Challenge accepted — we think. The attorney for the woman accusing Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault at a high-school party in 1982 says that Christine Blasey Ford will accept an invitation to speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify in public to her allegations. Debra Katz tells Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s Today that her client is a “credible person” who passed a polygraph, and that she is only reluctantly coming forward after being outed as the accuser:

A lawyer for the woman who is accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in the 1980s said Monday that her client believes his actions were “attempted rape” and she’s willing to testify publicly about it.

“She believes that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped,” attorney Debra Katz said on “Today.”

Katz added that her client, Christine Blasey Ford, is “willing to do whatever it takes,” including testifying before members of Congress about her allegations and that her coming forward is not a “politically motivated action.”

The polygraph got a lot of attention, but it may not mean as much as news outlets suggest. Polygraphs are not infallible, even when conducted by disinterested experts, and certainly not when done to bolster a client’s credibility. Apart from the self-interest issue, a subject has to believe they’re being deceptive in order to get flagged. After 35 years of internalizing the details of these allegations, it’s entirely possible that Ford has talked herself into believing something that either didn’t happen at all, happened with different people, or happened in a much different way than she alleges. The American Psychological Association calls polygraphs “more myth than reality” even under controlled conditions, and private polygraphs would be unlikely to stand up to that rigor.

That’s why “lie detector” tests aren’t admissible in court. Law enforcement still values them as an investigative tool, as does the government for internal security, but its value might be more in the threat than in the execution in both cases. In investigative contexts, though, detectives can test reactions to answers about evidence and data which they already know on a crime that’s already been established. In this case, we have an incident that might have taken place 35 years ago at a party and place the alleger can’t recall, but who has spent all the years in between reinforcing in her own mind. Even the most expert polygraph administrator isn’t going to have much leverage under these circumstances to press a subject like Ford into stress-producing decisions of the kind the polygraph is intended to measure.

All that means that it goes back to the Judiciary Committee, which now will have to invite Ford to testify and be cross-examined on her story. If Ford testifies, that will certainly boost her credibility as someone willing to brave the slings and arrows that will definitely be coming her way, but … that won’t automatically make her story true or believable on its own, either. All she has is her testimony, which is contradicted by the other two people accused in the allegation. If Ford can’t find witnesses to identify even where and when the party took place, let alone to her state of mind during it, then all we have is an allegation without any evidence at all, and a lifetime of character and service to rebut it.

If nothing else develops, we still will be left with three main possibilities after Ford testifies:

  • It never happened at all
  • Something took place but it was much different than Ford recalls
  • It happened as Ford said

After 35 years and no other contemporaneous witnesses, it’s unresolvable. This is why statutes of limitation exist, and why we don’t derail someone’s life over an allegation when it can’t be substantiated. Unless that equation changes, and it seems very doubtful it will, forcing Kavanaugh to withdraw or shooting down his confirmation over this will set a very bad precedent and create new incentives for political witch hunts. And you can bet that those incentives will produce more of these last-minute unsubstantiated attacks on nominees in the future.

Update: Did Kavanaugh’s mother preside in a foreclosure case against Ford’s parents? Kurt Schlichter says the court docket checks out, but it’s tough to know for sure that it’s Ford’s parents in this case.  Charlotte Allen notes that the neighborhood matches the story Ford tells now. If this checks out, it sets up a more personal motive for vengeance, and one might wonder why Ford didn’t tell her parents about the alleged assault at that time.

Home