WASHINGTON – Future Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and two fellow Yale University students were in an off-campus bar back in 1985.
They had just come from seeing the English reggae band UB40 at a nearby venue in New Haven, Connecticut, when they saw a man who resembled the lead singer. The man told the trio he wasn’t the singer and brusquely told them to stop looking at him. Kavanaugh couldn’t let the comment pass, according to one of the two friends with Kavanaugh that night.
Kavanaugh first cursed at the man. After the man responded in kind, Kavanaugh threw a beer in his face, said Charles Ludington, a former Yale basketball player who’s now a history professor at North Carolina State University. The act precipitated a brawl that drew in their other friend — Yale basketball star and future NBA player Chris Dudley — and eventually prompted a call to police.
Kavanaugh was frequently “belligerent and aggressive” after drinking and had lied to senators about his experience with alcohol, Ludington said in a statement released to the news media Sunday. The barroom fisticuffs were the most searing example of Kavanaugh’s behavior he remembers, Ludington said in an interview with Bloomberg News, where he expanded on his statement for the first time.
“It was sort of a general feature of hanging out with Brett in college,” he said in an interview. “When you’re having beers on a Friday or Saturday night, that was kind of Brett’s shtick. He was aggressive. He was belligerent.”
His detailed account of the melee couldn’t be independently corroborated. The White House had no immediate comment when asked about Ludington’s account, instead referring a reporter to statements issued earlier by Dudley and another classmate attesting to Kavanaugh’s character.
Kavanaugh’s nomination to the high court is mired in allegations of drunken behavior and sexual misconduct following a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week in which a California college professor, Christine Blasey Ford, testified that he assaulted her while drunk when the two were teenagers. Kavanaugh denies the assault, but acknowledged drinking beer as a youth. Democrats have raised questions about his temperament and whether he was truthful about the extent of his alcohol use.
President Donald Trump said Kavanaugh’s testimony last week showed that his second Supreme Court nominee had “a little bit of difficulty” with alcohol when he was younger.
“I was surprised at how vocal he was about the fact that he likes beer and he’s had a little bit of difficulty, I mean, he talked about things that happened when he drank,” Trump during a Rose Garden press conference Monday.
Ludington has said he was willing to share his account with the FBI, which is conducting a one-week investigation in the wake of the hearing.
Ludington said he has no information about any of the allegations of sexual impropriety facing Kavanaugh. But he has clear memories of the nominee’s drinking during college and of the incident at the bar.
The incident would become a hot topic of conversation among the other members of the basketball team because its star at the time, Dudley, was involved, according to another team member.
Team members were given a harsh lecture by coaches the next day telling them to avoid the bar, said the former player in an interview. He asked not to be named because of the intense politics surrounding the nomination hearing.
The episode occurred on a September evening in 1985 after Kavanaugh, Ludington and Dudley attended the UB40 concert.
After the show, Ludington said, the three young men went to Demery’s, a bar popular with Yale students. Soon after arriving, they spotted another man in the bar who looked like UB40’s lead singer, Ali Campbell. Fans of his music, they thought they’d introduce themselves, Ludington said.
“He looked at us looking at him and said in sort of an aggressive manner, ‘What are you guys looking at?’ And I said, sort of apologetically, ‘Sorry, we thought maybe you were the lead singer of UB40.’ “
Ludington said the man replied angrily, telling them to stop looking at him. At that point, Kavanaugh responded with an expletive and the man responded with his own expletive.
“The next thing you know, Brett throws his beer at the guy,” Ludington said. “The guy swings at Brett.”
Ludington said he doesn’t recall what Kavanaugh was doing as the fight erupted but police were called.
New Haven police said they were reviewing records from 1985 in response to a Monday request from Bloomberg. A calendar of concerts published in the Courant newspaper in Hartford, Connecticut, showed that UB40 played in New Haven on Sept. 25 that year.
Dudley didn’t respond to a voicemail and email left at his office asking about the incident in the bar. But in a statement he released Monday, he said “I will say it again, we drank in college.”
“I was with Brett frequently in college, whether it be in the gym, in class or socializing. I never ever saw Brett black out. Not one time,” Dudley said. “I would also like to point out that going out never came before working hard and maintaining our focus on our goals.”
Drinking as a college student is hardly unique and Ludington said he had no thought of making his story public when Kavanaugh was first nominated to the nation’s highest court. But watching Kavanaugh downplay his drinking in a Fox News interview and later in the contentious Senate hearing convinced Ludington he needed to set the record straight.
“I can unequivocally say that in denying the possibility that he ever blacked out from drinking, and in downplaying the degree and frequency of his drinking, Brett has not told the truth,” Ludington said in his statement.
In his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, Kavanaugh called the confirmation process “a national disgrace” and aggressively denied charges of sexual impropriety, including allegations by Ford that he laid on top of her and tried to forcibly remove her clothes during a party in high school.
In his opening statement, he acknowledged drinking beer. “But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out and I did not sexually assault anyone,” he said.
In the Fox interview Sept. 24, he acknowledged high school seniors drank beer at the time and “people might have had too many beers on occasion” and might “regret or cringe a bit.” But he said he never was unable to remember what had happened.
Ludington doesn’t recall how much they had been drinking that night. The group was most likely “pretty buzzed,” he said, though not so drunk that he doesn’t have a clear memory of that night.
What the incident illustrates about Kavanaugh “is just the aggressiveness that came along with the alcohol, the hair-trigger machismo, which was pathetic,” he said.
That bar episode and others were something Ludington didn’t find “very attractive” and he found himself drifting away from Kavanaugh as a friend.
Dudley, a 6’11’ center, played for 16 years in the NBA on various teams, including the Nets and Knicks. He ended his career with the Portland Trailblazers.
He was the Republican nominee for governor in Oregon in 2010, losing narrowly. He is now a California-based certified financial planner with Boston Private.
Ludington, a registered Democrat, said he did not vote for Trump and disagrees with Kavanaugh’s politics. He worked as an unpaid volunteer for Bill Clinton’s campaign for president in 1992, though he said he “was not made out for the world of politics” and chose graduate school rather than pursuing a government job in the Clinton administration.
He has given a series of small donations to Democrats and Democratic Party committees since 1980, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Ludington said he had resigned himself to seeing Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court until the latest allegations emerged and the judge began defending himself on national TV and before lawmakers with what he believes are lies about heavy drinking.
“He’s unable to acknowledge that about himself, which is a real shame,” Ludington said. “My personal opinion, of course, that’s the kind of thing that disqualifies you from being a Supreme Court justice. But I guess I’ll have to let others decide that.”