President Donald Trump, the brother of an alcoholic, told reporters on Monday that it was his understanding that his nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, had admitted during Senate testimony last week that he “did have difficulty as a young man with drink.”
Trump, who explained last year that his older brother Fred had warned him to never drink, also claimed that Kavanaugh had been clear about “the fact that he drank a lot” in high school and college — the period during which three women have accused him of sexual assault or harassment while under the influence of alcohol.
President Trump on watching Judge Kavanaugh testify:
“I watched a man saying that he did have difficulty as a young man with drink.” –@NBCNews pic.twitter.com/RMHE02agjp
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) October 1, 2018
In fact, Kavanaugh made no such admissions during his heated testimony to the Senate Judiciary committee. Instead, he angrily rejected the suggestion that he might have sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were both in high school, as she alleges, but was so drunk at the time that he had blacked out and had no memory of the attack. Still, the impact of what Trump thinks he heard Kavanaugh say — and the president’s own aversion to alcohol — could be significant as he considers whether or not to withdraw the nomination.
While Trump otherwise defended his nominee, and suggested that what he took to be Kavanaugh’s drinking problem was a thing of the past — no one, he said, had reason to ask the judge, “Have you had difficulty in the last 20 years?” — the president did seem to be leaving the door open to abandoning him.
“Certainly, if they find something, I’m going to take that into consideration,” Trump said, referring to the limited FBI background check he had approved. “Absolutely, I have a very open mind.”
During the White House news conference, Trump seemed to be “talking about Kavanaugh the way he used to publicly defend staff members he had begun to sour on,” as Maggie Haberman of the New York Times observed on Twitter. “Privately,” the Washington Post reported, “advisers say Trump was not happy that Kavanaugh talked so extensively about his drinking” during his nationally televised testimony — which quickly became a national joke, spreading from memes to Saturday Night Live.
At a White House event on the opioid crisis last year, Trump had used the term “difficulty” as a euphemism for addiction and explained that his brother had warned him to never drink.
“I learned myself — I had a brother Fred, great guy, best looking guy, best personality, much better than mine, but he had a problem. He had a problem with alcohol. And he would tell me, ‘Don’t drink. Don’t drink,'” Trump said. “And to this day I’ve never had a drink, and I have no longing for it. I have no interest in it.”
“I had somebody that guided me. And he had a very, very, very tough life because of alcohol, believe me, very, very tough life,” the president said of the older brother who died at age 43. “He was a strong guy, but it was a tough, tough thing that he was going through. But I learned because of Fred, I learned.”
His brother’s advice, Trump said, had convinced him that total abstinence was the best way to head off addiction to alcohol or drugs. “When I see friends of mine that are having difficulty with not having that drink at dinner, where it’s literally almost impossible for them to stop, I say to myself, ‘I can’t even understand it, why would that be difficult?'” Trump said. “But we understand why it is difficult,” he added. “The fact is, if we can teach young people, and people generally, not to start, it’s really, really easy not to take them.”
Updated: October 2, 2018, 7:25 a.m. EDT
This report was updated to add information reported by the Washington Post after publication.