WASHINGTON — Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were both high schoolers, is about to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in what is likely to be a historic moment in the #MeToo movement.
Kavanaugh will appear later in the day to respond to her accusations, something that he has vehemently denied.
Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor from Arizona, will ask Ford questions as the Republicans chosen investigative counsel.
His nomination likely hangs in the balance, but the stakes also are high for members of both parties, as the hearing is taking place so close to this year’s midterm elections.
The past 24 hours have seen a flurry of news, including new accusations leveled at Kavanaugh from other accusers, President Donald Trump’s suggestion that he could change his mind on the nomination, and the appearance of one accuser, Julie Swetnick, on Showtime’s “The Circus.”
“Mark your calendar. I think we’re going to remember today many years from now,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote Thursday on Twitter.
Ford’s attorney’s released an advance copy of her opening statement, in which she will say, “I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t remember as much as I would like to. But the details about that night that bring me here today are ones I will never forget. They have been seared into my memory and have haunted me episodically as an adult.”
The hearing itself may very well be more subdued that Kavanaugh’s previous four days of testimony: It’s being held in a much smaller hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building where press and public access is limited.
Below are takeaways from the hearing:
Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings — then vs. now. Sen. Dianne Feinstein devoted a substantial part of her opening statement to comparing the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991.
She noted that that Hill was “belittled” by an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee and the outcome was predetermined.
Feinstein was first elected the following year, 1992, in what was a historic year for women being elected to Congress and likely a backlash against Hill’s treatment by the Senate.
“The entire country is watching how we handle these allegations,” Feinstein said.
‘I believed he was going to rape me.’ Ford described the 1982 assault at what she says was a “small gathering at a house in the Bethesda area.”
“Early in the evening, I went up a narrow set of stairs leading from the living room to a second floor to use the restroom,” she said, her voice at times cracking with emotion. “When I got to the top of the stairs, I was pushed from behind into a bedroom across from the bathroom.
“I couldn’t see who pushed me. Brett and Mark came into the bedroom and locked the door behind them. There was music playing in the bedroom. It was turned up louder by either Brett or Mark [Judge] once we were in the room.”
“I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding into me. I yelled, hoping that someone downstairs might hear me, and I tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy. Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time because he was very inebriated, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit under my clothes. I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling.”
“This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me. Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack. They both seemed to be having a very good time. Mark was urging Brett on, and at times he telling him to stop. A couple of times I made eye contact with Mark and thought he might try to help me, but he did not.”
She said that Judge “came over and jumped on the bed twice while Brett was on top of me. And the last time he did this, we toppled over and Brett was no longer on top of me. I was able to get up and run out of the room.”
She left the house, she said, and “I remember being on the street and feeling an enormous sense of relief that I had escaped from the house and that Brett and Mark were not coming after me.”
“Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life,” she said. “For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details. I did not want to tell my parents that I, at age 15, was in a house without any parents present, drinking beer with boys. I convinced myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should be able to move on and just pretend that it had never happened.”
She said that she did not reveal the specific details until 2012, during a couples counseling session, and the reason it came up is because they were doing a remodel of their home and her husband could not understand why she wanted another front door.
“In explaining why I wanted to have a second front door, I described the assault in detail,” she said. “I recall saying that the boy who assaulted me could someday be on the U.S. Supreme Court and spoke a bit about his background. My husband recalls that I named my attacker as Brett Kavanaugh.”
‘Absolutely not.’ One of the possibilities that has been floated by defenders of Kavanaugh is that Ford is mistaking him for another high school age male.
Asked by Feinstein how she could be sure that it was Kavanaugh who was covering her mouth during the assault, she responded, “The same way that I am sure I’m talking to you right now.” Asked if it was possible that this is a case of mistaken identity, she said, “Absolutely not.”
Earlier, she denied that she is acting out of partisan motive.
“I have been accused of acting out of partisan political motives and those who say that do not know me. I’m an independent person and I’m no one’s pawn,” she said.
Later, she told Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that she was “100%” sure that it was Kavanaugh.
Indelible memory. Asked what is the most vivid memory that she had of the alleged assault, Ford said it was the laughter between Kavanaugh and Judge.
“The laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and them having fun at my expense,” she said.
Ford’s anxiety. Mitchell asked whether other factors could have contributed to her anxiety, and Ford gives an answer that reflected her credentials as a professor of psychology.
“The etiology of anxiety and PTSD is multi-factorial,” she said.
Later, Mitchell questioned Ford’s stated fear of flying, asking her how she got to Washington for the hearing.
She said that she was able to “get up the gumption” to fly to DC, as she did on other long-distance trips. The line of questioning seemed to be aimed at establishing inconsistencies in what Ford has said and the source of her trauma over the incident.
‘Teaching moment.’ Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) spends much of his time praising Ford for coming forward, saying that “you have given America an amazing teaching moment.”
“You have inspired and you have enlightened America. You have inspired and given courage to women to come forward,” he said.
Ford said that she would like to see an FBI investigation.
The polygraph test. Ford is questioned on her decision to take a polygraph test — the implication being that she was being coached. She said that the test was administered on the day of her grandmother’s funeral or “it may have been the next day.”
She said that she didn’t know who paid for the exam.
This is a point of suspicion among Republicans, who are hammering Democrats for withholding information about Ford’s claims until after Kavanaugh’s week of hearings.
“Hiring a lawyer and taking a polygraph makes me more suspicious,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters during a lunch break.
He called her testimony “sincere,” but said, “I’m looking for corroboration. This is not an emotional decision. This is a factual decision.”
“She can’t say how she got there and how she left,” Graham said of Ford’s recollection of the high school party.
He also warned Democrats of what this means for the future.
“If this is the new norm, you better watch out for your nominees,” he said.
He points out that she has called for a comprehensive investigation of her claims but that has not been done yet.
“I wish I could be more helpful and others could be more helpful and that we could collaborate in a way that would get at more information,” Ford says.
She told Mitchell that she first requested an FBI investigation when the possibility of a hearing was first discussed.
Later Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) told Ford that she believes her, and called her a “true profile in courage.”
“You have called for an independent FBI investigation into the facts. Judge Kavanaugh has not, and we owe you that,” she said.
A mistake? Mitchell seems to acknowledge that the strategy of having her ask questions was not effective. She asks Ford whether she would agree that the best way to interview victims of trauma is not in “five-minute increments.”
Rather, she said that the better way would be in a one-on-one setting, and to let the victim relay his or her story. That essentially bolsters the Democrats argument that the accusations require an FBI investigation.
‘Attractive.’ During the break, much is being made of a remark that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) made to reporters about Ford’s testimony.
He called her an “attractive” witness, but later a spokesman clarified his characterization.
Asked if he believes Dr. Ford, Sen. Orrin Hatch says, "I don’t find her un-credible. I think she’s an attractive, good witness.”
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 27, 2018
“This has destroyed my family and my good name,” he says.
He said “this whole two-week effort has been an orchestrated and calculated political hit,” and even said that it was “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” Kavanaugh worked on the Ken Starr investigation. He called it a “grotesque and coordinated character assassination.”
Later, he got emotional and choked up as he talked what his 10-year-old daughter said to him on Wednesday evening, and her telling him that they should pray for Ford and that they “mean no ill will.”
He said that he “never had any sexual or physical encounter” with Ford and “I have never done that to her, or to anyone.”
“I’m not questioning that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person, in some place, at some time,” he said. “But I have never done this to her or to anyone. That’s not who I am. It is not who I was.”
He said that he would not drop out of the process.
“I will not be intimidated to withdraw from this process,” he said.
The calendars. Kavanaugh’s tone shifted from anger to one of tearing up as he described his practice, learned from his dad, of keeping a calendar of his activities. He cited his 1982 calendar it as one piece of evidence that showed that he was out of town or booked with other activities at the time the party allegedly occurred.
He also called his high school yearbook a “disaster,” and said that “this past week, my friends and I have cringed when we read about it and talked to each other.”
“I never had sexual intercourse, or anything close to it, during high school or many years after that,” he said.
He also said that “I drank beer with my friends, almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers. Some others did. I liked beer. I still like beer.” But he said he never drank “to the point of blacking out.”
Kavanaugh and Feinstein. Kavanaugh, in his 45-minute opening remarks, attacked Democrats and accused them “lying in wait” with the allegations after he came through his confirmation hearings unscathed.
His anger at Feinstein was on display as she asked him why he didn’t ask for an FBI investigation once the allegations surfaced.
He said that “whatever the committee decides, I am all in, immediately.”
When she said that the FBI would conduct an investigation where he and others would be interviewed, he interjected, “You’re interviewing me. You’re interviewing me.”
She again asked him if the allegations by the three accusers were “wrong.”
“That is exactly what I am saying, senator,” he said.
Alyssa Milano. The actress, one of the founders of the MeToo movement, has been at the hearing on Thursday, but is all the more visible on camera as a member of the gallery seated behind Kavanaugh’s shoulder.
“I will say this…if a woman were to yell, interrupt and cry while being questioned, people would call her unhinged or say she had a melt down,” she wrote on Twitter.
I will say this…if a woman were to yell, interrupt and cry while being questioned, people would call her unhinged or say she had a melt down. pic.twitter.com/qBDuBP0QHt
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) September 27, 2018
‘The FBI does not reach conclusions.’ Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) tried to get Kavanaugh to turn to White House Counsel Don McGahn and ask for an FBI investigation to clear his name, but Kavanaugh simply says that he will do whatever the committee wants to do.
Kavanaugh again makes the point that “the FBI does not reach conclusions,” meaning that they would not be able to get any closer to the truth than what the committee is doing.
‘This is hell.’ The dramatic moments continue, as Graham takes the floor and angrily lashes out at Democrats, saying, “He’s not Bill Cosby.”
“This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics,” Graham says, while announcing that he will vote for his nomination.
“You’re looking for a fair process, you came to the wrong town at the wrong time, my friend,” Graham said. He said that what Kavanaugh has been going through “is not a job interview. This is hell.”
He then offered a warning to Republicans who are wavering on the Kavanaugh nomination.
“To my Republican colleagues, if you vote no, you are legitimizing the most despicable thing I have ever seen in my years in politics,” he said.
Drinking games. After a break, Kavanaugh apologizes to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) for responding to a question about his drinking by asking her one of his own. She had asked, “So you’re saying there’s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before or part of what happened?”
He responded, “I don’t know. Have you?”
Klobuchar had pointed out that her father was an alcoholic who is not 90 years old and in recovery.
She accepted his apology.
Where’s Mitchell? The prosecutor retained by the Republicans to ask questions appears to be sidelined, as GOP senators started to query Kavanaugh.
Democrats, meanwhile, have been asking Kavanaugh for details of his drinking, the meaning of his yearbook entries and other high school moments.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) attempted to ask Kavanaugh about his yearbook reference to “Renate alum,” a reference to one of his female classmates, Renate Dolphin, but Kavanaugh took issue with his bringing the woman’s name into the hearings. Blumenthal followed up by asking, “Do you believe Anita Hill?” Kavanaugh didn’t answer, as Blumenthal’s time was up.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) tweeted out an attack on Blumenthal — a sign that divisions will linger long after Kavanaugh is confirmed or not confirmed.
.@SenBlumenthal lied for years about serving in Vietnam, which is all you need to know about his courage & honesty. Maybe he should reconsider before questioning Judge Kavanaugh’s credibility.
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) September 27, 2018
‘Not a political pawn.’ Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) took issue with Graham’s use of the word “despicable” to describe the confirmation process, arguing that Ford’s allegation was credible.
“She is not a political pawn,” Booker said. “She is not orchestrating. She is not part of the Clinton’s efforts to get some kind of revenge. She is a woman who came here with corroborating evidence to tell her truth.”
Feinstein’s defense. After a number of GOP senators slammed Feinstein for not bringing Ford’s allegations to the committee last summer, when she first learned of them.
“Let me be clear. I did not hide Dr. Ford’s allegations,” she said.
“I was given some information by a woman who as very much afraid, who asked that it be held confidential and I held it confidential until she decided that she would come forward.”
She also denied that she or her staff leaked the information.
Trump’s reaction. Within minutes of the end of the hearing after nine hours, Trump tweeted, “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”
Nine hours. The hearing stretched almost nine hours, including breaks, and it’s very likely that the day will finish as it started. After Ford delivered what was characterized as credible testimony, Kavanaugh gave an impassioned, emotional denial and defense.
As of now, a Judiciary Committee vote is still scheduled for Friday, and if Kavanaugh is confirmed, it’s likely that Democrats will claim that the nomination was rammed through without full investigation of Ford’s claims.