WASHINGTON – Twenty years ago a sitting U.S. president, Bill Clinton, was ordered to answer a series of excruciating questions about his sexual relationship with a 22-year-old intern.
Some of those questions were drafted by a young attorney named Brett Kavanaugh, who in a painfully awkward coincidence faced a similar onslaught of invasive queries Thursday from senators considering whether he should be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Have you ever ground or rubbed your genitals against Dr. Ford?” Kavanaugh was asked in an extraordinary Senate Judiciary Committee hearing following allegations by professor Christine Blasey Ford that he tried to rape her at a 1982 party when they were high school students.
“No,” the 53-year-old responded.
“Have you ever covered Dr. Ford’s mouth with your hand?” Same answer.
“Have you ever at any time engaged in sexual behavior with Dr. Ford?”
It was one of several agonizing exchanges in the hearing, Kavanaugh fumed about the process, branding it “a national disgrace.”
It was an uncomfortable if not entirely unexpected drama for the current toxic political age, in which President Donald Trump has been accused himself by more than a dozen women of sexual misconduct, and was heard on a recording saying women let him grab them by the crotch because he is famous.
Rewind more than two decades, to when independent counsel Ken Starr, appointed to investigate Clinton’s financial dealings, hired a young Kavanaugh to help with that probe.
Two days before Clinton testified to a grand jury about his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky, Kavanaugh wrote Starr a memo saying Clinton deserved no “break” in questioning unless he “resigns or confesses perjury.”
Kavanaugh presented 10 tough draft questions, many of them sexually explicit, to ask the president.
“If Monica Lewinsky says that you inserted a cigar into her vagina while you were in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?” Kavanaugh wrote in the memo, which was released last month by the National Archives.
“If Monica Lewinsky says that she gave you oral sex on nine occasions in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?”
Such coarse language was reminiscent of another high court debate that transfixed the country in 1991.
During Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, his onetime aide Anita Hill testified that Thomas spoke with her in lurid detail about pornographic films, and that he “told me graphically of his own sexual prowess.”
Thomas and Kavanaugh were both picked by Republican presidents, both graduates of Yale Law School, and both accused of misconduct. Each denied the allegations against them.
Thomas, who made it onto the court, famously branded the proceedings “a high-tech lynching.”
Kavanaugh, whose fate hangs in the balance, said the “circus” surrounding the allegations against him amounted to “a grotesque and coordinated character assassination.”
Clinton too had expressed a grievance about the grilling he received over his affair, saying they were “questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.”
At one point in Thursday’s hearing, Kavanaugh made reference to the former president’s predicament from 20 years ago, when he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives but later acquitted by the Senate.
The hearing was a “calculated and orchestrated political hit,” a defiant Kavanaugh told lawmakers, “fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election … and revenge on behalf of the Clintons.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Friday on Kavanaugh’s nomination. A full Senate floor vote could come next week.