Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton is a smart guy. Harvard undergrad. Harvard Law School.
Which makes the claims he made Tuesday about Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh all the more odd. Because the conspiracy theory Cotton spun to conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt is, well, dumb.
“I believe the Schumer political operation was behind this from the very beginning. We learned last week that a woman named Monica McLean was Ms. Ford’s roommate, and she was one of the so-called beach friends who encouraged Ms. Ford to go to Dianne Feinstein and the partisan Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. Well, it just turns out, it just so happens that Monica McLean worked for a Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, now a virulent anti-Trump critic on television and former counsel to Chuck Schumer. So I strongly suspect that Chuck Schumer’s political operation knew about Ms. Ford’s allegations as far back as July and manipulated the process all along to include taking advantage of Ms. Ford’s confidences and directing her towards left-wing lawyers who apparently may have violated the D.C. code of legal ethics and perhaps may face their own investigation by the D.C. Bar.”
OK. So let’s follow this logic: Ford is friends with a woman named Monica McLean → McLean worked for Preet Bharara → Bharara is friends with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer → Ford tells McLean about the Kavanaugh sexual assault allegation in July → McLean immediately told Bharara → Bharara immediately tells Schumer → Schumer plots with other Senate Democrats to release the accusation at the last possible minute in order to derail Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Seriously. That is what Cotton is alleging. Again, seriously.
Like with lots of other conspiracy theories, there are elements of truth here.
McLean and Ford are friends. They both went to Holton-Arms, a private girls’ school in the DC area. McLean was one of the people who signed a letter in support of Ford during Kavanaugh’s confirmation fight. And another friend of the two — Leland Keyser — said she felt pressured by McLean to change her initial statement that she knew nothing about the alleged assault to clarify that while she didn’t remember the specific incident, she believed Ford. Bharara and Schumer are friendly — as the former served as chief counsel for the latter for a time.
That, literally, is where the facts in Cotton’s conspiracy theory end.
Let’s first debunk the idea that McLean “worked for” Bharara. (Nota bene: Bharara is a CNN contributor.) As The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog helpfully notes, this is simply not true. The Fact Checker writes:
“The connection here appears to be based on a pseudonymous conservative blogger’s analysis of a news release from Nov. 30, 2009, which announced a three-month prison sentence for a contractor in New York who had pleaded guilty to making an illegal payment to a union official.
“The news release was issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Preet Bharara led the U.S. Attorney’s Office from August 2009 until Trump fired him in March 2017.
“As is common in criminal investigations, multiple agencies collaborated on this case. It’s also common for law enforcement agencies to give each other kudos in their news releases when a target is indicted, convicted or sentenced, and it’s a matter of routine to include press contacts for each agency in the same news release.”
McLean, a retired FBI agent, was listed as the press contact for the FBI — one of the four agencies involved in the case. Having two peoples’ names on the same press release is something short of definitive proof of anything other than the fact that two peoples’ names appeared on the same press release.
And Bharara himself made clear earlier this month that McLean never worked for him. “I’ll say this once: Monica McLean has never worked for me,” he tweeted at conservative blogger Erick Erickson on October 5. “I couldn’t pick her out of a lineup and I have no contact with her. Kavanaugh’s former deputy Bill Burck, meanwhile, is a close personal friend of mine. You’re not even good at the dumbest of dumb conspiracy theories.”
Then there is the fact-free claim by Cotton that Schumer knew of the letter that Ford sent to Rep. Anna Eshoo back in July and conspired to keep it private until it could be most damaging for Kavanaugh’s confirmation chances.
That idea directly contradicts what Ford herself told independent prosecutor Rachel Mitchell — under oath! — during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her allegations.
There are two relevant exchanges to this point. Here’s the first:
MITCHELL: In your statement, you said that on July 6, you had a, quote, “sense of urgency to relay the information to the Senate and the president.” Did you contact either the Senate or the president on or before July 6?
FORD: No, I did not. I did not know how to do that.
MITCHELL: OK. Did you talk to any member of Congress — and, again, remember Congress includes the Senate, or the House of Representatives or any congressional staff members — about your allegations between July 10 and the July — and July 30, which was the date of your letter to Senator Feinstein?
FORD: Yes, I met with Congresswoman Eshoo’s staff. And I think that’s July 18, the Wednesday, and then on the Friday I met with the congresswoman herself.
MITCHELL: OK. When you met with her, did you meet with her alone or did someone come with you?
FORD: I was alone. She had a staff person.
So if you believe Cotton — which would be a mistake if you like facts — you have to believe that Ford lied about who she talked to in that crucial July window. She makes very clear that she only ever spoke to Rep. Anna Eshoo, an Eshoo staffer and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein — once, on the phone.
And Feinstein herself has said much the same — in answer to Cotton’s claim about some coordinated effort between she and Schumer. “I honored Dr. Blasey Ford’s request for confidentiality,” she said in a statement earlier this month. “It was only when reporters were knocking on her door that I referred the letter to the FBI. At no point did I or anyone on my staff divulge Dr. Blasey Ford’s name to press. She knows that and believes it, for which I’m grateful.”
Cotton is someone widely seen with the Republican Party as a rising star — he’s only 41 years old — who can and should run for president one day. While President Donald Trump’s track record on embracing debunked conspiracy theories is something less than admirable, Republicans like Cotton would do well not to make that the blueprint of how to gain favor with the base of their party going forward. Facts, still, matter. And what Cotton is pushing is virtually fact-free.