My sinister brush with Brett Kavanaugh

My sinister brush with Brett Kavanaugh. By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, a serious and talented journalist of no obvious political leaning whom I’ve followed for years on financial reporting.

Twenty-three years ago I crossed swords with a younger Brett Kavanaugh in one of the weirdest and most disturbing episodes of my career as a journalist.

What happened leaves me in no doubt that he lacks judicial character and is unfit to serve on the US Supreme Court for the next thirty years or more, whatever his political ideology.

He was not a teenager. It related to his duties in the mid-1990s as Assistant Independent Council for the Starr investigation, then probing Bill and Hillary Clinton in the most sensitive case in the country.

To my surprise, the incident has suddenly become a second front in his nomination saga on Capitol Hill. Senator Dianne Feinstein … released a ‘smoking gun’ document from the archive files of the Starr investigation. It shows Mr Kavanaugh’s efforts to suppress a news story about his wild cross-examination of a witness, including a wayward discussion of “genitalia” that particularly worried him.

This piqued my interest since I am named in the document and the witness — Patrick Knowlton — was in a sense ‘my witness’.

Sen Feinstein is doubtless unaware of the larger, surreal story behind that week, and what it might suggest about rogue operations at the heart of the US federal system. …

The state of skulduggery in Washington:

For me it has been a strange journey back in time, like reading your old STASI file in East Berlin. There is one handwritten note by a Starr prosecutor stating – obliquely – “Ambrose about to go off the deep end”. OK, nobody is perfect. …

Mr Knowlton  … was a crime scene witness in the death of Vincent Foster, the White House aide and ex-law partner of Hillary Clinton. At the time this was a mystery case, a big story during my tenure as the Sunday Telegraph’s bureau chief in Washington.

I had tracked down Mr Knowlton and discovered that the Starr probe had never spoken to him, even though he had been the first person at the Fort Marcy death location and had highly-relevant information.

I showed him his FBI ‘302’ witness statement from the earlier, superficial Fiske probe. He had never seen the words attributed to him before.

Mr Knowlton was stunned. It contradicted his express assertions. He said the FBI had tried repeatedly to badger him into changing his story on key facts. Each time he refused. Now it appeared they had written in what they wanted to hear. He agreed to go public and accused the FBI of falsifying his witness statement….

As soon as the print edition of the Telegraph reached Washington, the Starr investigation issued a subpoena calling Mr Knowlton to the grand jury. He was to face questioning by Brett Kavanaugh.

Mr Kavanaugh was then a cocky 30 year-old from the affluent WASP suburbs of Northwest Washington, very much the country club boy with a high sense of his status, and Georgetown Prep and Yale Law School behind him, though only with a humdrum Cum Laude. If anybody was going to wind up my hard-scrabble, salt-of-America witness, it was this child of privilege.

What happened first was an eye-opener. Before testifying, he suffered two days of what appeared to be systematic intimidation by a large surveillance team. This was observed by two other witnesses, including Chris Ruddy, now the powerful chief executive of NewsMax.

Mr Ruddy called me in shock from Dupont Circle to recount what he saw. A deeply-shaken Mr Knowlton contacted me from his home several times, until his phone was cut off.

Veteran intelligence agents might recognise a method. It had the hallmarks of a boilerplate softening-up operation. In my view — unprovable — the objective was to frighten him before his grand jury appearance. It smacked of police state behaviour on the streets of Washington DC.

When Mr Knowlton appeared at the grand jury — thinking he was doing his civic duty — he says he was subjected to two and a half hours of character assassination by Mr Kavanaugh. There was little attempt to find out what he knew about the Foster death scene. …

This is not the place to revisit the Foster case, the electric third rail of US politics. But it is worth noting two points that touch on Mr Kavanaugh. …

The nub of the dispute was over compelling evidence of a wound in Foster’s neck, which contradicted the official version that Foster shot himself in the mouth and had essentially been suppressed. The key crime scene photos had vanished and the FBI labs said others were over-exposed and useless.

[US federal prosecutor Miquel Rodriguez, handling the death investigation at the outset], by then suspicious, slipped them to the Smithsonian Institution and had them enhanced. One showed a black stippled ring like a gunshot wound in the side of Foster’s neck. This remains secret but I have seen it.

The photo was pivotal. It confirmed what several people who handled the body had originally stated. I interviewed the first rescue worker on the scene and when I asked him about the mouth wound, he grabbed me, and said with frightening intensity: “listen to me buddy, Foster was shot right here,” jabbing his finger into my neck. He said the FBI had pressured him too into changing his story and that official narrative was a pack of lies.

Mr Kavanaugh’s … was presented with a long analysis by Rodriguez that ripped apart the earlier Fiske report and called for an open homicide investigation. This had huge implications for the Clinton presidency and caused an internal crisis in the Starr office. A decision was made to shut down that part of probe. Miquel Rodriguez said he was “forced out”. It was the end of only the genuine probe of the Foster death — conducted under oath– that had ever occurred.

Mr Kavanaugh faced a choice. He chose to go with the establishment rather than stick up for his colleague. This proved good for his career. He took over the grand jury, by then a legacy showpiece. … Mr Kavanaugh went on to write the Starr Report on the Foster death.

I’m not sure the events justify Ambrose’s conclusion, stated at the beginning, that Kavanaugh is unsuited to be a Supreme. Sounds like Kavanaugh was doing his part in being part of the establishment. However, it is a damning indictment of said political establishment and perhaps the Clintons.