News & Politics

Interview: The Coauthor of ‘The Education of Brett Kavanaugh’ Explains How She Dug Into DC’s Private-School Scene

Kate Kelly, a National Cathedral School grad, knows the territory well

Kate Kelly is the coauthor of The Education of Brett Kavanaugh. Photograph of Kelly by Lorin Klaris.

In her new book, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation, New York Times reporter Kate Kelly, with coauthor Robin Pogrebin, investigates the divisive Supreme Court justice’s hard-partying days at Georgetown Prep. It’s a task Kelly is well suited for: She’s a graduate of a DC-area prep school herself—National Cathedral School ’93. We spoke to her about what it was like to revisit Washington’s private-school culture as a journalist.

How familiar did this material feel to you?

In a certain sense, it felt very familiar because I do remember that alcohol-fueled party scene. I remember the kids kind of taking over the parents’ houses when parents went out of town. I would say that by 1993, though, the party scene seemed a bit more contained than in the 1980s. In terms of sexual assault, I remember hearing stories about things happening, but it was so anecdotal and I never heard about it from a close friend, so I can’t say how prevalent it was.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Kavanaugh?

There were very divergent views of Kavanaugh, even if you go back to his class at Georgetown Prep. Some people were like, “He was the nicest guy, super-polite, good student.” Other people were like, “He was mean, he participated in bullying, he was arrogant, he really was an ugly drunk.” In high school, when he was in a group of friends and certainly when alcohol was involved, another side of him could come out.

What was the posture of Georgetown Prep’s administration to your reporting?

They were quite antagonistic, I’m sorry to say. They sent me some e-mails that basically said: We don’t have much respect for what you’re doing. They refused to engage with me on my reporting. I attended Georgetown Prep’s homecoming football game in the fall of 2018, and I’m sure there were people there who disagreed with the way Kavanaugh had handled the confirmation process, but what I saw was a lot of people gravitating toward him. He had tons of students asking for photographs with him. So it seems that the school, in a visible way at least, has rallied around him.

What accounts for our ongoing fascination with Kavanaugh’s high-school years?

My coauthor and I have a theory on that. Think about it: If you went to a Catholic school, if you went to a single-sex school, if you played football, if you were a cheerleader, if you were from the Washington area, if, God forbid, you were a survivor of sexual assault, or if you had a friend or a family member who was, there are just so many [aspects] that resonate for people that it just became this outsized national narrative.

A version of this article appears in the October 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.