Sen. Cory Booker has been outspoken in opposing President Trump's nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, warning that his confirmation would endanger the rights of women and minorities.
During confirmation hearings earlier this month, he invited Republicans to bring ethics charges against him in a dispute over confidential documents. And when a woman came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct dating to Kavanaugh's high school years, Booker joined fellow Democrats in calling for further delay of the confirmation proceedings so that the FBI could investigate the matter.
Now that Kavanaugh's once-clear path to confirmation has been thrown into doubt, conservatives are pointing to Booker's decades-old disclosure that he groped a friend in high school while he and the girl kissed.
A spokesperson on Friday dismissed the criticism, given that Booker disclosed the episode himself in a 1992 column in Stanford University's student newspaper.
The column reflected on Booker's attitudes around sex and alcohol on campus, and suggested his disillusionment with a culture that saw sex as a "game." He called for respect and sensitivity.
"Senator Booker's Stanford Daily column has been the focus of disingenuous right-wing attacks that have circulated online and in partisan outlets for the past five years," spokesperson Kristin Lynch said in a statement, first reported by the Washington Post.
"These attacks ring hollow to anyone who reads the entirety of the column, which is in fact a direct criticism of a culture that encourages young men to take advantage of women — written at a time when so candidly discussing these issues was rare — and speaks to the impact Senator Booker's experience working to help rape and sexual assault survivors as a college peer counselor had on him," the statement said.
The conservative website the Daily Caller unearthed Booker's column during his first run for U.S. Senate in 2013. Booker, then the mayor of Newark, won that special election and was reelected the following year to a full six-year term. Today he's considered a possible contender for the White House in 2020.
The column boomeranged around the internet again last week amid debate over the allegations made against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford, a college professor in California. She says Kavanaugh attempted to rape her during a high school party in the early 1980s.
Kavanaugh has denied assaulting anyone or even attending such a party as Ford described.
Conservative headlines about Booker last week include " 'Spartacus Had Roamin' Hands': Cory Booker Admitted To Groping High School Friend Without Consent" and "Booker Facing Criticism for Kavanaugh Reaction After Admitting to Groping Friend in High School".
In the column, titled "So much for stealing second," Booker describes what happened on New Year's Eve in 1984, when he was 15 years old.
"As the ball dropped, I leaned over to hug a friend and she met me instead with an overwhelming kiss," he writes.
Booker, who grew up in suburban Harrington Park, N.J., writes of remembering debating his next " 'move' as if it were a chess game."
"With the 'Top Gun' slogan ringing in my head, I slowly reached for her breast. After having my hand pushed away once, I reached my 'mark,' " the column reads. (For the record, Top Gun was not released until 1986.)
It continues: "Our groping ended soon and while no 'relationship' ensued, a friendship did."
Booker goes on to describe learning about sex during his adolescence as a "game," adding that a friend in high school encouraged drinking as a means to get in bed with women.
He writes that he encountered similar attitudes in college, but began to question them after becoming a peer counselor.
"You see, I had begun listening to the raw truth from men and women discussing rape," Booker writes, describing the experience as a "wake-up call."
"I see myself at 15 trotting around the bases and stealing second. I now see the crowds, no, not the spectators, but the thousands, the millions who are rarely seen or heard. I've seen enough."
–Staff writer Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.