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Cornyn voice rises above his colleagues at hearing

Here’s a perk of working in the news business, even if you’re so remote to the wider world in Port Arthur that your hands can remain on the keyboard while your toes dip into the Sabine: You can get on newsmaker calls.

For me, that means a once-weekly call with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who is engaging and open and direct in talking with the handful of Texas news reporters who dial in to his conference calls, which come mid-week and last about 15 minutes.

Cornyn studied journalism at Trinity University, graduating around the time Watergate news was starting to simmer, so he has some understanding of the business. He is cordial and direct in answering reporter questions and pretty thorough in his answers. If you prepare, you can glean some interesting information during the calls and get a better understanding of the nation’s capital from a guy who represents us there.

The calls have been fascinating of late because Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, sits on the Judiciary Committee, which is where the Brett Kavanaugh nomination for the Supreme Court has been playing out. Better still, Cornyn has been a judge, associate justice on the state Supreme Court and Texas attorney general before heading to Washington. So he’s not only candid, he’s knowledgeable.

It’s not easy getting a question in on conference calls because there are several reporters from larger outlets and they swing elbows in asking. They all seem to have a follow-up question, too. But if you’re patient and prepared, the process and the fruits are satisfying.

Cornyn speaking on Kavanaugh has been insightful. Last week, I asked him what would happen if neither the nominee nor his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party of high school kids 36 years ago, had the better of the testimony Thursday. What would the committee do?

Cornyn suggested it was simple: If the committee could not choose whose testimony was clearly the more compelling, then the nomination would go forward to the full Senate. Ford would not have proven her case.

By the committee, I suppose, we mean a handful of Republicans, given that the Democrats on Judiciary showed their hands long before the hearings began. So had most Republicans.

I’ve heard people suggest that the hearings are not a courtroom trial, but a “job interview.” So when’s the last time you entered a job interview with 21 people deciding your employment, and 10 said they weren’t going to hire you before you answered the first question? Or, worse, suggested that you had committed serious and scandalous crimes? Tough place to work.

Small wonder, then, that Cornyn, in questioning Kavanaugh during the hearing, called it the worst scandal since the Joe McCarthy hearings.

“This is not a job interview,” Cornyn said. “You’ve been accused of a crime.”

Kavanaugh’s answers were taken under oath; it would be criminal to lie. So that’s different than a job interview, too.

Kavanaugh’s been accused by political detractors of multiple crimes, in fact, each one more bizarre than the last.

Small wonder that Kavanaugh predicted, “I’m never going to get my reputation back.” He won’t; Justice Clarence Thomas, although he was elevated to the Supreme Court by a narrow margin, has served in almost complete silence since.

The hearings were not a trial, as Cornyn told his Senate colleagues, for if they had been, many of them would have been held in contempt of court for their actions.

It’s not a trial, but in widespread fashion, people who not only don’t know Kavanaugh, and likely never heard his name before his nomination, have already imposed sentence, one that he and his family must bear in perpetuity.

It’s not a trial, but if you were being tried in the court of public opinion, how would you bear it if people wore buttons stating, “I believe him” or “I believe her” or “I believe the prosecution” or “I believe the defense,” before the opening arguments or before a single question were asked?

Cornyn has been right to demand a fair process in an unjust atmosphere, although it seems that didn’t happen. Somebody ought to demand one; we should be pleased that it’s a Texan.

Ken Stickney is editor of The Port Arthur News.