China Disappears Interpol ex-Chief

As if to confirm what I said in my previous post about disparate treatments of Saudi Arabia and China, you’ll note how this news is greeted by radio silence.

The wife of Meng Hongwei, incumbent president of Interpol who has been detained in secret by China, says she is not sure her husband is alive after he disappeared mysteriously last month, to turn up under investigation in China.

In an emotional interview with the BBC, Grace Meng said she and her children have been waiting for news of Meng Hongwei, who has not been seen or heard from since 25 September when he flew from France to China. “I tell them Daddy is on a long business trip … We want to hear his voice,” she said in an interview published on Friday.

In September she reported her husband missing after he sent her a cryptic message on WhatsApp saying: “Wait for my call,” followed by an emoji of a knife. After French police opened an investigation and Interpol appealed to Beijing for answers, Interpol received his resignation and Chinese authorities announced on 7 October that he was in their custody and under investigation for bribery.

Meng Hongwei was the first Chinese national to become president of the international law enforcement agency, and had been living in France with his wife and two children. He appears to be the latest victim of a years-long anti-corruption crackdown that most observers say is a thinly veiled political purge to root out rivals and officials disloyal to President Xi Jinping.

If you hear about this incident beyond this blog post, it will be a minor miracle.

The WWE’s Conundrum

I don’t usually get to talk about wrestling in the context of politics, but the WWE is in a bit of a bind. The biggest wrestling organization on the planet is scheduled to have a major show in Saudi Arabia on November 2. This is the second network spectacular to be held in Saudi Arabia this year, as the WWE held a show there in April. The WWE evidently has a ten-year deal with Saudi Arabia worth on the order of $40 million per year.

Because of the money being lavished upon the WWE, and the influence of the prince. these are fairly loaded cards. Brock Lesnar, who has become a bit of a special attraction, is scheduled, and Shawn Michaels will be wrestling his first match in over eight years. There have also been rumors that the prince has put pressure to ensure certain wrestlers appear at both shows.

Some fans had already expressed displeasure with the idea of WWE getting into bed with the Saudi government. No women wrestled in April and none are scheduled for next month, nor will the WWE be bringing along its female commentator, Renee Young. And the show next month occurs only a few days after the WWE’s first ever all-female pay-per view, errr, network special.

If there was already some unease with the idea of WWE going to Saudi Arabia, things have only gotten worse in the wake of the disappearance and possible assassination of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Many media outlets and even some Congressmen are pressuring the WWE to cancel or postpone. Dave Meltzer, a noted wrestling journalist, has reported that many wrestlers, if not most, have indicated they don’t want to go.

So what is WWE to do? This really does seem to be a no-win situation. Though WWE is making money hand over first, including having signed a pair of billion dollar television deals, and with it stocks seemingly in a state of perpetual ascent, pulling out of this show will nonetheless mean effectively nullifying a multi-million dollar deal, which in turn may put downward pressure on stocks. On the other hand, carrying on with the show could be a p.r. nightmare.

Personally, I think WWE should be at least slightly concerned about the safety of its wrestlers and employees. Who knows what other developments are around the corner, and it’s not unthinkable that relations between our nation and the Sauds could get a little tense. Now might not be the right time to go.

Why this interests me is WWE has also traveled to China each of the past three years. While you might hear the occasional murmuring about these shows, there’s nowhere near the same level of protest. Yet China’s record of political repression, especially of religious practitioners and hostile media, is arguably just as bad as Saudi Arabia’s. We’ve managed to somehow take China’s opening of its markets as a sign that it is no longer an authoritarian state, but the political climate in China is still horrendous. Yet we yawn as businesses continue to deal with the Chinese without hearing much of a peep about it.

Realists will argue that our friends are not always squeaky clean, and we have to deal with evil regimes, especially when there are worse, even more repressive nation states. Furthermore, businesses dealing with these regimes are in a sense helping to open up these nations, and may actually be part of a wider liberalization. That’s certainly a valid argument. Others will argue that the WWE is propping up a wicked regime, and is essentially providing fodder for its propaganda purposes, while also countenancing  some its wrestlers being given second class status.

That argument certainly has merit as well. I just wish we could establish how much repression we’re willing to tolerate before we pretend to care.

Wuerl’s Resignation Accepted

That sound you heard this morning were millions of Roman Catholics saying “about time.”

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl on Friday, while asking the cardinal to continue leading the Archdiocese of Washington on an interim basis until a permanent successor is appointed.

In a letter to Wuerl obtained by CNA Oct. 12, Pope Francis told the cardinal: “Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit who continues to act in his Church.”

The good news is that Cardinal Wuerl is moving on. The bad news: Pope Francis selects his replacement. As documented by Michael Brendan Dougherty, we shouldn’t feel confident that the pope will choose wisely. I am not sure if the article is available to non-NRO subscribers, so here’s a snippet:

There is a type of churchman that Francis seems to favor: the morally compromised and the doctrinally suspect. The archbishop of Bruges, Jozef De Kesel, was known to promote the ordination of women and the making voluntary of priestly celibacy, and was credibly accused of knowingly appointing a pastor who had molested a child. Francis made him a cardinal. There was the archbishop of Stockholm, Anders Arborelius, who ignored calls to investigate a pedophile priest for years. The victim was told to go see a therapist instead. Arborelius is sympathetic to the idea of creating a female version of the College of Cardinals. Francis made him a cardinal, and Arborelius speculated that his elevation was a way for the pope to honor Sweden’s commitment to refugees. There’s also Giovanni Becciu, who was working for the pope’s secretary of state. When the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers began uncovering financial fraud in the Church, Becciu suspended its audit. The auditor general from PwC later said he was forced out on trumped-up accusations; Becciu accused that accountant of being a spy. Francis then made Becciu a cardinal. Another cleric, Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, is set to stand trial in France for his role in covering up a child-sex-abuse scandal in Lyon. Francis made him the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, which adjudicates abuse cases.

Or consider Monsignor Battista Ricca, reportedly Francis’s “eyes and ears at the Vatican Bank.” Ricca was widely known for engaging in affairs with men at different posts during his clerical career. He was attacked in an area of Montevideo known for cruising, and he had to be rescued from an elevator in which he was trapped with a rent boy. (It was a question about Ricca that Francis made the occasion of his headline-grabbing statement “Who am I to judge?”) And finally there is the man known as the “vice pope,” Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, the one being charged by seminarians in Honduras with allowing a culture of predation to flourish. Rodríguez Maradiaga first became famous across the Catholic world for saying that the Church scandals in Boston in 2002 were the invention of Jewish-controlled media who were avenging themselves on the Catholic Church for “confirm[ing] the necessity of the creation of a Palestinian state.”

The pontiff has a vision for transforming the Church, and he has appointed men who share that vision, even if it means appointing men who are morally compromised and sticking by them. Indeed, Pope Francis’s comments in accepting Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation reveal how tone deaf the pontiff remains:

“This request rests on two pillars that have marked and continue to mark your ministry: to seek in all things the greater glory of God and to procure the good of the people entrusted to your care,” Pope Francis wrote.

In the Oct. 12 letter accepting Wuerl’s resignation, Francis defended the cardinal from the widespread criticism he has faced in recent months.

“You have sufficient elements to ‘justify’ your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes.”

“However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you.”

“Your renunciation is a sign of your availability and docility to the Spirit who continues to act in his Church,” he added.

Cardinal Wuerl may not have chosen to justify his actions, but if you read between the lines, Francis is happy to do it for him. Perhaps it’s too much to expect Pope Francis to not be so laudatory in his remarks, but I’d certainly have been happier with a slightly less “attaboy!” tone.

There is some truth in the defense of Wuerl, such as it is, that his inaction in Pittsburgh was far less damning than what occurred elsewhere in Pennsylvania, and the prosecutors in the state decided to focus their ire on a more high profile target. But that doesn’t get Wuerl off the hook, and it certainly does not justify his turning a blind eye towards his predecessor’s actions.

What has happened in the Archdiocese is especially tragic when one considers that Cardinal Hickey was one of the few American prelates to take early decisive action and implement procedures to safeguard children. Because of Cardinal Hickey’s actions, the Washington DC Archdiocese was relatively (though of course not wholly) untouched by the clerical abuse scandal. Unfortunately his work was undone by his two successors.

Wuerl’s departure may mend some wounds. Forgive my pessimism in not having high expectations for his successor.

The Left’s Ill-Gotten Gains

I’m short on time for the next couple of days, so I won’t be able to post anything of substance. In the meantime, here’s a Kevin Williamson post which, as almost always, cuts to the heart of a matter. The left has been far more reliant on the Court to uphold rights it views as intrinsic, and that’s what scares them so much about the future of the Court.

And that is what terrifies the Left about the current direction of the Supreme Court. Roe v. Wadere presents ill-gotten political gains. While the NRA got a big win in the courts a few years back — one entirely in keeping with the actual text of the Constitution as it exists, not as progressives wish it were — it mainly has advanced its agenda and defended its agenda and defended its gains through ordinary democratic politics. It is not, contrary to the myth, a particularly big political donor or spender (not even in the top 100 last I checked) that gets things done by throwing money around. Until its recent (and, in my view, ill-advised) metamorphosis into a full-spectrum culture-war outfit, the NRA was a very disciplined and narrowly focused single-issue outfit, which made it truly bipartisan: Harry Reid may have been a train wreck on 99.99 percent of the issues, but he was solid on guns, and the NRA credited him for that.

NARAL and Planned Parenthood, who together form what we might understand as the NRA of abortion rights, are above all things terrified that they might be reduced to ordinary democratic political activism in a post-Roe world. They want to defend those ill-gotten gains, and they understand that the American consensus on abortion is a lot closer to the thinking of, say, George W. Bush than it is to that of the butchers’ guild. There is volatility in the polling, but by and large Americans take a pretty liberal view of abortion in the first trimester and in cases involving rape, incest, or serious threats to the health of the mother; they are open to many kinds of restriction and take a much more restrictive view as the pregnancy advances. If democratic preferences prevail, it is likely that U.S. abortion regulation will end up looking something more like what prevails in much of Europe. Not as restrictive as pro-lifers would like, but more restrictive than what we have.

Read the rest at the link I provided.

Understanding Differences in Never Trumpism

A common lament in leftist (and some right-wing) circles is that #NeverTrump conservatives mouth criticisms of Trump, but by their actions demonstrate they are no better than Trumpists. For instance, Senator Ben Sasse, a very vocal critic of Trump since day one, still votes “with” Trump over 90 percent of the time, thus showing himself to be a hypocrite.

The nub of the argument seems to be that conservatives ought to vote against their ideological interests to demonstrate their solidarity with the anti-Trump cause, otherwise they will be lumped in as enemies to the people. This attitude reflects a deep misunderstanding of Trump critics and the distinctions of flavors among his detractors on the right.

To understand better, we need to step back to the primaries. This piece does a pretty good job in explaining where Trump’s support came from. It also helps explain where it did not come from. The most consistent and vociferous opposition to Trump within the Republican party came from those who labelled themselves “strongly conservative.” These were principally Cruz voters, though some preferred Rubio and some of the other candidates. In exit polls, particularly in the early stages of the primary, they were the category showing the weakest support for Trump. Support for Trump increased through each step away from strong conservatives, to mild conservatives, to moderates, and then even Democrats. As the article shows, moderate is perhaps not the best descriptor of a typical Trump supporter, though these individuals were definitely not traditional conservatives – being far less concerned with issues related to government spending, economic freedom, or opposition to abortion.

For those who opposed Trump, opposition can be labeled in one of two categories: ideology and personality. Ideological opponents of Trump deemed him to be a RINO in the truest sense of the term. He was literally a Democrat who called himself a Republican, but who still clung to many of his “big government” principles. He may have mouthed certain conservative pieties, but in his heart he remained something of an authoritarian. Conservative opposition to Trump was built largely, though not solely, on these grounds.

More moderate voters also had some ideological grounds for disagreement, but their concerns were centered more around personality: Trump was an uncouth, half-witted blabbermouth who catered to the worst instincts of his supporters. To be sure most conservative critics of Trump also felt the same way, but the points of emphasis were different. These types of voters tended to cluster around Kasich and Rubio. They are also why some of us never referred to ourselves as NeverTrumpers, because those who were most fervent in that designation were #AndNotCruzEither.

If you understand this gap in reasoning, you can understand why certain parts of the right have been more comfortable in praising and supporting Trump on policy, or have become outright supporters. The more one’s suspicion of Trump was based on ideology, the easier it is to support him to one degree or another. I am not going to get into an in-depth analysis of whether or not Trump’s presidency is truly conservative, or whether he has delivered as many conservative policy victories as his supporters claim. But he has certainly not governed against conservative principles as much as his detractors feared. (Trump’s tariff policies have been the one area where has most governed against conservative ideology, but the results of those actions have not been as severe as feared, even if not as successful as pretended they are).

Conservatives who put a good deal of emphasis on the personality side (raises hand) are not as positive about Trump as those who don’t care as much about those concerns. But they are much more sanguine about him than those whose primary concerns were attitudinal. Not only has Trump affirmed their worst fears, he has governed relatively conservatively. Because here’s the rub: while moderate Republicans distrusted Trump due to personal considerations, the most hostile of this group have moved away for more ideological reasons. Maybe it’s better put this way: moderate NeverTrumpers were barely tethered to the Republican party to begin with. Trump has pushed them over the edge because now they feel completely alienated.

I’m going to use the most recent defection as an example. Tom Nichols, author of The Death of Expertise, and a very vocal critic of both Trump and the populist base of support (Nichols makes me look like a rabid man of the people democrat in comparison), announced he is finally leaving the Republican party. Frankly I didn’t know he was in it. Let’s go over some of the reasons he provides:

Small things sometimes matter, and Collins is among the smallest of things in the political world. And yet, she helped me finally to accept what I had been denying. Her speech on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh convinced me that the Republican Party now exists for one reason, and one reason only: for the exercise of raw political power, and not even for ends I would otherwise applaud or even support.

I have written on social media and elsewhere how I feel about Kavanaugh’s nomination. I initially viewed his nomination positively, as a standard GOP judicial appointment; then grew concerned about whether he should continue on as a nominee with the accusations against him; and finally, was appalled by his behavior in front of the Senate.

It was Collins, however, who made me realize that there would be no moderates to lead conservatives out of the rubble of the Trump era. Senator Jeff Flake is retiring and took a pass, and with all due respect to Senator Lisa Murkowski—who at least admitted that her “no” vote on cloture meant “no” rather than drag out the drama—she will not be the focus of a rejuvenated party.

When Collins spoke, she took the floor of the Senate to calm an anxious and divided nation by giving us all an extended soliloquy on… the severability of a clause.

The severability of a clause? Seriously?

It took almost half an hour before Collins got to the accusations against Kavanaugh, but the rest of what she said was irrelevant. She had clearly made up her mind weeks earlier, and she completely ignored Kavanaugh’s volcanic and bizarre performance in front of the Senate.

Nichols claims Susan Collins’s speech was the final straw for him. Let’s do to Nichols what is unable to do for Collins: take him at face value. He thinks he has been abandoned because one of the last true moderates has shown she is a true Trumpian, interested in only raw political power. Her speech, he says, was a sham because she had already made her mind up and was now just making an excuse to justify her vote.

I’ve discussed Collins’s speech, and had a much different takeaway. I can understand Nichols’s cynicism, but I don’t think he has made a convincing case in his favor. Nichols argues that Collins was biased in favor of Kavanaugh, but here he glosses over his own bias. Nichols had already expressed his opposition to Kavanaugh, and thus he dismisses Collins through his own biased prism. Kavanaugh’s testimony before the Senate was “volcanic and bizarre” only if you were already predisposed towards opposing him. For those unconvinced that Dr. Ford had adequately proven her allegations, and who thought the other allegations against him were outrageous fabrications, Kavanaugh’s performance was completely understandable. It’s okay to come to a different conclusion, but Nichols seems incapable of contemplating that Collins – and most other Kavanaugh defenders – are acting in good faith.

Nichols then says he cannot join the Democrats because of their execrable behavior, but says the Republicans were worse.

The Republicans, however, have now eclipsed the Democrats as a threat to the rule of law and to the constitutional norms of American society. They have become all about winning. Winning means not losing, and so instead of acting like a co-equal branch of government responsible for advice and consent, congressional Republicans now act like a parliamentary party facing the constant threat of a vote of no-confidence.

He’s not entirely wrong about the shift in Republican attitudes, but it is strange to make this argument in light of the Kavanaugh proceedings. The Democrats were the ones who threw every manner of hyperbolic, unreasonable argument against Kavanaugh, and that was before the Ford allegation. The Democrats never gave him a fair shot, and tried every maneuver to win by smearing him at every turn. Moreover, it’s difficult to claim Republicans were acting like authoritarians (as Nichols believes the GOP has become) when they were not the ones who seemed to abandon the concept of innocent until proven guilty during this process.

Nichols further claims Republicans have abandoned principle in pursuit of pure power politics.

Politics is about the exercise of power. But the new Trumpist GOP is not exercising power in the pursuit of anything resembling principle, and certainly not for conservative or Republican principles.

Free trade? Republicans are suddenly in love with tariffs, and now sound like bad imitations of early 1980s protectionist Democrats. A robust foreign policy? Not only have Republicans abandoned their claim to being the national-security party, they have managed to convince the party faithful that Russia—an avowed enemy that directly attacked our political institutions—is less of a threat than their neighbors who might be voting for Democrats. Respect for law enforcement? The GOP is backing Trump in attacks on the FBI and the entire intelligence community as Special Counsel Robert Mueller closes in on the web of lies, financial arrangements, and Russian entanglements known collectively as the Trump campaign.

Again, he’s not totally wrong, but he’s also not completely right. I’ve already mentioned tariffs, where Nichols has a much stronger argument. But how much has the GOP gone wobbly on national security? I, too, weep when some Trumpists shrug their shoulders at Putin’s malevolence, and Trump’s verbal sucking up to dictators is sickening. But has this actually impacted policy? When it comes to real world actions, Trump has not been a shrinking violet with regards to Russia. As for the Mueller investigation – I’ll just say it’s not as simplistic as Nichols is making it out to be.

He continues:

And most important, on the rule of law, congressional Republicans have utterly collapsed. They have sold their souls, purely at Trump’s behest, living in fear of the dreaded primary challenges that would take them away from the Forbidden City and send them back home to the provinces. Yes, an anti-constitutional senator like Hirono is unnerving, but she’s a piker next to her Republican colleagues, who have completely reversed themselves on everything from the limits of executive power to the independence of the judiciary, all to serve their leader in a way that would make the most devoted cult follower of Kim Jong Un blush.

Have they? This is a nice rant, but is it actually true? Again, presumption of innocence is an aspect of demonstrating respect for the rule of law, and I think the Democrats have been woefully worse. Nichols may be right about individual Republican Congressmen being afraid to take on Trump, but where has it manifested in disrespect for the rule of law? I’m less than convinced by this particular argument.

Nichols says its other conservatives who have abandoned their principles, not he.

Maybe it’s me. I’m not a Republican anymore, but am I still a conservative? Limited government: check. Strong national defense: check. Respect for tradition and deep distrust of sudden, dramatic change: check. Belief that people spend their money more wisely than government? That America is an exceptional nation with a global mission? That we are, in fact, a shining city on a hill and an example to others? Check, check, check.

This will hopefully be the subject of future posts, but “limited government” is a meaningless bit of shorthand offered by people trying to prove their conservative bona fides, but which proves nothing. “Respect for tradition and deep distrust of sudden, dramatic change” is the only point of substance, and it is a very good one.

So Nichols is bit more credible as a somewhat conservative Trump critic than others who have publicly said they were leaving the Republican party. But then he continues:

But I can’t deny that I’ve strayed from the party. I believe abortion should remain legal. I am against the death penalty in all its forms outside of killing in war. I don’t think what’s good for massive corporations is always good for America. In foreign affairs, I am an institutionalist, a supporter of working through international bodies and agreements. I think our defense budget is too big, too centered on expensive toys, and that we are still too entranced by nuclear weapons.

 

Not every Republican who has left the party in the age of Trump is pro abortion (I left and am most definitely not pro abortion), but it does seem like every public figure who has made a public break is. Can someone who believes abortion should remain legal really call themselves a traditional conservative? Again, this could be the subject of an entirely different post or twenty, so I don’t want to dive too deeply on this. But no. The answer is no.

As for the rest of this, I actually am on the same page with Nichols with the possible exception of being an institutionalist, but I don’t think many conservatives would have a problem with any of these points, at least in the abstract. But how does one concretely reflect these principles in the real world? Aye, there’s the rub, and I suspect Nichols might be underplaying his differences.

I’ve run longer than I intended, and perhaps more dismissive of Nichols than I meant to be. As a registered Independent I am in no position to critique someone who no longer feels they can remain in the current GOP. But I do think Nichols is indicative of a larger break within right-wing circles. One begins to wonder if Trump is the real reason for moderates to leave the Republican party, or is he simply the excuse?

 

The Four MVPs of the Kavanaugh Confirmation

Now that Brett Kavanaugh has finally been confirmed to take a seat on the Supreme Court, I would like to highlight the four individuals who played an essential part in getting him past the finished line.

I have been following politics for the better part of three decades. I admit to certain biases, and I have been very critical of all four of these individuals. But all four deserve kudos.

Donald Trump: Brett Stephens is singing his praises, so he’s done something right. I’m not sure any other Republican president would have stood firm on this nomination. Moreover, for once in his presidency Trump knew to keep quiet. Well, mostly. He couldn’t help but take some potshots at Doctor Ford at a rally earlier this week, but aside from that, he let the process play out. This might have been the best moment of his presidency.

Mitch McConnell: Ah, Cocaine Mitch triumphs again. He, too, gets credit for keeping his head down and not wavering on the nominee. Despite the fact that it is widely rumored that he was not a fan of the pick, McConnell never threw in the towel. But his role in this fiasco goes further back. He took advantage of the opening Harry Reid so helpfully provided him, and he has outmaneuvered the Democrats every step of the way. The Democrats scored some own goals, it is true, but the Senate Majority Leader took advantage and has been every bit as critical as President Trump(‘s advisors) in ensuring that originalist judges get confirmed at a breathtaking pace. The reshaping of the Court will be McConnell’s legacy, and a damned fine one at that.

Lindsey Graham; The turning point in the Kavanugh confirmation process may have been Kavanaugh’s own testimony, but Graham also changed the dynamics by his heated chiding of his Senate colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle. Who knew that moment would cause Graham to go full Bullworth, as he’s been on a roll ever since. This picture is a wonderful representation of Graham’s newfound DGAF attitude.

What’s impressive about Graham’s shift in attitude is, unlike some of the theatrics coming from the folks on the other side, you don’t get the impression it’s a put on. He’s not running for higher office, and whatever conservatives around the country may think of him, he probably has that seat for as long as he wants it.

Susan Collins: Fifteen minutes into her floor speech, I said, “She just loves this attention.” But as she continued, I appreciated what she was doing. Though it is likely to be fruitless in the end, I think it was her attempt to calm the mobs and bring perspective on Kavanaugh’s ascendancy to the Supreme Court. Even though I don’t think too many people will take her message to heart, she deserves credit for trying.

Some conservatives have joked that her floor speech convinced them that Kavanaugh shouldn’t be confirmed. Time will tell what kind of Justice he will be. I do hope he disappoints conservatives from time to time. The entire point is that the men and women of the court are not super legislators, so I would be more disappointed in Kavanaugh if he never rendered a decision upsetting to conservatives. My hope is that if I do disagree with his vote, he justifies it in a more convincing manner than Anthony Kennedy.

So here we are. At least we can finally put this rancor behind us.

Or not.

Rethinking Jeff Flake’s Rethinking

John McCormack credits Jeff Flake for helping to clear Brett Kavanaugh’s name through his push for a one week pause in the proceedings.

Shortly after 11 a.m. on Thursday, October 4, Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer spoke to the press following a confidential briefing about the FBI’s supplemental background check. While the senators were limited about what they could say, Feinstein focused first on the fact that neither Kavanaugh nor Ford, who testified publicly for hours last week, were interviewed by the FBI.

If the FBI investigation had turned up some groundbreaking new information, that is not the kind of thing you’d expect the Democratic senators to focus on.

The FBI interviewed all the alleged party attendees—Ford’s lifelong female friend Leland Ingham Keyser, Kavanaugh friend P.J. Smyth, and alleged accomplice Mark Judge. Keyser had previously said she recalls no party at which Kavanaugh was present and does not know Kavanaugh. Schumer and Feinstein gave no indication Keyser has changed her story.

The FBI also interviewed Chris Garrett, a person Ford went out with around the time of the alleged assault in 1982 and Ford’s only known social connection to Kavanaugh and Judge. The FBI also interviewed Tim Gaudette, who hosted a July 1, 1982, party that has been the focus of much speculation. Schumer and Feinstein gave no indication those interviews turned up groundbreaking information.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley said in a statement: “This investigation found no hint of misconduct and the same is true of the six prior FBI background investigations conducted during Judge Kavanaugh’s 25 years of public service.”

Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine, a key undecided vote, said this morning: “It appears to be a very thorough investigation.”

Indeed, the constant goalpost moving is a sure sign that the FBI investigation turned up nothing to corroborate Ford’s allegations, and other developments suggest Ford’s case against Kavanaugh is more suspect than we thought even a week ago.

So, did Flake wind up helping Kavanaugh, or at least did he help engineer something which will at ease some of the bitter feelings against him? I am not sure about that. Susan Collins is set to announce her vote, and Flake has already said he is now a yes (though he’s said that before). If Collins and/or Manchin vote for Kavanaugh, then he will be confirmed despite Lisa Murkowski’s no vote. At the very least, then, this pause didn’t hurt Kavanaugh.

But did it really make a difference? Did the general public’s opinion of the situation change appreciably? McCormack ably lays out the various ways the case against Kavanaugh has crumbled, but how many people are paying close attention and had their opinions change? That may be unknowable.

At the very least, I have been moved enough to delete an earlier post about Flake’s actions from a week ago. It was much too snarky and condescending, and in retrospect I let emotions run away from me.

Oddly, it was listening to Rush Limbaugh that caused me to delete the post. I have listened to Limbaugh only a handful of times in the past three years, and just happened to catch his program for a few minutes today. He was actually very understanding towards Flake, Collins, and Murkowski. The three of them have been inundated with calls, emails, tweets, etc, and they have received vile threats against them and their families. All Republicans have, but these three have borne the brunt of most of the anger. I can’t imagine what it would be like to face that much hate, and to receive credible threats against one’s security.

Buckling to the angry voices – as Flake may have done after being confronted by angry protesters – does embolden those angry voices, but I also haven’t been in his shoes. I’m not totally convinced Flake should receive credit for his seeming change of heart, but I’ll give him enough benefit of the doubt to back off my earlier denunciation.