Kavanaugh testifies about sexual assault allegations in front of Senate committee
WASHINGTON — In a defiant and emotional bid to rescue his Supreme Court nomination, Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday denied allegations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when both were high school students and angrily told Congress that Democrats were engaged in “a calculated and orchestrated political hit.”
In her own testimony, Ford told the same Senate Judiciary Committee that she was “100 percent” certain a drunken young Kavanaugh had pinned her to a bed, tried to remove her clothes and clapped a hand over her mouth as she tried to yell for help. She described “uproarious laughter” by Kavanaugh and his friend whom she said also was involved in the alleged incident in a locked bedroom at a gathering of high school friends.
The Judiciary panel’s daylong hearing, an extraordinary Senate airing of long-ago and painfully personal memories, came as GOP support for Kavanaugh’s ascension to Supreme Court lay in the balance.
Kavanaugh vowed to continue his bid to join the high court, to which President Donald Trump nominated him in July. Now a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh seemed assured of confirmation until Ford and several other accusers emerged in recent weeks. He has denied all the accusations.
“You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit, never,” he said in an irate voice.
Both Kavanaugh and Ford testified under sworn oath, leaving senators who will decide his fate and millions of Americans watching on television to parse whose version to believe.
In her three hours of testimony, Ford’s tone was polite but firm as she detailed her accusations but offered no major new revelations. Rachel Mitchell, a veteran sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona who asked all questions of Ford for the committee’s all-male GOP senators, seemed to elicit no significant inconsistencies.
During her testimony, Ford, now 51, said of Kavanaugh, “I believed he was going to rape me.”
Asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont for her strongest memory of the alleged incident, Ford mentioned the two boys’ “laughter — the uproarious laughter between the two and they’re having fun at my expense.”
When the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, asked how she could be sure that Kavanaugh was the attacker, Ford said, “The same way I’m sure I’m talking to you right now.” Later, she told Durbin her certainty was “100 percent.”
As deferential and hushed as Ford’s delivery was, Kavanaugh’s was incensed and combative. He repeatedly interrupted Democratic senators’ questions, including on whether he’d support their bid for testimony by Mark Judge, the friend who Ford has claimed participated in Kavanaugh’s assault on her.
When Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., pressed him to request an FBI probe, Kavanaugh said he’d do whatever the committee wished and repeatedly refused to change that position. Trump and Republicans have refused to bring the FBI into the matter.
“I want to know what you want to do,” Durbin said in an exchange that grew progressively louder.
“I’m telling the truth,” said Kavanaugh.
“I want to know what you want to do, judge!” Durbin repeated.
“I’m innocent. I’m innocent of this charge,” Kavanaugh said.
Later, he twice answered, “Have you?” when Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked if he’d ever passed out drinking. He later apologized to her.
The emotional tone continued as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Kavanaugh’s strongest backers, lashed out at Democrats.
“What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold his seat open and hope you win in 2020,” he said, referring to that year’s presidential election.
Republicans are pushing to seat Kavanaugh before the November midterms, when Senate control could fall to the Democrats and a replacement Trump nominee could have even greater difficulty.
Kavanaugh, 53, struggled to hold back tears, particularly when he referred to his own family.
Asked about drinking in high school, he said he had, sometimes to excess. “I like beer,” he said, but he also said he’d never passed out and never attacked Ford. “I have never done this to her or to anyone,” he said.
But he moved beyond simple denials to going on offense, accusing Democrats of targeting him to assuage political grudges.
“This whole two-week effort have been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election,” adding they were seeking “revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside leftwing opposition groups,” Kavanaugh said.
“You have replaced ‘advice and consent’ with ‘search and destroy,” he told the senators, referring to the Constitution’s charge to senators’ duties in confirming high officials.
During Kavanaugh’s 45-minute opening statement, senators watched intently, the only sound the clicking of cameras. In the front row, family and friends quietly cried including his wife, Ashley, whose lips were trembling.
Among the television viewers on Thursday was Trump, who has mocked the credibility of Kavanaugh’s accusers. The president watched aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington from the United Nations, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
A White House official not authorized to speak publicly described Kavanaugh’s opening statement as “game changing,” saying the vigorous display would give GOP senators what they need to vote “yes.” The official said aides understood that Trump was reacting positively to the performance.
After Ford’s testimony, some Republicans gave no indications of wavering.
“You need more than an accusation for evidence. You need corroboration. That’s what’s missing here,” said No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of Ford, “She’s a good witness. She’s articulate, an attractive person.”
Ford, a California psychology professor, spoke carefully and deliberately during the hearing, using scientific terminology at one point to describe how a brain might remember details of events decades later. The boys’ laughter was “indelible in the hippocampus,” she said, using her scientific expertise to describe how memories are stored in the brain and adding, “It’s locked in there.”
Mitchell led Ford through a detailed recollection of the events she says occurred on the day of the alleged incident. But under the committee’s procedures, the career prosecutor was limited to five minutes at a time, interspersed between Democrats’ questions, creating a choppy effect as she tried piecing together the story.
Mitchell’s questions steered clear of the details of the alleged assault and focused at times on whether Ford was coordinating with Kavanaugh opponents. Mitchell asked who was financing her legal and security expenses. Ford responded that she had gotten help from well-to-do people back home and was aware of public contributions at the website GoFundMe.com but also said she’d not focused on such matters amid her family’s recent moves due to threats.
Shortly after Republicans began questioning Kavanaugh, GOP senators themselves began asking their own questions.
Kavanaugh’s teetering grasp on winning confirmation was evident Wednesday when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, expressed concern in a private meeting with senators about one of his other accusers, according to a person with knowledge of the gathering. Republicans control the Senate 51-49 and can lose only one vote, and Collins is among the few senators who’ve not made clear how they’ll vote.
Collins walked into that meeting carrying a copy of Julie Swetnick’s signed declaration, which included fresh accusations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh and his high school friend Judge. In a sworn statement, Swetnick said she witnessed Kavanaugh “consistently engage in excessive drinking and inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with women in the early 1980s.”
Kavanaugh called Swetnick’s claim “a joke.”
The lawyer for Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they attended Yale University, raised her profile Wednesday in a round of television interviews.