A new documentary looks at the sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and raises questions about the depth of the FBI investigation in 2018.
“Justice,” from filmmaker Doug Liman, debuted Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival to a sold-out theater surrounded by armed guards.
The film, made under intense secrecy, focuses on allegations by Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez detailed in a New Yorker article in 2018. Ramirez alleged that at a gathering with friends when she was a freshman in 1983, he pulled down her pants. and threw his penis at her. Kavanaugh has denied these allegations. “Justice” also plays a tape recording of a tip given to the FBI by another Yale classmate, Max Stier, describing a similar incident that the FBI never investigated.
The Stier report was previously detailed in 2019 by New York Times reporters Robin Pogebrin and Kate Kelly as part of their book “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation.” But the details of it were investigated. After the story was posted online but before it was in the print edition, the Times revised the story to add that the book reported that the woman allegedly involved in the incident declined to be interviewed and that her friends say she does not remember event. While an editor’s note pointed out the revision, it did not say why those facts had been left out in the first place.
Stier was not directly interviewed for the film and declined the filmmakers’ request to comment on its content. An unnamed person whose voice was manipulated for anonymity gave the Stier tape to the filmmakers.
Kavanaugh was sworn in as the 114th justice of the US Supreme Court in October 2018 after a narrow 50-48 roll call following a heated debate over sexual misconduct. He vehemently denied the allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford, who says he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
Many people referenced in the film, from Kavanaugh himself to several of Ramirez’s friends who were allegedly there, similarly refused to speak or never responded.
“Justice” is particularly critical of the FBI investigation that took place after the hearings. Through FOIA requests, the filmmakers found that there were about 4,500 tips sent to the tip line that were not investigated.
One of Ramirez’s Yale friends interviewed for the film released incriminating text messages from a mutual friend, who admits to being contacted by “Kavanaugh’s people” and buying into the narrative that Ramirez was not remembering things correctly.
Appearing in new footage only in the opening moments of “Justice,” Blasey Ford asks Liman, a filmmaker known for “Swingers” and “The Bourne Identity,” why he’s making this movie — a question he doesn’t quite answer.
In a Q&A after the film, Liman said he was simply furious after seeing her testimony in 2018. The making of the film, which they financed themselves, was shrouded in secrecy. Everyone signed nondisclosure agreements, Liman said, and they even had code names for those who agreed to participate. He said people are “scared” and that those who came forward are “heroes.
Most of the focus is on telling Ramirez’s story – where she came from, how she ended up at Yale and what kind of person she is and was. Several academics specializing in trauma, as well as lawyers, are helping to explain why the memory of traumatic events is reliably shattered and how these gaps can be weaponized by prosecutors.
“Justice’s” surprise inclusion in the festival was announced on Thursday, the first day of the festival, but it quickly became one of the most anticipated films of over 100. At least part of the reason for something like “Justice” to debut at Sundance is to drum up hype and secure a distributor. As many of the lawyers in the film say, whether or not Kavanaugh has incriminated himself under oath is at stake.
Asked what he wants to happen when audiences see “Justice,” Liman said, “I kind of feel like the job ends with the movie and what happens after that is out of my control.”
His producer Amy Hardy stood by him and said she disagreed. Hardy said she hopes it sparks outrage and leads to “a real investigation with subpoena authorities.”
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.
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