Christine Blasey Ford - Brett Kavanaugh

Photos by Pool/Sipa USA and Jack Gruber-USA TODAY

Historic Hearing: Kavanaugh, Accuser Testify Before Senate Committee

September 27, 2018 - 10:25 am
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WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) — Christine Blasey Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee and a riveted nation Thursday that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in a locked room at a 1980s high school party, as the panel began an extraordinary and historic hearing at which Kavanaugh hoped to salvage his Supreme Court nomination.

"I believed he was going to rape me," the 51-year-old California psychology professor said, her voice breaking as she read her opening statement.

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Kavanaugh has denied Ford's and other women's allegations of sexual misconduct. The conservative jurist, whose Senate confirmation had seemed an easy waltz until Ford and the other women emerged, awaited his own chance to testify later in the day.

"I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified," Ford said as she described the alleged assault. "I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened."

In a clash along a polarized nation's political and cultural fault lines, Kavanaugh and Ford were the only witnesses invited to testify before the panel of 11 Republicans — all men — and 10 Democrats. But the conservative jurist is facing allegations of sexual misconduct from other women as well, forcing Republican leaders to struggle to keep support for him from eroding.

Before she began, committee chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa defended the Republicans' handling of the confirmation proceedings so far. He also apologized for the harsh treatment — which has included death threats — that both Ford and Kavanaugh have endured.

Ford graphically described her memory of what happened in her opening statements.

She said that her friend group had intersected with Kavanaugh’s for a time early in high school and that they attended the same parties. She said in the summer of 1982, she spent “most every day” at the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland, swimming and practicing diving.

Ford said one evening that summer, she went to a gathering that Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge – as well as two other boys – were in attendance.

“I drank one beer that evening. Brett and Mark were visibly drunk. Early in the evening, I went up a very narrow set of stairs leading from the living room to a second floor to use the restroom. 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,” Ford said. “There was music playing in the bedroom. It was turned up louder by either Brett or Mark 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.”

She claimed Kavanaugh groped her and tried to take off her clothes.

“He had a hard time because he was very inebriated, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit under my clothing. I believed he was going to rape me,” she said.

Ford continued: “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 semed to be having a very good time. Mark seemed ambivalent, at times urging Brett on, and at times 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.”

Ford said Judge came over and jumped on the bed twice, and the second time, they toppled over and Kavanaugh was no longer on top of her.

The committee's top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, told Ford, "I am very grateful to you for your strength and your bravery for coming forward. I know it's hard." She criticized Republicans who have rejected Democratic demands to slow Kavanaugh's confirmation process and let the FBI investigate all the allegations, saying, "What I don't understand is the rush to judgment."

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) was among those involved in questioning Ford. He said Ford was “credible and powerful; she gives new meaning to the word ‘authentic.’”

Kavanaugh and Ford were the only witnesses invited to testify before the panel of 11 Republicans — all men — and 10 Democrats. But the conservative jurist is facing allegations of sexual misconduct from other women as well, forcing Republican leaders to struggle to keep support for him from eroding.

Grassley complained that lawyers for other accusers have not provided information to his panel and said, "The committee can't do an investigation if attorneys are stonewalling."

Read Christine Blasey Ford's Prepared Remarks | Read Brett Kavanaugh's Prepared Remarks

Feinstein expressed empathy for what Ford says she's suffered, telling her, "I know this wasn't easy for you." She also aimed a barb at Republicans who have ignored Democrats demands to slow Kavanaugh's confirmation process and let the FBI investigate all the allegations, saying, "What I don't understand is the rush to judgment."

Ford said her strongest memory of the alleged assault by Kavanaugh was the laughter. She told the committee that "indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter."

She was describing Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, the other teen she said was present as they locked her in a room at a party. The remark came after Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked what her strongest memory was of the incident.

Ford testified that Kavanaugh and Judge "were laughing with each other."

Asked if she has ever forgotten that laughter, she shook her head no.

She described being "underneath one of them" as the two laughed.

“You know, it’s something very human, you know, that she felt that degraded and humiliated and helpless that they were laughing at her, and I think many people were very moved by that,” said CBS News Legal Analyst Thane Rosenbaum.

Ford later said she is "100 percent" certain that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high-school teenagers. She answered in response to Sen. Dick Durbin's question asking what degree of certainty Ford had that it was Kavanaugh.

It was the second time in the televised hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday that Ford asserted that her claim against Kavanaugh was not a case of mistaken identity. Both instances were in response to questions from Democratic senators who were trying to reinforce Ford's credibility as Kavanaugh's accuser.

The prosecutor at the hearing later asked Ford about her fear of flying.

Attorney Rachel Mitchell asked Ford about her anxieties. Ford acknowledged Thursday a discomfort with airplanes but said she was "able to get up the gumption" and fly from California to Washington for the hearing. She said she's also taken planes for vacations.

Asked if other factors in her life could be causing anxiety, Ford said there was "nothing as striking" as the event with Kavanaugh.

Mitchell is a Phoenix prosecutor hired by Republicans to handle questioning for the all-male GOP side of the dais. Every five minutes, Mitchell had to pull away for a Democratic senator to speak, denying Mitchell the possibility of a rhythm for her questioning, Rosenbaum said.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) asked Ford what she thought of Kavanaugh defenders using the concept of "boys will be boys" to explain his behavior.

Ford said that she could only speak to how this experience had affected her, both in the short term and the long term. In the short term, it affected her studies in college. She also said that it had long-term impacts on her anxiety and her relationships.

"The younger you are when these things happen, it can possibly have worse impact than when your brain is fully developed," she said.

Ford further said no one helped write the letter she sent privately to Feinstein outlining her allegation.

Asked Thursday by Mitchell if Ford had any help, Ford answered flatly, "No."

Ford explained how she was weighing whether to come forward about the incident from 35 years ago. She first brought her concerns privately in July to her congresswoman, Anna Eshoo. The California Democrat suggested she write the letter to Feinstein.

Two Republicans on the committee said Ford’s allegations haven't been substantiated.

For South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, "It's not about, 'Do I believe her?'" but whether the sexual assault allegation from when Ford and Kavanaugh were teenagers is corroborated.

He says, "Is his denial any less believable than her allegation?"

Speaking to people outside the hearing room during the break, Graham also threatened that if the nomination goes down, Republicans will gin up accusations against Democrats, claiming Democrats are never accused of and held accountable for sexual assault.

“To my Republican colleagues: If you can ignore everything in this record, looking at an allegation that’s 35 years old, that’s uncertain in time, place, date, and no corroboration. If that’s enough for you, God help us all as Republicans, because this happens to us, it never happens to them,” Graham said. “But let me tell my Democratic friends: If this is the new norm, you’d better watch out for your nominees.”

Former Democratic Sen. Al Franken, however, was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and left the Senate earlier this year over sexual misconduct allegations.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn said "you need more than an accusation for evidence. You need corroboration. That's what's missing here."

Cornyn said Ford is repeating accusations already made in a sworn statement.

Graham said Democrats are trying to delay Kavanaugh's confirmation until after the midterm elections.

But Ford said she doesn't have any political motivation for coming forward with accusations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were teenagers.

When Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii asked Ford about her motive for appearing, Ford said she'd been trying to get the information on the alleged assault to the committee while there was still a list of potential high court nominees.

When it came time for Kavanaugh to begin testifying, he repeated that he had denied the allegations, and accused Democrats of weaponizing them.

“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” he said. “The constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process but you have replaced advice and consent with search and destroy.”

He called the situation a “circus.”

"The consequences will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades," Kavanaugh said. "This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competence in good people of all political persuasions from serving our country."

“I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process,” Kavanaugh said, accusing critics of destroying his good name and family.

He went on, “I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone – not in high school, not in college, not ever.”

Kavanaugh said he was not questioning that Ford was sexually assaulted, but he said he had never attended a gathering like the one Ford described or sexually assaulted anyone himself.

"It is not who I am. It is not who I was," he said. "I am innocent of this charge."

Kavanaugh teared up as he said his 10-year-old daughter, Liza, said, "We should pray for the woman."

Kavanaugh noted that he submitted a calendar from 1982 with the activities for the month that the assault allegedly happened.

Kavanaugh explained that he started keeping the calendars after his father started keeping detailed calendars of his own life in 1978, and at Christmastime, his father would regale the family with old milestones, weddings, and other events from his calendars.

“I’ve kept such calendars, diaries, for the last 38 years,” he said, also choking up as he talked about his father.

Kavanaugh said his calendars were very precise about his activities and who was present at them. He noted that he listed “the precise people who had shown up for certain events.”

He also named several female friends from his time in high school, who he said were behind him at the hearing.

Kavanaugh said he drank beer with his friends in high school, with the drinking age having been 18 in Maryland at the time. He also said he sometimes drank too many beers, and said there were some embarrassing moments in his high school days – such as the yearbook.

Choking up again, he addressed how he and some friends described themselves as “Renate alumni,” but said it the reference had nothing to do with sex.

Kavanaugh also reiterated earlier claims that he was a virgin throughout high school.

“I never had sexual intercourse or anything close to it during high school or many years after that. In some crowds, I was probably a little outwardly shy about my inexperience – tried to hide that; at the same time, I was also inwardly proud of it,” he said.

Kavanaugh said part of the reason for the allegations is anger by some about President Donald Trump and the 2016 election, and out of revenge on "behalf of the Clintons." In the 1990s, Kavanaugh was on the team that investigated President Bill Clinton as part of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's investigation. The report led to Clinton's impeachment, though he was not removed from office.

Kavanaugh said Thursday that the allegations are also the result of money from left-wing opposition groups.

Rosenbaum said Kavanaugh was moving, compelling, and emotional as he needed to be for the situation.

“He was actually extraordinary. He presented himself in very emotional terms; raw, very raw terms. I’ve never seen a federal judge present in such a way as this sort of the man falsely accused; the second coming of Leo Frank and Alfred Dreyfus,” Rosenbaum said. “It literally had that kind of emotional power.”

As questioning began, Leahy asked Kavanaugh if it was true that he made comments about drinking and sexual exploits in his high school yearbook. Kavanaugh accused Leahy of mocking him.

Afterward, before he began questioning Kavanaugh, Durbin asked Kavanaugh to ask White House counsel Don McGahn to suspend the hearing and conduct an FBI investigation. Grassley interrupted before Kavanaugh could answer and said the committee, and no one else, was running the hearing and it would not be suspended.

But Graham again accused Democrats of sabotaging Kavanaugh for political reasons.

“What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hope this seat open, and hope you win in 2020,” he said.

Graham’s line of questioning largely amounted to a full-throated defense.

“This is not a job interview,” Graham said. “This is going to destroy the ability of good people to come forward because of this crap! A high school yearbook! You have interacted with professional women all your life – not one accusation! You’re supposed to be Bill Cosby when you’re a junior and senior in high school and then all of a sudden got over it!”

He also warned Republicans that they should vote yes.

“If you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I’ve seen in politics,” he said. To Kavanaugh, he added: “You want this seat? I hope you never get it. I hope you’re on the Supreme Court. That’s exactly where you should be.”

Cornyn also defended Kavanaugh, saying, “I can’t think of a more embarrassing scandal for the United States Senate since the McCarthy hearings.”

He said that in order to vote against Kavanaugh’s nomination, the senators would have to be concluding that Kavanaugh was guilty of multiple crimes.

Meanwhile, Sen. Sheldon White House (D-Rhode Island) examined some of what was written in Kavanaugh’s yearbook. Kavanaugh said the word “boofed,” as it appeared in the yearbook, was more innocent than some have claimed – though somewhat juvenile.

“That refers to flatulence,” he said. “We were 16.”

Kavanaugh also said “Devil’s Triangle” – which also appears in the yearbook – was a drinking game.

Of seven F’s in the Fourth of July, he said one of his friends in high school had a “wind-up” when saying the F-word.

Kavanaugh has apologized after tangling with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) over his drinking in high school.

Klobuchar asked Kavanaugh about his drinking habits, saying he wrote in testimony that he sometimes had too many drinks. Klobuchar asked whether he ever drank so much that he couldn't remember what happened or part of what happened the night before. Kavanaugh answered "no."

In a back-and-forth, he added, "Have you?" and followed up a second time.

Klobuchar said: "I have no drinking problem, Judge." Kavanaugh responded: "Nor do I."

After returning from a break, he apologized for asking her that question.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) asked Kavanaugh if he wished Ford had never come forward. Kavanuagh replied, “Senator, I did not do this."

"That's not my question sir,” Booker said. “Would you try to answer my question, sir? Do you wish she never came forward?"

Kavanaugh said, "The witnesses who were there say it didn't happen."

Republicans have derided Ford's allegation as part of a smear campaign and a Democratic plot to sink Kavanaugh's nomination. But after more allegations have emerged, some GOP senators have allowed that much is riding on his performance. Even President Trump, who nominated Kavanaugh and fiercely defends him, said he was "open to changing my mind."

"I want to watch, I want to see," he said at a news conference Wednesday in New York.

But after the hearing, Trump said on Twitter Kavanaugh had been victimized by a "search and destroy" operation by the Democrats.

Blumenthal told WCBS 880 earlier that the issue was Kavanaugh's about his credibility.

“One of the central issues here is his credibility. He has made statements that are plainly contradicted by the facts and other evidence. He’s refused to call for an FBI investigation as Dr. Blasey Ford has; declined to ask for other witnesses or take a polygraph test,” Blumenthal said. “The question is whether his credibility is intact, and he was evasive and seemingly misleading at his testimony at his previous hearing.”

But when Blumenthal did begin the questioning and addressed credibility, Kavanaugh said, “The core of why we’re here is an allegation for which all four witnesses present says it didn’t happen.”

Blumenthal further said there should be an investigation and the committee vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation should not happen on Friday as planned.

As to whether he wants an FBI probe himself, Kavanaugh said, “Whatever the committee decides, I’m all in.”

Defense lawyer Joey Jackson said the testimony as a whole was proof that we are living in “incredible and we are absolutely in historic times.” He said Ford came off as thoughtful and credible, while Judge Kavanaugh came out swinging.

But Jackson said he was concerned about Kavanaugh’s combativeness during questioning.

Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge who has long been eyed for the Supreme Court, has repeatedly denied all the allegations against him, saying he'd never heard of the latest accuser and calling her accusations "ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone."

His teetering grasp on winning confirmation was evident when Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) expressed concern, in a private meeting with senators Wednesday, about the third accuser, according to a person with knowledge of the gathering. Republicans control the Senate 51-49 and can lose only one vote for Kavanaugh to prevail if all Democrats vote "no." 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 new accusations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh and Judge.

At the hearing, he called the Swetnick allegation a “joke” and a “farce.”

Collins said senators should hear from Judge. After being told Judge has said he doesn't want to appear before the committee, Collins reminded her colleagues that the Senate has subpoena power, according to a person who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The hearing was the first time the country saw the 51-year-old Ford beyond the grainy photo that has been flashed on television in the 10 days since she came forward with her contention.

"It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court," she was to tell the senators. "My responsibility is to tell the truth."

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's ascendance to the high court could help lock in a conservative majority for a generation, shaping dozens of rulings on abortion, regulation, the environment and more.

Republicans also risk rejection by female voters in November if they are seen as not fully respecting women and their allegations.

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." Her attorney, Michael Avenatti, who also represents a porn actress who is suing Trump, provided her sworn declaration to the Judiciary panel.

Meanwhile, the lawyer for Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they attended Yale University, raised her profile in a round of television interviews.

Moments before committee chairman Grassley gaveled his panel into session, Ramirez tweeted her support for Ford: "They want us to feel alone and isolated but I'm there wrapping my arms around you and I hope you feel the people of this nation wrapping their arms around all of us."

Republicans largely expressed confidence in Kavanaugh, emerging from a closed-door lunch with Vice President Mike Pence Wednesday to say the nominee remained on track for confirmation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has said all week that Republicans will turn to a committee vote on Kavanaugh after the hearing. They hope for a roll call by the full Senate early next week with the aim of getting him on the court as its new term begins.

Yet Collins' unease was not the only suggestions of creeping doubt among Republicans. Asked whether there were signs of Republicans wavering in their support of Kavanaugh in their lunch, Sen. John Thune, the third-ranking Republican, paused briefly before saying "no."

Democratic questioners included two senators widely seen as potential presidential candidates in 2020: Booker and Kamala Harris of California, who also aggressively challenged Kavanaugh during the judge's earlier confirmation hearing.

Kavanaugh is being challenged on multiple fronts by his accusers, former classmates and college friends. They say the good-guy image he projects in public bears little relation to the hard-partying behavior they witnessed when he was young.

In his prepared testimony, the 53-year-old appellate judge acknowledges drinking in high school with his friends, but says he's never done anything "remotely resembling" what Ford describes. He said he has never had a "sexual or physical encounter of any kind" with her.

He also provided the committee with detailed calendar pages listing in green-and-white squares the activities that filled his summer of 1982 when he was 17 years old — exams, movies, sports and plenty of parties. That's the year when Ford says she believes the assault occurred.

Nothing on the calendar appears to refer to her.

Ford released sworn statements from people who said she had told them about the assault in later years.

Late Wednesday, the committee released a flurry of other documents of unclear significance.

Transcripts of private interviews with committee investigators show they asked Kavanaugh about two previously undisclosed accusations received by Senate offices. One came in an anonymous letter sent to the office of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), describing an incident in a bar in 1998, when Kavanaugh was working for the independent counsel investigating President Bill Clinton. The other accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in college. Kavanaugh denied them both.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)