And that's the second arena where an absence of evidence should have some weight. If there's no easily located evidence that Warren has Native American ancestry, there's also no evidence that Warren used her family story to boost herself into a Harvard job.
A huge tell -- beyond the flat denials of two of the men who brought her to the school -- is that Warren's ancestry was not touted in 1995 in The Harvard Crimson as the Law School's first Native American hire, despite the ethnic-studies movement's gathering force on the college's campus at the time and the continued controversy over the lack of diversity at the law school (as highlighted at a protest involving Prof. Derrick Bell and law school student Barack Obama in 1991). The Crimson article on Warren was titled simply, "Woman Tenured at Law School."
"Liz Warren is a spectacular addition to our faculty," Law School Dean Robert Clark told The Crimson. "She is a leading scholar in the fields of bankruptcy and commercial law, and she is one of the rare legal academics to have devoted herself to a large-scale empirical research project of great relevance to legal policymaking."
Compare that to the Crimson editorial that greeted Lani Guinier just three years later, which heralded her as "the first female African-American professor in the 181-year history of HLS." While this article also repeated the claim about Warren's ethnicity -- "Harvard Law School currently has only one tenured minority woman, Gottlieb Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren, who is Native American," the '98 piece said -- that information had so little penetrated the consciousness of legal circles that Guinier was quoted in the very same article saying, "Though I am the first woman of color to join the tenured faculty, I know that I will not be the last, and this is important to me." Dean Clark said he felt that hiring her would "attract other top scholars of diverse backgrounds." He made no similar statement upon Warren's hire.
What Law School spokesman Michael Chmura was doing when he told The Crimson in 1996 and the The Fordham Law Review in 1997 that Warren was Native American is a question for the university, not the Warren campaign. And the university is duly being pressed on that question and others about Warren's time there. (Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Robert A. Maginn Jr., an alumnus of Harvard Law, has called on the university to do an internal investigation into whether Warren misled the university about her heritage.)
The challenge for Warren will be to withstand an ongoing barrage of attacks on the topic that seek to undermine perceptions about her character and honesty. "That Warren allowed Harvard to hold her up as an example of their commitment to diversity in the hiring of historically disadvantaged communities is an insult to all Americans who have suffered real discrimination and mistreatment, and Warren should apologize for participating in this hypocritical sham," Jim Barnett, the campaign manager for Brown said when the story broke.
Warren's campaign has tried to keep its head down and fight around the edges of the story, which it has called a distraction from the issues that Massachusetts voters care about. Senate candidates have survived far more potentially damaging controversies and gone on to win. But the longer the questions about Warren linger, the harder it will be for voters to feel like they know who she really is.