Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh angrily, tearfully and “unequivocally” denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, after she told senators at a dramatic hearing that she’s “one hundred percent” certain he is the one who attacked her when they were teenagers.
In testimony that turned the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing into a partisan shouting match, Kavanaugh accused one Democrat of mocking him and listened while a Republican called the session an “unethical sham.”
“I was not at the party described by Dr. Ford,” Kavanaugh said as he tried to save his nomination in the face of public claims of sexual misconduct by three women. “This confirmation process has become a national disgrace.”
“I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process,” Kavanaugh said. “I have been through hell and then some.”
Kavanaugh’s testimony gave senators a stark choice. Earlier in the day, Ford said her accusation was “absolutely not” a case of mistaken identity. She said the 1982 incident — including the “uproarious laughter” of Kavanaugh and his friend who she says witnessed the attack — was “seared into my memory” even though she didn’t remember all the details.
President Donald Trump is standing behind Kavanaugh and thought his angry and emotional opening statement to the committee was strong, according to three people familiar with the president’s thinking. It’s unlikely Trump will press Kavanaugh to withdraw, they said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination Friday, and the full Senate could act as early as next week. The hearing marked the first time Ford had spoken publicly about her accusation, which could derail the confirmation, redefine the “Me Too” era and affect the fight for control of Congress in the Nov. 6 election.
The nominee made no secret of his anger at Democrats on the committee.
“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparently pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside, left-wing opposition groups,” Kavanaugh told the committee. “This is a circus.”
Kavanaugh repeatedly flashed his anger at Democrats on the panel, scowling, arguing with them and jabbing his finger toward the table in front of him.
“I’m going to talk about my high school record if you’re going to sit here and mock me,” Kavanaugh told Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont as the two interrupted each other during a discussion of his high school yearbook.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois challenged Kavanaugh to ask the White House to order the FBI to question other witnesses about Ford’s allegations against him, a suggestion rejected by Trump and Senate Republicans.
“You know that’s a phony question because the FBI doesn’t reach conclusions,” Kavanaugh responded.
Soon afterward, GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina erupted in anger. “What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and hope you win in 2020,” he said, pointing angrily at his Democratic colleagues. “You’ve said that, not me.”
“When you see Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them that Lindsey said hello because I voted for them,” Graham said, referring to Democratic-appointed Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “I would never do to them what you’ve done to this guy. This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.”
Ford told the committee that she’s an independent person and “no one’s pawn.” She said she was sure that Kavanaugh was the person who attacked her.
“With what degree of certainty do you believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?” Durbin asked Ford.
“One hundred percent,” she responded.
Ford, a California psychology professor, said the incident has “haunted me episodically as an adult.” She said she was “terrified” to testify before the committee and that she she “agonized daily” about whether to come forward with her claim.
Kavanaugh said, “I intend no ill will to Dr. Ford and her family.” He choked back tears while saying that his 10-year-old daughter, in saying her evening prayers recently, told Kavanaugh’s wife Ashley, “we should pray for the woman.”
The nominee was tearful through portions of his opening statement: while expressing gratitude to his friends, saying he had no sexual intercourse until well after high school, and saying he drank beer in high school.
“But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out and I did not sexually assault anyone,” he said.
Kavanaugh said Ford’s allegation is “refuted by the very people she says were there,” including a female friend of Ford’s who says she doesn’t remember the party. He said his calendar for the summer of 1982 “shows all but definitely that I was not there.”
If an unproven allegation “is enough to destroy a person’s life and career we will have abandoned the basic principles of fairness and due process that define our legal system and our country,” Kavanaugh said.
Republicans are looking for Kavanaugh to cement a conservative majority on the court, while Democrats say he could provide the fifth vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
Kavanaugh forcefully assailed the committee’s handling of Ford’s claims, saying that during the 11 days since the allegation became public, “my family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed by vicious and false accusations.”
Ford said Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, was in the room during the attack and that the two were laughing at her. She said she had an “indelible” memory of “the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
Senate Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, brought Ford to tears when he thanked her for coming forward.
“If we agree on nothing else today, I hope on a bipartisan basis we can agree on how much courage it has taken for you to come forward,” Blumenthal said.
Ford cried again when Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey called her “heroic.”
During a break, GOP Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said he still expects the Judiciary panel to vote on Kavanaugh Friday and expects him to be voted out favorably.
Questioning of Ford proceeded in five-minute chunks. Other than Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s Republicans stayed mum, each instead having Arizona sex-crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell ask questions during his allotted minutes. The 11 Republicans on the committee are all men.
“I found no reason to find her not credible,” Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas said after Ford completed her testimony, though he said Kavanaugh’s “reputation is on the line, his career as well.”
Mitchell’s questioning presented a stark contrast to the sweeping statements of support from Democrats. Mitchell spent most of her time trying to clarify details of Ford’s story, covering the night of the alleged assault and the professor’s decision to come forward.
Ford said that though they went to different high schools, she had been friendly with a classmate of Kavanaugh’s and attended a number of parties that the future judge also attended.
She said the attack occurred after she went upstairs to use the bathroom. She said she was pushed into a bedroom and onto a bed and that Kavanaugh got on top of her. Judge was in the room and encouraged the attack, she said.
“I believed he was going to rape me,” Ford said. Kavanaugh put his hand on her mouth to keep her from screaming, she said, and because it was hard for her to breathe, “I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.” She said Judge, who has denied any part in such an attack, jumped on them and she was able to escape.
Asked what she remembers from that night, Ford responded: “The stairwell, the living room, the bedroom, the bed on the right side of the room as you walk into the room — there was a bed to the right — the bathroom in close proximity, the laughter — the uproarious laughter — and the multiple attempts to escape and the final ability to do so.”
Under questioning from Mitchell, Ford said she didn’t know how she got home that night. She said the party took place “somewhere between” her home and the Columbia Country Club, about 7 miles away.
‘I Want to Apologize’
In opening the hearing, Grassley said, “I want to apologize to you both for the way you’ve been treated,” referring to threats made against Ford and Kavanaugh after her allegation became public.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California thanked Ford for her “strength and bravery in coming forward.”
“This is not a trial for Dr. Ford,” Feinstein said. “It’s a job interview for Judge Kavanaugh.”
Feinstein noted that two other accusers came forward in the last several days. They aren’t scheduled to testify before the committee.
A second woman, Deborah Ramirez of Colorado, claims Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken party when they were freshmen at Yale University. And in the most lurid allegation yet, Julie Swetnick of Washington said in a sworn statement released Wednesday that Kavanaugh took part in efforts during high school to get girls intoxicated so that a group of boys could have sex with them.
“The Swetnick thing is a joke, that is a farce,” Kavanaugh said at the hearing.
Kavanaugh, Accuser Face Tough Senate Questioners in Both Parties
Republicans are trying to get Kavanaugh, 53, confirmed as early as next week. Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage in the Senate and can’t afford more than one defection to ensure confirmation without Democratic support.
Several GOP lawmakers who remain publicly undecided — most notably Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Maine’s Susan Collins and Arizona’s Jeff Flake — said they wanted to hear what Ford has to say before making up their minds.