Kavanaugh case opens door to dangerous range of accusations

It doesn’t matter where you stand on the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. In the larger picture, our politicians have set a precedent that only promises to deliver much more tumult to our future political landscape: Any sexual-misconduct accuser must receive a congressional hearing upon demand, no matter when the allegation is raised, how long ago the alleged incident occurred, or whether it’s supported by evidence. In fact, the hearing and an FBI investigation must occur even if crucial details are missing and if named witnesses deny the event or have no recollection. Although the charges may allege criminal conduct, the bar for having them pursued is far lower than what’s required in a court of law.

There will be divided opinions as to whether this is just.

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Many advocates will say this is as it should be, that sexual abuse survivors cannot be hemmed in by artificial boundaries or deadlines established for the convenience of our political governance. Whenever they may feel strong or motivated enough to come forward, even if it seems to be the most inconvenient time, it’s the right time for them. These advocates also will say accusers must be afforded every benefit of doubt, assumed to be telling the truth and questioned gingerly (if at all) lest they and other alleged victims be intimidated into silence.

Many others will point to a long record of false accusations. False accusations can be so damaging that the presumption of innocence for the criminally charged is a sacred principle of the American criminal justice system. They will say that failing to treat unproven charges with appropriate skeptical uncertainty is unfair to the accused who may, in fact, be perfectly innocent. They also will claim this encourages the weaponization of sexual-misconduct charges by dishonest people for political or other nefarious purposes.

Whatever the case, it seems that we can now expect the following scenarios:

Every future Supreme Court nominee may face 11th-hour accusations that will stop the works and necessitate hearings and an FBI probe.

The range of show-stopping allegations may expand beyond sexual misconduct to other conduct deemed unbecoming of a future Supreme Court Justice. For example, we may hear that a future nominee was rumored to cheat on a high school exam, that someone witnessed him or her losing their temper in college, that they said something incredibly hurtful or inappropriate as a teenager, broke up with a high school sweetheart in a disrespectful way, or had a one-night stand.

These future accusations may be lodged on an even trickier timetable, such as during an actual confirmation vote, just before the swearing-in of a confirmed nominee, or even after the swearing-in occurs.

The accused targets may expand beyond that of Supreme Court nominees to other federal nominees and appointees, members of Congress and candidates, officials at federal agencies, and important staff and aides.

The most difficult part is the reality that some of the charges will be true and some will be false. Some targets will be deserving of the scrutiny and some will not. Some accusations will be genuine and some will be politically motivated. Some will be provable and some will be impossible to corroborate. And, depending on who has the most power or the best ability to gain the public sympathy, there will be times that corroborated allegations against some figures will be conveniently ignored or dismissed, while the thinnest innuendo against others will be treated as if it’s a proven crime.

And many will be smeared.

In today’s environment, I don’t have the answers as to how the Kavanaugh case could have or should have been handled differently to account for both the possibility that the accuser is telling the truth and the possibility that Kavanaugh has been falsely accused. But we have lurched into new territory, indeed.

Fasten your seat belts.

Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times bestsellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program, “Full Measure.”