Kavanaugh accuser faces questions from GOP's prosecutor, praise from Democrats
The woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of attempting to sexually assault her in the 1980s asserted she is "100 percent" certain he was her attacker, even though there are no corroborating statements from witnesses, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday at a hearing that could determine whether Kavanaugh takes a seat on the nation's highest court.
"I have been accused of acting out of partisan political motives. Those who say that do not know me," Dr. Christine Blasey Ford said in an opening statement. "I am a fiercely independent person and I am no one’s pawn. My motivation in coming forward was to provide the facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you can take that into serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed."
Under questioning by Rachel Mitchell, a sex crimes prosecutor asking questions for Republicans on the committee, Ford reviewed accounts of the assault she provided to a Washington Post reporter, senators, and a polygrapher. She acknowledged she does not know exactly when and where the attack occurred as Mitchell showed her notes and maps, but she said she estimated it was 1982 based on the fact that she did not have her driver's license yet at the time. She could not recall who drove her to or from the party where it happened.
“I can’t give the exact date and I would like to be more helpful about the date,” Ford said.
Despite her uncertainty about other details, Ford said it is "absolutely not" possible she has mistaken Kavanaugh for someone else, and she described the "uproarious laughter" by Kavanaugh and his friend as her strongest memory of the assault.
Mitchell noted that three statements had been submitted by people Ford claimed were present at the time of the alleged assault denying knowledge of it, including Mark Judge the friend of Kavanaugh who she accused of involvement in the attack. Ford said she would expect Judge to remember, but the two other friends she named likely would not recall because they did not know what happened.
"It was a very unremarkable party" from their perspective, Ford said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a former prosecutor, suggested the gaps in Ford's memories make her accusation more credible.
“Someone composing a story can make it all come together in a seamless way,” he said.
Mitchell also pressed Ford about her claims of post-traumatic stress and reported discomfort with airplanes related to the assault, noting that she flew on vacations to Hawaii and Pacific islands at times in her life. According to Ford, the trauma of the assault resulted in a "fairly disastrous" first two years of college and has continued to impact her greatly for 36 years.
Ford said she took a polygraph test at the request of her attorney, but she does not know who paid for it. Her lawyers later interjected to clarify that they paid for the test and that they are representing her pro bono.
"We have no expectation of getting paid," her attorney said.
Democrats commended Ford for speaking out about the alleged attack. "Bravery is contagious," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told Ford, connecting her testimony to the #MeToo movement that has brought forth many sexual misconduct claims against powerful men in the last year.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, opened the hearing with an apology to both Kavanaugh and Ford for the threats and mistreatment they have suffered in the last two weeks, saying he hoped the hearing will provide a "safe, comfortable, and dignified" environment for both of them.
“They and their families have received vile threats. What they endured ought to be considered by all of us as unacceptable and a poor reflection of the state of civility in our society," he said.
Ford said she was hesitant to come forward because of the personal attacks she would face, and she and her family have been subjected to "constant harassment and death threats" since her identity was revealed.
"The reality has been far worse than what I expected," she said.
Grassley also criticized Democrats for demanding an FBI investigation into Ford’s claims, quoting then-Chairman Joe Biden at Justice Clarence Thomas’ 1991 confirmation hearing stressing that the FBI does not make credibility assessments in these circumstances.
As Democrats continued raising the issue of an FBI probe, Grassley later interrupted to stress that he does not believe it would be appropriate in this case, detailing how these circumstances are different from the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill allegations.
"The very bare minimum that a person who comes forward is owed is sincere and thorough investigation," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., assuring Ford he will continue to press for such an inquiry for "however long it takes."
Sen. Blumenthal alleged that the president's failure to authorize an FBI investigation is "tantamount to a cover-up."
President Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in July. He had hoped to get Kavanaugh confirmed and seated on the court before its new term begins next Monday, but the sexual assault allegations have thrown his prospects for getting 50 votes in the Senate into doubt.
Kavanaugh was set to testify after Ford Thursday. The committee has announced a vote on his nomination for Friday, but that could be delayed or canceled if Republicans do not have the votes to confirm him.
The hearing was scheduled after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the committee's ranking Democrat, revealed earlier this month that Ford sent her a letter in July detailing an alleged sexual assault by Kavanaugh when they were in high school. Republicans have questioned why she waited until after Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing was complete to make the accusation public, but Feinstein said she was trying to respect Ford’s request for confidentiality.
“I held it confidential up to a point where the witness was willing to come forward,” Feinstein said Thursday, thanking Ford for being willing to tell her story and calling for reform in how women who allege sexual violence are treated.
Ford alleges Kavanaugh and a friend, Mark Judge, forced her into a bedroom at a party in the summer of 1982. She claims Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, groped her, and tried to remove her clothes before she was able to escape.
However, she acknowledged her memory of the event is incomplete, telling senators, “I truly wish I could be more helpful with detailed answersI don’t remember as much as I would like to.”
Kavanaugh maintains he did not attend a party like the one Ford describes that summer and he has never sexually assaulted anyone.
Both laid out their positions in opening statements released by the committee Wednesday.
“I am here today not because I want to be,” Ford said at the start of her statement. “I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school. I have described the events publicly before. I summarized them in my letter to Ranking Member Feinstein, and again in my letter to Chairman Grassley. I understand and appreciate the importance of your hearing from me directly about what happened to me and the impact it has had on my life and on my family.”
In his statement, Kavanaugh stressed how “horrific” and “morally wrong” sexual assault is and insisted those who allege assault should be taken seriously. However, he added the subject of the accusation is owed due process as well.
“I spent most of my time in high school focused on academics, sports, church, and service. But I was not perfect in those days, just as I am not perfect today,” Kavanaugh said. “I drank beer with my friends, usually on weekends. Sometimes I had too many. In retrospect, I said and did things in high school that make me cringe now. But that’s not why we are here today. What I’ve been accused of is far more serious than juvenile misbehavior. I never did anything remotely resembling what Dr. Ford describes.”
Despite demands from Ford and Democrats on the committee to question Mark Judge and others, no other witnesses were invited to testify at the hearing. Kavanaugh submitted calendars from 1982 he believes bolster his claims of innocence, while Ford has provided sworn statements from four people who say she told them about the assault before he was nominated by President Trump in July.
Trump has stood by Kavanaugh, claiming the allegations against him are a “high level con game” orchestrated by Democrats trying to sink his nomination. According to CNN, both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spoke to Kavanaugh in advance of the hearing and encouraged him to be forceful in his denials.
Two other women have come forward this week to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in his high school and college years, but the nominee has denied those as well and no eyewitnesses have been offered to corroborate them. The Judiciary Committee revealed Wednesday it has investigated two other vague and unsubstantiated claims of sexual assault that the judge denied.
Grassley said Thursday attorneys for the other two named accusers have not cooperated with requests for interviews or evidence.
"The committee can't do their investigation if attorneys are stonewalling," he said.
Two men have also reportedly told the committee Ford may be confusing Kavanaugh with them, apparently asserting they committed the sexual assault instead.
Each senator has been granted five minutes to question Kavanaugh and Ford. The 11 Republican men on the committee tapped Mitchell to handle much of their questioning. The 10 Democrats, several of whom were accused of grandstanding during Kavanaugh’s earlier hearing, were expected to interrogate both witnesses themselves.
Although the hearing is being broadcast on TV and online, it is being held in a smaller room than Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing with fewer spectators and fewer journalists allowed in at Ford’s request.