You Don't Need to Meet a Criminal Standard to Believe Brett Kavanaugh's Accusers | Opinion

The latest allegation of sexual misconduct against Brett Kavanaugh raises serious questions about the legitimacy and completeness of the FBI investigation into the man now sitting on the Supreme Court.

The New York Times published a report on Saturday detailing a third, previously undisclosed, allegation against Kavanaugh. According to the article, a classmate at Yale University allegedly "saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student."

President Donald Trump predictably rushed to Kavanaugh's defense after the report came out, urging him in a tweet to sue for "liable" or the Justice Department to intervene on his behalf, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly brushed off what he called "unsubstantiated allegations."

Hearing these and other white powerful men again dismiss serious accusations of sexual misconduct has brought many Americans straight back to a year ago, when Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings divided the nation. Many viewers saw his televised furious denials as evidence of unrepentance and white privilege, while others called them a justifiable reaction to a baseless smear.

But for me, the controversy stirs memories of an investigation into claims of sexual assault I led as a young Navy officer.

Years ago, a well-liked sailor was selected for a promotion that would elevate him to a position of leadership and authority, but before he could be promoted, another sailor made a serious claim of harassment and assault against him. After Naval Criminal Investigative Services determined that it could find no evidence to support or discount the claim, my job was to investigate and make a recommendation.

Military leaders have tremendous power, from setting a moral tone to writing orders that can send people halfway around the world, separating them from their family. Therefore, the gateway to leadership is meant to let through only individuals who can be trusted with this responsibility.

The men and women I served with in the military, like Kavanaugh at Yale, were young and experiencing the newfound freedom and responsibility that sometimes results in bad choices. As a good friend and retired Navy commander once told me, "In some cases, I was as old as their father, and they looked at me as such." But had this popular sailor engaged in something more sinister?

I interviewed not only the accuser, with a victim advocate present, and the sailor, but also the other sailors in the command. None of the other sailors knew what I was investigating—only that I was looking into an undefined "incident." And so I soon heard examples of the immaturity one would expect from 19- to 20-year-olds, mainly stories of drinking and juvenile misbehavior.

However, when I mentioned the target of the investigation and asked for opinions of him, a disturbing picture began to emerge.

A female sailor told me that he had apparently stolen her personal contact info from the duty roster and began texting and messaging her on social media. At first, she said, she liked the attention from the sailor, who was senior to her, but as the communication turned to a sexual nature, she became alarmed. She told me she began to avoid him, but his advances only increased. He allegedly even put her on duty overnight, where he would "swing by" to check on her.

Two more female sailors echoed her allegations with similar stories, and a young man came to see me as well. He told me there was something very wrong with this sailor. He said he'd witnessed him launch a campaign of harassment. The young man told me that after the victim was deployed, the sailor had desperately tried to go out with her as part of the relief crew. Allegedly, when his request was denied, he called her repeatedly, and when he learned she was seeing another sailor, he tried to get them both in trouble.

The pattern of harassment was so bad, the young man said, that the victim had broken down and cried in a hanger, asking why nobody believed her. The young man said he was so disturbed that he decided to speak with me.

Although law enforcement and prosecutors had determined that they lacked evidence to bring charges, it was clear to me that the sailor under investigation should never be put in a position of authority or leadership. His behavior had been independently corroborated, as had parts of the claim. I believed the victim.

As a result, the sailor's promotion was not only put on hold; he was reassigned to a solitary position, and the victim was granted a transfer to another command.

Brett Kavanaugh
Brett Kavanaugh attends his ceremonial swearing-in in the White House on October 8, 2018, in Washington, D.C. The New York Times recently published a new allegation of sexual misconduct against the justice. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

When I was preparing to leave, I was surprised by the victim, who wanted to speak with me. "Thank you for believing me," she said.

It is a simple statement that has stuck with me in the face of the controversy over the Supreme Court justice.

One does not need to meet a criminal standard to believe Kavanaugh's accusers. Nor should his actions be dismissed, as they have been by Geraldo Rivera and others, as the embarrassing misbehavior of youth. The damning accounts of multiple witnesses, as well as Kavanaugh's refusal to apologize or admit serious wrongdoing, show at the very least a temperament that is ill-suited to be in a position of authority and leadership.

The justice should be treated no differently than the young sailor who was eventually drummed out of the Navy. We may never know what really happened with Kavanaugh, but his character is clear.

Naveed Jamali is a columnist for Newsweek who spent three years working undercover for the FBI against Russian military intelligence. He tells the story in his book How to Catch a Russian Spy. He is a member of Left of Bang, a group of military veterans working to prevent gun violence.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​