September 22, 2018

Powerhouse PR Firm’s Reckless Attack on Kavanaugh’s Accuser

Powerhouse PR Firm's Reckless Attack on Kavanaugh's Accuser

We now know that when conservative lawyer and close Brett Kavanaugh friend Edward Whelan attempted his disastrous Perry Mason tweetstorm suggesting that one of Kavanaugh’s prep school classmates was the one who assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, he did not do so alone. He was, at least, aided and abetted by the big DC firm CRC Public Relations. According to Politico, CRC “guided” Whelan through the unveiling of the accusation, with CRC’s president, Greg Mueller, helping Whelan in advance of the tweets to “stoke the anticipation”; key conservatives touted the announcement in advance.

CRC is one of the most powerful and influential conservative political PR operations. Its clients include the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, and the climate change denying Institute for Energy Research. It also has advised an enormous number of major corporations and trade associations, including Amazon, Chevron, General Motors, Microsoft, National Association of Manufacturers, Northrop Grumman, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers Association, and Pizza Hut. The firm is perhaps best known for its work devising the ugly Swift Boat attack on 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

More relevant to this discussion, though, CRC has been aiding the dark money advocacy group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), the people behind the determined, expensive public campaign to confirm conservative judges and, in the last administration, to block Obama picks for the federal courts. JCN, tied to the conservative lawyers’ group the Federalist Society, spent big to help confirm Neil Gorsuch and now has pushed hard to get Kavanaugh on the court, including with a relentless TV ad buy (e.g., the female friend of Kavanaugh who endlessly tells viewers “I’m a teacher, I’m a coach”).

[UPDATE 09-25-18: Politico reports that Federalist Society executive VP Leonard Leo has “raised upwards of $15 million from conservative donors” for the JCN communications campaign supporting Kavanaugh. Politico also reports that Whelan “worked feverishly” with Leo (as well as CRC) to “hype” Whelan’s mistaken identity theory.]

From 2013 to mid 2017, according to IRS filings, JCN paid CRC about $5.1 million. The group is obviously spending even more for CRC’s help on Kavanaugh.

If CRC’s people are talented enough to get all this business, how could they have guided the Whelan disaster, the Thursday evening tweetstorm that used maps of Chevy Chase, Maryland, and photos of a house there and two prep school boys to point the finger, by name, at Kavanaugh’s classmate — a debacle so bad, so thoroughly denounced by a wide range of commenters, that the next morning Whelan deleted the thread and apologized for what he called “an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment”?

I think it was a Hail Mary pass. I doubt CRC saw the thinly-sourced Whelan accusation as a sure thing. I suspect they hoped the bizarre Twitter attack would spook Dr. Ford and deter her from testifying: Perhaps if she saw that the Kavanaugh forces were prepared to attack an innocent bystander classmate — now a middle school teacher — and burden his life, they would stop at nothing, perhaps Swift-Boating her friends and family with similar recklessness.

I think CRC believed that they had to try, because if Dr. Ford testified, the Kavanaugh nomination might be dead.

Hours after the tweetstorm, Ford issued her resolute statement — “I knew them both, and socialized with [the other classmate]…. There is zero chance that I would confuse them” — and the charge was thwarted. Whelan had to retreat.

But of course his phony theory will stay alive in the hearts and memes of Trump supporters.

The White House and Senate Republicans all denied they had anything to do with the Whelan attack. But there are suggestions otherwise. Whelan was caught by Dr. Ford looking at her LinkedIn profile before her name was made public, but after the Washington Post had asked the White House about her, so it’s apparent that he’s closely tied to the Trump administration’s efforts to confirm his friend Kavanaugh. And this morning, Garrett Ventry, a Grassley Judiciary Committee communications aide, resigned his post after it was reported that he left his previous political job, in North Carolina, amid a charge of sexual harassment. When Ventry joined Grassley’s staff he took a leave of absence from his employer — CRC Public Relations.

It’s been clear for a while that there’s a multi-million dollar campaign by shadowy special interest donors to make a Supreme Court justice out of Brett Kavanaugh, whose judicial record indicates he will cast the deciding vote for big corporations and against workers and consumers. What we didn’t know — until the Whelan/CRC attack and Friday’s nasty misogynist tweet by Donald Trump — was how vicious the architects of this effort were prepared to play it.

But Dr. Ford has not backed down.