the basement, mold removal in the basement, drainage work because of excess water outside the house that was running into the neighbor’s property, fence repair, and so on. Maintaining a house, especially an old house like ours, can be expensive.
I guess $1.22 million doesn’t buy what it used to.
Wait, but wasn’t some of that credit card debt accumulated buying baseball tickets? Didn’t Kavanaugh say something about that?
Indeed! When asked about Kavanaugh’s hefty liabilities, White House spokesman Raj Shah told Amy Brittain of The Washington Post that “Kavanaugh built up the debt by buying Washington Nationals season tickets and tickets for playoff games for himself and a ‘handful’ of friends. Shah said some of the debts were also for home improvements.”
Who were these “friends?”
The White House spokesman who explained that Kavanaugh’s “friends” reimbursed him for said tickets declined to mention who these “friends” were.
We didn’t get that information in 2018? Really? Kavanaugh wasn’t made to tell us?
Is there more to the official explanation, at least?
Sort of. Brittain writes: “Shah said the payments for the tickets were made at the end of 2016 and paid off early the next year. ‘He did not carry that kind of debt year over year,’ Shah said.”
On its face, this “baseball tickets” explanation is absurd. First, as his financial disclosure statements make clear, Kavanaugh did, in fact, “carry that kind of debt year over year”—meaning that the White House spokesman flat-out lied. Second, if he was living on $3000 a month, his take-home pay as a judge, he couldn’t afford even his share of the tickets. Third, for Kavanaugh to be the purchaser of the tickets is financially reckless. If you add big purchases to credit cards that are already carrying large balances, you increase the principal on which the credit card company charges interest. Why would Kavanaugh offer to front the cash for the tickets—and why would he do it across three credit cards? Does he really like the Nationals that much?
Forget the professional liar at the White House. What did Kavanaugh tell the Senate about the baseball tickets?
In subsequent written answers to the Senate, Kavanaugh made this claim:
As is typical with baseball season tickets, I had a group of old friends who would split games with me. We would usually divide the tickets in a “ticket draft” at my house. Everyone in the group paid me for their tickets based on the cost of the tickets, to the dollar. No one overpaid or underpaid me for tickets. No loans were given in either direction.
Baseball ticket reimbursement, Kavanaugh explains, does not explain the sudden uptick in fortune. Rather:
Our annual income and financial worth substantially increased in the last few years as a result of a significant annual salary increase for federal judges; a substantial back pay award in the wake of class litigation over pay for the Federal Judiciary; and my wife’s return to the paid workforce following the many years that she took off from paid work in order to stay with and care for our daughters. The back pay award was excluded from disclosure on my previous financial disclosure report based on the Filing Instructions for Judicial Officers and Employees, which excludes income from the Federal Government.
Is that true?
This statement is not a lie, per se, but it does skirt the truth. First, while his family income did increase, the Kavanaughs simply did not generate enough to cover their ample expenses (they own no stocks at all, so they don’t make money in other ways.) Second, Ashley Kavanaugh went back to work in 2016, a year when their credit card debts went sharply up, not down. Too, the “substantial back pay”—approximately $150,000 before taxes—was issued in 2014. This squares with his financial disclosure statement of 2015, which shows a sharp reduction in credit card debt. However, even in 2016, the overall picture remains of a family mired in debt, given an infusion of unexpected cash, taking on more work…and still struggling to make ends meet.
Was Kavanaugh still in heavy credit card debt when he was nominated?
No! And that’s the incredible thing. In 2017, poof, those debts vanished. Absent an undisclosed loan or a gift, this is not possible—not with the fixed expenses he’s disclosed. He says:
We have not received financial gifts other than from our family which are excluded from disclosure in judicial financial disclosure reports. Nor have we received other kinds of gifts from anyone outside of our family, apart from ordinary non-reportable gifts related to, for example, birthdays, Christmas, or personal hospitality. On the 2018 financial disclosure report, I correctly listed “exempt” for gifts and reimbursements because those are the explicit instructions in the 2018 Filing Instructions for Judicial Officers and Employees.
Yeah, that sounds shady. Can we circle back to the baseball tickets, please? Something there doesn’t add up.
Certainly. I’m going to cede this question to the business professional of my acquaintance who worked for years in Russia. He’s got a better handle on this than I do: “I read all of Kavanaugh’s disclosures,” he says. “It’s obvious to a piece of used footwear that he’s the M in MICE (Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego—the four ways to turn a source into an asset.)”
The baseball ticket reimbursement scheme, he continues, is “a great way to put 50-100k into someone’s pocket without seeing who put it there.” He explains how such a scheme might work:
Kavanaugh’s story is that he ran up between $60-200k in credit card debt buying baseball tickets. That is a traceable fact, if anyone had access to his card statements, or to the ticket sales office of the Nationals.
The next part of his story is that he distributed those tickets and was reimbursed for them; thus he paid off the credit cards. As long as he has about seven to 21 alibis willing to say, “Yeah, I boofed Brett about nine grand in cash for my set of tickets,” that explains (a) how he got the money back, (b) why there’s no paper trail, and (c) how there’s no tax filings for receipt of 10k or more in cash from one particular source
Of course, the actual amount of cash he gets is (potentially) a lot more. But since the main flagship questions—why did he buy the tickets and how did he afford to pay for them—are now answered with full legal plausibility, it’s nearly impossible to claim probable cause for a warrant to look for more cash coming in then went out. It’s also impossible to tell if the tickets were used by the people who “bought” them, since the stadium isn’t taking IDs—it’s a baseball game, not a commercial flight—and anyway, people buy season tickets every day that they don’t use.
So, presto, you now have (a) washed a transfer of between 60-200 thousand dollars to a government official in one year and (b) fairly well immunized that government official, absent completely new evidence from a warrant on his finances that would discover the other quarter million you (potentially) “boofed” him.
BUT—and this is the part of the porn film where the guy’s balls start to turn colors—you can still, with a bit of information dimed here and there, get a judge to sign a warrant on ol’ Brett’s finances for the last seven years—and that’s, well, that’s the ballgame for ol’ Brett. So he’s sitting there in his robes every day knowing that, for the next 5-7 years, depending on the statute of limitations, he’s one wrong step away from handcuffs and headlines.
Let me be clear that this is hypothetical. There may be a perfectly innocuous explanation for how Kavanaugh managed to pay off his credit cards. I just have not figured out what it might be.
If that hypothesis is true, and Kavanaugh was funneled money illicitly…what does that mean?
If true, it means that not only is Kavanaugh owned, but we don’t know who owns him. The business professional puts it best: “I see Boof sitting on that court for decades, always wondering who is going to be on the other end of the phone when it rings at 5 am.”
The purpose of financial disclosure, as Kavanaugh himself has pointed out, is to look for conflicts of interest. These conflicts tarnish a judge’s impartiality, which is the most essential qualification for the job. If a sitting Supreme Court Justice is beholden to unknown creditors, we need to know who they are—even if the unknown creditors turn out to be Ma and Pa Kavanaugh. How else can we be sure he isn’t compromised?
If Kavanaugh votes for Trump in the Mazars and Deutsche Bank cases, we can say for sure that he, like Trump, is someone’s property.
Any truth to the rumor that the wild fluctuations in Kavanaugh’s finances are related to a closet gambling addiction?
Rumors of Kavanaugh’s gambling are rampant enough that he was asked about it repeatedly by the Senate Judiciary Committee (see questions #21, 22, and 23). Under oath, Kavanaugh denied ever reporting gambling losses or gambling earnings on his tax forms, and claimed never to have participated “in any form of gambling or game of chance or skill with monetary stakes, including but not limited to poker, dice, golf, sports betting, blackjack, and craps” since becoming a judge in 2006. As his track record of truthfulness is not pristine, his denial here means nothing, except in a future perjury trial.
Because sports bookmaking was until recently illegal everywhere in the United States except Las Vegas, the entire billion-dollar industry operates offshore and underground, and deals mostly in cash. It is certainly possible to obtain $245,000 by, say, betting $25,000 on some outcome at 10-to-1 odds, and winning the wager. The transaction would be anonymous, perhaps done through intermediaries, and the payout could very well be made in cash.
Let me be clear: I have no idea whether or not Kavanaugh bets on sporting events. I have no proof one way or the other. It is more likely, in fact, that his income was subsidized by his wealthy parents than by betting big on his beloved Washington Nationals. Indeed, I would prefer that this were the case. But given: 1) the sudden infusion of a quarter million dollars to buy his house, 2) the wild ebbs and flows of his finances for the last decade, 3) the odd story about his purchasing baseball tickets for “old friends,” 4) his oft-stated love of sports, 5) his propensity to lie, 6) his apparent comfort level with political dark money, and even 7) the permissive stance of the American Catholic Church on certain forms of gambling (i.e., bingo), I will say this: In the absence of proof of his family’s aid with the $245,000 down payment, a big gambling windfall cannot be ruled out as a possibility. Which is likely why he was asked about his gambling by the Judiciary Committee.
The guy went to a fancy prep school and then to an elite university. Are we expected to believe that this child of privilege palled around with bookies?
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, 25 September 1985, Brett Kavanaugh and some drinking buddies got in a bar fight at a New Haven pizza joint-cum-dive bar called Demery’s. At the time, he was a junior undergraduate at Yale University and a member of the DKE fraternity, notorious for its abuse of alcohol.
Here’s what happened that night, best as I can tell from the various published reports: A man named Dom Cozzolino, a New Haven local, was sitting there minding his own business, drinking some beer. Kavanaugh kept staring at him, wondering — in his inebriated state — if Cozzolino was, in fact, Ali Campbell, lead singer of the reggae band UB40. This was not the case. Cozzolino asked him to stop staring, whereupon Kavanaugh threw his beer at him. In the ensuing melee, Cozzolino secured the future Supreme Court Justice in a headlock. Then Kavanaugh’s buddy Chris Dudley, the star of the Yale basketball team and a future NBA center — a big dude, in other words — smashed his own beer stein into the side of Cozzolino’s head, drawing blood. The police came and filed a report. No arrests were made, and no one was charged.
The newspaper stories, as usual, have glommed onto the least important aspects of this affair: namely, that the assault victim bore a resemblance to a guy in a one-hit-wonder band. Few have highlighted the presence of Dudley in the fracas (an exception is the Washington Post columnist and Yale alumnus Dana Milbank, who correctly describes Dudley as “then a 6-foot-11 Yale basketball star who went on to be one of the worst free-throw shooters in NBA history.” After his ho-hum NBA career, Dudley would go on to run for governor of Oregon, on the Republican ticket.)
Also significant is the venue: Milbank calls Demery’s “a dive frequented by motorcycle gang members because of its cheap beer and huge triangles of the world’s worst pizza,” and explains:
Often on weeknights we would be kept awake by what we dubbed “fight night,” when the bar’s patrons spilled onto the street at closing time, shouting and throwing punches until the police came.
Writing at The Politic, Daniel Yaden offers this understatement: “Demery’s invited the type of behavior that [Yale] university administrators might have found undesirable.” He continues:
On most nights, Demery’s brought out the cheap beer at nine. All types of New Haven residents — locals, Southern Connecticut State University students, older Yalies and younger ones with good fake IDs — would stream into the club for a night of dancing and drinking. Multiple Yale alumni told The Politic that it was one of the only places they could recall where Yale students and New Haven locals organically interacted.
It was a place many described as “rowdy, violent, and dominated by Yale jocks and locals,” a bar notorious for serving beer to anyone with even the clumsiest fake ID. As one New Haven native recalled: “1985 was my senior year of high school and we were there pretty regularly…[Kavanaugh] got into a fight with my older brother’s good high school friend. What an entitled prick, he actually picked a fight with an Italian guy from New Haven, which is a very stupid thing to do.”
As a nexus of minor criminality, cheap beer, (wealthy) Yale jocks and possibly-mobbed-up New Haven townies, Demery’s was as likely a spot as any for bookies to interact with their customers. To be clear, this does not mean that Kavanaugh participated in gambling, then or now. But of all the pizza joints in all the ‘hoods in all of New Haven, that’s where he hung out.
Kavanaugh was introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee in an unorthodox way. What’s up with that?
It was odd at the time and now seems positively creepy. Members of the girls basketball team he coached were brought in, to create a “first impression” of him as a fatherly, kind man who therefore couldn’t possibly hate women. (While this was going on, the former Trump staffer Zina Bash, who was sitting directly behind Kavanaugh, ostensibly to make him seem softer, may or may not have been making “white power” hand gestures behind him—perhaps spoiling the wholesome tableau just a tad.)
I am quite sure he’s the sort of coach who spends the entire game hollering at the players, upbraiding them for mistakes, and arguing with the refs.
Did the GOP know about the sexual assault claim before the process began?
It sure seems that way. No sooner had the allegation come out than Chuck Grassley, the bumbling chair of the Judiciary Committee, produced a letter, signed by 65 former classmates and friends, all women (!), attesting to Kavanaugh’s good-guy-ness. It was almost like Grassley had that letter ready, waiting for unseemly news he knew might leak out. The GOP’s insistence that the vote process was accelerated suggests they knew what was coming and wanted to get Kavanaugh seated before the shit hit the fan.
Did Chris “Squi” Garrett ever sue Ed Whelan for defamation?
Not that I’m aware of.
To recap: Because Kavanaugh was clearly at the drinking night in question, rather than in Europe or whatever, a theory was concocted to pin the sexual assault on someone else—Kavanaugh’s high school drinking buddy Chris Garrett, aka “Squi.” Ed Whelan, then head of the Ethics & Public Policy Center, posted this theory to his Twitter feed—explicitly accusing Garrett of sexual assault. Never mind that this was defamation, or that Garrett and Dr. Ford were dating in high school, and thus she was unlikely to confuse Brett Kavanaugh or his buddy Mark Judge with her own boyfriend. Whelan’s “mistaken rapist” theory, which he later apologized for, won the day. When the GOP Senators said that they believed both Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh, they were tacitly endorsing this Loony Tunes conspiracy theory.
How can we really know what happened between Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh? It’s her word against his.
Sexual assault claims, especially ones from decades ago, often come down to he-said/she-said, because there are only two people in the room. But per Dr. Ford’s testimony, there were three people in the room: her, her assailant, and Mark Judge.
What happened to Mark Judge?
Well, at the time of the confirmation hearing, as we well remember, the memoirist insisted on testifying, making a dramatic entrance in the chamber to insist on his friend’s innocence. Oh, wait, my bad—what actually happened was, he gave two interviews to the press (i.e., not under oath,) giving the obligatory “I do not recall” line, and promptly skipped town. WaPo eventually tracked him down to some beach house in Delaware, but he may well have been running a Cinnabon in Nebraska under an assumed name.
So he never actually testified under oath?
But Judge would have been able to clear Kavanaugh’s name.
Yes. Or the opposite.
If the Devil’s Triangle is a drinking game, what are the rules?
“Devil’s Triangle” is slang for a menage à trois involving two men and one woman. Something Kavanaugh well knows. He absolutely lied about this under oath, probably because he didn’t want to talk about why he wrote a slang term for a two-dude-one-woman threeway in his high school yearbook—the same sex act he was being accused of trying to have at that party right around that time.
Did the Senate do Kavanaugh a disservice, not making sure all of these questions were answered to our satisfaction?
Only if he’s innocent.