Verbal statement analysis of Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge denials of Ford allegations

This piece will look at some statements from Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge pertaining to the Dr. Christine Ford allegations. The Kavanaugh statements discussed in this piece come from the Sept 24th Fox News interview of Kavanaugh and his wife (video below).

I find Kavanaugh’s denials in this interview weak and evasive for these main reasons:

  1. Kavanaugh spends barely any time talking about his supposed lack of memory of Dr. Ford and the event. A person who honestly has no memory of someone, or was confident such an event did not happen, would be expected to emphasize that.
  2. His denials focus on denying “sexual assault”, instead of denying specific allegations. His denials and defenses in general are vague and not specific.

I wanted to write this up mainly because I’ve seen some people who seem to think (or claim to think) Kavanaugh’s statements on this subject were good and believable and straightforward. While there may be legal reasons for Kavanaugh to be very careful and err on the side of being ambiguous, one thing is clear: his denials are not strong or straightforward.

Here’s the video (more analysis is below the video):

The interview snippets I’ve copied/pasted below come from this transcription of the interview.

(2:05 of video)
KAVANAUGH:
I may have met her, we did not travel in the same social circle, she was not a friend, not someone I knew —

MACCALLUM (interviewer): You don’t remember ever being at parties with her ever?

KAVANAUGH: I do not.

This seems like a good denial on the surface. But his “I do not” here is the only statement in this entire interview where he directly denies ever being at a party with Dr. Ford. If Kavanaugh truthfully did not remember Dr. Ford, and if he specifically never remembered being at a party with her, I would propose that you’d hear a direct denial more than just one time in an interview this long. As you’ll see if you keep reading, or listen to the interview, this is the only thing resembling a direct denial that he had an encounter with her.

(3:05 of video)
MACCALLUM
: And to this date, no one has corroborated the story that she has told. As you accurately point out, but is there — so there’s no chance that there was something between the two of you that maybe she misunderstood the exchange that you had?

Nothing ever physical, you never met her, never kissed her, never touched her, nothing that you remember?

KAVANAUGH: Correct. I — I never had any sexual or physical activity with Dr, Ford. I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone in high school or otherwise —

Here, Kavanaugh is again given a great chance to emphasize how he doesn’t remember Dr. Ford, and to reiterate that he had no encounter with her. His response, on the surface, sounds okay. But let’s look at it more closely.

First, it should be noted that MacCallum makes a common mistake (or in this case, seeing as it’s Fox News, likely purposeful ¹): asking a compound question that it is easy to avoid answering by either answering vaguely or by answering only one of the questions. Here, she seems to ask for confirmation that he doesn’t remember a) meeting her, b) kissing her, c) touching her. Kavanaugh responds, “Correct,” but what is he responding to specifically?

His follow-up is focused on sexual assault, which is not what MacCallum asked about. He repeats something he says multiple times, in slightly different ways, in this interview: “I never sexually assaulted anyone in high school or otherwise.” But MacCallum was asking if he remembered meeting or kissing or touching Dr. Ford in the first place, not about sexual assault. Again, if you truthfully didn’t remember meeting someone, or if you were certain that you did not have an encounter like the alleged one, I would propose that you would be very forceful in denying that any such interaction could have taken place, more forceful in saying something like, “I do not remember any time I met Christine Ford at a party, no recollection of any talking to her anywhere, at any time, and no recollection of touching her in the way she describes, or any way.” The fact that his statements seem to be vague and weak around his lack of memory about her is significant.

Also, Kavanaugh’s response, which he repeats in some form several times in this interview (“I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone in high school or otherwise”) is not a denial of anything specifically. For one thing, the definition of ‘sexual assault’ is subjective. It is possible that even if the alleged incident did occur as Dr. Ford describes, Kavanaugh would not consider it a sexual assault. More generally, it is just a vague, non-specific denial. In this case, it seems he intends this statement to serve as a denial of this and all allegations, but it fails because it is not specific.

Let’s look at the first response he makes in this interview. MacCallum begins by going into detail about what the Dr. Ford’s allegations are, and finally asks this, her first, question:

(1:40 of video)
MACCOLLUM:
You have categorically denied that this happened. Did anything happen?

KAVANAUGH: No. I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not ever. I’ve always treated women with dignity and respect. Listen to the people who’ve known me best through my whole life, the women who have known me since high school, the 65 who overnight signed a letter from high school saying I always treated them with dignity and respect —

Again here, he says he never sexually assaulted anyone, which is not what the question asked. This would have been a perfect spot to say that he doesn’t remember Dr. Ford at all. As stated, ‘sexual assault’ has a subjective definition, and we would like specifics. If Kavanaugh really does not remember Dr. Ford and is certain he did not interact with her physically, I think it’s probable he might start out by stating something more forceful and direct about that.

Another example:

MACCALLUM: So, when she says there’s no doubt in her mind that it was you, because she was asked that. Is it possible that you maybe confused him, maybe it’s a mistaken identity, maybe it was someone else. She said absolutely not.

KAVANAUGH: I have never sexually assaulted anyone. I was not at the party described. I was not anywhere at any place resembling that in the summer of 1982. The other people alleged to be there don’t say anything like that. And the woman who’s alleged to be there, who’s her friend, says that she doesn’t know me and doesn’t recall ever being at a party with me in her life.

Instead of answering that Dr. Ford is definitely mistaken because Kavanaugh remembers nothing about her or any incident like that, he responds again with the more vague, general denials.

Other parts of his interview are similarly avoiding the specifics of the allegation or how well he remembers, or doesn’t remember, Dr. Ford. He talks about character references, he talks about his general upstandingness, but spends the minimal amount of time on specifics.

Mark Judge statements

Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge also has made very weak denials. He also has a history of being a confessed alcoholic from a young age. He also has stated he does not want to testify on Kavanaugh’s behalf.

Here are some statements Judge has made:

“It’s just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way.” Judge told this to The Weekly Standard.

“Brett Kavanaugh and I were friends in high school, but we have not spoken directly in several years. I do not recall the events described by Dr. Ford in her testimony before the US Senate Judiciary Committee today. I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes.” This is from a short letter he wrote to Grassley.

These might sound good on the surface, but note that they are both very ambiguous. Judge does not say that he never spent time with Dr. Ford. He does not say that he never saw Kavanaugh and Ford together. He only speaks vaguely about not seeing Brett act “in that way” or “in that manner.” But (similar to saying “I never sexually assaulted anyone”) those are subjective statements. These are very weak denials.

Conclusion

I think it’s likely based on Kavanaugh’s ambiguous denials that he remembers more than he is saying about Dr. Ford. And I think it’s very likely based on Judge’s short statements that he knows more than he’s saying, also.

Worth noting: evasiveness doesn’t necessarily mean that Dr. Ford’s description of the incident is correct. The most innocent explanation for both men being purposefully ambiguous and evasive is that they do not remember Dr. Ford but know there are things from that time period they don’t remember, so they want to phrase things ambiguously in case it is later revealed they did associate with Dr. Ford.

Another explanation is that they do remember Dr. Ford (whether Ford’s allegations are accurate or not) and are lying about not remembering her because they think it’s the best strategy. At the very least, I think most reasonable people would agree that Kavanaugh and Judge are speaking ambiguously and evasively, whatever the reason.

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy this episode of my ‘People Who REad People’ podcast where I interview Mark McClish, an expert on analyzing written and verbal statements.

¹ Speaking more of Fox News bias, I found the following moment in the interview quite comical. MacCallum, the interviewer, seems to begging Kavanaugh to state that he believes the allegations are lies by the women brought on by his stances on abortion. Her irritation that he does not answer her question comes through in the video. Kavanaugh does not give her what she is asking for, either because he believes that the allegations are not politically motivated or that it would be bad form for him to say that, or because he knows that they are not politically motivated.

18:10 of video

MACCALLUM: So in terms of the process now and what happens now, when you look at how all of this — where all this generated from, do you have thoughts? Is this about Roe v. Wade? Is this about people who initially right off the bat, said they wanted to see you never take the spot on the Supreme Court? Where’s all this coming from?

KAVANAUGH: I just want a fair process where I can be heard.

MACCALLUM: You don’t have any thoughts on what’s — where this is coming from?

KAVANAUGH: I just want a fair process where I can be heard, defend my integrity, defend the integrity of my family. I’ve — I’m telling the truth.

MACCALLUM: You don’t want to talk about where you think this is coming from?

KAVANAUGH: I just want an opportunity, a fair process where I can defend my integrity.

MACCALLUM: All right…

Have psych podcast “People Who Read People.” My research into online deception featured in NYT, WaPo, more. Wrote books on poker tells (translated 8 languages).