By Jennifer Peltz
and Michael Kunzelman
NEW YORK (AP) — It started as a series of phone calls among old high-school friends and ended up embroiling 65 women in the firestorm over a sexual assault allegation that could shape the Supreme Court.
In a matter of hours, they all signed onto a letter rallying behind high court nominee and their high school friend Brett Kavanaugh as someone who “has always treated women with decency and respect.” And they signed up, whether they anticipated it or not, for becoming a focus of scrutiny themselves.
The powerful strength-in-numbers statement, offered to bolster Kavanaugh’s denial of a claim that he attacked a girl at a party during their high school years, has drawn questions from journalists, social media skeptics, even Hollywood figures.
How well did the women know him? How could a statement and 65 signatures come together so fast after outlines of the allegation first surfaced publicly? And after subsequently hearing the details and learning that his accuser was a woman some of them knew, do they stand by their declaration?
Yes, say more than a dozen signers who have since spoken to The Associated Press or other media outlets.
“Brett wouldn’t do that in a million years. I’m totally confident. That would be completely out of character for him,” said Paula Duke Ebel. She said she interacted with Kavanaugh hundreds of times while they were students in a close-knit constellation of single-sex Catholic schools around Washington in the 1980s.
Christine Blasey Ford, 51, now a psychology professor in California, said a very intoxicated Kavanaugh cornered her in a bedroom during a party in the early 1980s. She said he pinned her on a bed, tried to undress her and clamped his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. She escaped only when a friend of his jumped on the bed and knocked them all over.
The letter was released the morning after the allegation first got wide public attention. The letter and its roster of supporters seemed to come at supersonic speed and out of the blue.
Women who organized and signed it say it was a rapid response by a social network that endures decades after they graduated. They say it was easy to mobilize: a chain of friends calling, texting and emailing friends from a Washington-area world where many still live and see each other.
Meanwhile, hundreds of alumnae of the secular private girls school that Kavanaugh’s accuser attended have signed a letter supporting her and calling for an investigation of her allegations.
“We believe Dr. Blasey Ford,” they wrote.
One of the signers, Cristina King Miranda, tweeted Wednesday that the alleged attack “was spoken about for days afterward in school” and that Kavanaugh “should stop lying.” But in a Facebook post hours later, she said she had no firsthand knowledge of the matter and wouldn’t comment further amid a media “circus” and a barrage of interview requests.
While that letter is signed by a mix of Ford’s peers and students from before or after her time at her school, the letter backing Kavanaugh is from women who vouch that they knew Kavanaugh, now a federal appeals court judge, personally as a high school student.
Several said they interacted with him extensively through sporting events, dances, parties and other socializing or the phone calls that occupied teenage weeknights in the pre-texting era.
One worked with him at a summer camp. A second sought his help with homework. Two dated him. Some still see him at social functions.
At least one, though, hadn’t spent time or talked one-on-one with him but still felt comfortable attaching her name based on the social situations they shared.
Others who signed declined to comment or didn’t respond to inquiries. The AP left messages for all 65.
Some have been taken aback by the attention. Many have stayed mum to avoid “the media frenzy,” signer Maura Kane told Fox News, the outlet of choice for several who have given interviews.
Julie DeVol told the AP she didn’t really anticipate the letter would provoke such intense interest, though she sensed Kavanaugh’s critics “would do anything” to delay his confirmation vote.
Kavanaugh, 53, seemed to be cruising toward that vote before the sexual misconduct allegation became public.
Kavanaugh has called Ford’s allegation “completely false.” The Senate Judiciary Committee has invited him and Ford to testify at a hearing Monday, although Ford’s lawyers say she wants the FBI to investigate her allegation before she testifies.
The Kavanaugh friend who she said was in the room at the party, conservative writer Mark Judge, has said he doesn’t remember any such incident.
When word of a high-school-era sexual misconduct allegation against Kavanaugh emerged last Thursday afternoon, Meghan McCaleb and her husband, Scott, thought they and other high school friends of the nominee needed to speak out. Meghan McCaleb said she launched the letter-writing effort after discussing it with some of Kavanaugh’s former law clerks.
She said she contacted friends, who contacted more friends, and they had 65 signatures by the next morning.
The rapid-fire response sparked a flare of tweets, including from actresses and liberal activists Debra Messing and Patricia Arquette, questioning how anyone could line up so many high school pals so quickly to speak up for someone they didn’t actually go to school with. McCaleb says the answer is simply “how strongly all of us believe in Judge Kavanaugh and his integrity.”
Some of the signers are conservative, such as podcaster and former Republican National Committee spokeswoman Virginia Hume. Others are Democrats.
“This has nothing to do with politics,” said one of the signers, Megan Williams. “It’s just about character.”
But it is also, inescapably, about whether they credit another woman’s account of sexual assault.
The question is sharpened by the #MeToo movement, which seeks to change what supporters see as a history of doubt and dismissal of women who speak up about sexual misconduct. The question also is all the more pointed for women who traveled a similar teenage social path as Ford, and in some cases met her along the way.
McCaleb said “I’m not certain” when asked on Fox News whether she believed Ford, a friend of a friend who went to the same local pool Ford did. “She alleges that she had this traumatic event, and I feel like it is not the Brett Kavanaugh that we know.”
Sharon Crouch Clark didn’t know Ford and feels fine about having signed the letter, notwithstanding the allegation.
“If it happened to her, that’s horrible,” Clark said. But she questions whether the incident occurred as Ford described it, noting that Ford said she was unable to recall certain details about the date, place and other aspects of the alleged attack.
“I feel like I would know all that,” said Clark, who socialized with Kavanaugh amid groups of friends at parties.
Women who signed the letter said they didn’t know about or recall the party Ford described, and they said her account of a “stumbling drunk” Kavanaugh didn’t jibe with their memories of a boy who drank some beer alongside them but never lost control or crossed a line with girls.
“There were kids who did act kind of crazy. … He just wasn’t that guy,” said Williams, who recalls hanging out with Kavanaugh mainly in groups but sometimes one-on-one. “He was the kid who always did the right thing.”
That’s why six dozen women were willing to put their names on that letter, said signer Missy Bigelow Carr, who worked at a summer camp with Kavanaugh and coached girls basketball against him as an adult.
“If there was any indication that he didn’t treat even one of us with respect or acted in a manner that disrespected girls/women,” she wrote in an email, “that would not be the case.”