Last Friday, Anderson Cooper 360 aired a panel discussion led by CNN correspondent Randi Kaye where she talked with five Republican women about the allegations made against Judge Brett Kavanaugh by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. She started out by asking if they believed Kavanaugh when he said the assault never happened - and all five raised their hands.
For the remaining two minutes, they spouted the same talking points that we've heard from GOP pundits, candidates, and office-holders over the week since Dr. Ford went public. See if you recognize any of these:
"How can we believe the word of a woman, something that happened 36 years ago. This guy has an impeccable reputation." - Lourdes Castillo de la Peña
"In the grand scheme of things, my goodness, there was no intercourse. There was maybe a touch...36 years later, she’s still stuck on that?" - Irina Villarino
"We’re talking about a 17-year-old boy in high school with testosterone running high. What boy hasn’t done this in high school?" - Gina Sosa
"She’s also destroying his life, his wife’s life, his children’s lives, his career. I mean, why didn’t she come out sooner if she’s telling the truth?" - Villarino
"Why didn’t she come out when he was going into the Bush White House?" - Angie Vasquez
"I have no sympathy [for her.] Perhaps maybe at that moment she liked him and maybe he didn’t pay attention to her afterwards and he went out with another girl and she got bitter. Whatever the situation, they’re kids." - Peña
"If the person made a mistake and they move on and they have been a good human being, who are we to judge?" - Peña
"It…does not matter what everyone has to say." - Rhonda Rebman-Lopez (unidentified)
This reprehensible drivel is de rigueur for men like Lindsey Graham and North Dakota Senate candidate Kevin Cramer, but it is more shocking when coming from women, even Republican ones. To witness them vouch for Kavanaugh does a disservice not just to Dr. Ford, but to the #MeToo movement and women everywhere who have been assaulted and want people to believe them.
However, there appears to be more to the story that puts CNN under the spotlight for seriously undermining their credibility as a news organization. In presenting these five women as average voters, CNN failed to disclose that all of them are heavily involved in Republican politics, either as fundraisers, local activists, or candidates for office.
Lourdes Castillo de la Peña, who kicked off the discussion, served on the Republican National Senatorial Committee and worked on the Ted Cruz campaign in 2016. In 2017, Miami City Councilman and congressional candidate Ken Russell revealed that he attended a Cruz fundraiser held at her home, with a suggested $1000-a-plate donation. “He asked to come to my house," said Peña. "He wanted to meet Heidi...He told me how impressed he was with her when she spoke.”
Irina Villarino, the second woman to speak, is the owner of Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine, a Florida restaurant chain. Last February, she appeared with Kaye on a CNN panel concerning Trump's tweets defending former aide and wife-beater Rob Porter, where she said people are "victimizing" Trump by scrutinizing his tweets. Last April, she sat next to Donald Trump at a panel discussion to drum up support for his 2017 tax cuts form small business owners:
Gina Sosa, the third woman on the panel, is, like Villarino, the child of Cuban refugees. She supports Trump's border wall policy and also worked as treasurer for the Log Cabin Republicans. This year, she ran to represent Florida's 27th district in Congress, and out of nine candidates, she came in dead last, garnering only 757 votes - less than 2%.
Angela Vazquez, a community council member in Miami-Dade County, was the former President of the Women's Republican Club of Miami, Federated. Last year, she brought Roger Stone to a discussion for the committee, singing his praises in this press release. She also appeared with Kaye on the same February panel which included Villarino and Peña as well - none of whom were identified as political operatives then either.
Although the fifth woman in the panel is unidentified on the video, research shows that her name is Rhonda Rebman-Lopez. The president of PECO International Electric, she is an Alabama native who married Cuban Jorge Lopez and added his last name to her own when she ran for the Florida House in District 115 this year. The district is majority Hispanic, so this was perceived by some as a last-minute ploy to gain votes. Jose Fernandez, her primary opponent, called this "pandering," saying, “only someone truly desperate to win political office would change their name at the last minute to attempt to deceive the voters." Like Sosa, she lost her race.
It is a blot on CNN's integrity that they would air a panel as dishonest as this one. At a time when many women are coming forward to speak about why they didn't report being sexually assaulted, they are doing their viewers a disservice by airing stories of GOP operatives with a vested interest in discrediting Dr. Ford's allegations. These were not "average Republican voters," and CNN gave them an opportunity to provide cover for a potential crime that could have serious ramifications for the future of America.
Update: I want to acknowledge the reporters and Twitter users whose sleuthing work on these women provided me with a solid groundwork to get the ball rolling: journalist Victoria Brownworth, lawyer Amee Vanderpool, and Shawn Brandt of Massachusetts.