For the first time since her allegations against Brett Kavanaugh became public, Christine Blasey Ford told her story in raw, detailed, sometimes emotional testimony Thursday in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
After sitting through opening statements, including a clear attempt by committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to raise doubts about Democrats’ handling of her claims, Ford began, her voice intermittently shaking, as she described the events that led to her sitting in front of a panel of senators in the most anticipated Supreme Court hearing in decades.
“I am here today not because I want to be,” she said, her voice trembling. “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.”
Describing Kavanaugh as “the boy who sexually assaulted me,” Ford recounted vivid details: how she was pushed from behind into a second-floor bedroom, how Kavanaugh jumped on her and began to grope her through her clothes—a one-piece bathing suit—and how Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s friend, stood by, alternating between egging him on and telling him to stop. Both boys, she said in one of the morning’s more raw moments, were drunkenly laughing.
“I believed he was going to rape me,” she said, tearing up as she recalled the alleged incident.
At one point, Ford relayed that she tried to scream, and that Kavanaugh, who denies the allegations, clapped his hand over her mouth.
“This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life,” she said. “It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.”
For 18 minutes Ford read through her opening statement, finishing with a request for “caffeine” which was quickly delivered by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who left the dais with tears still in his eyes after hearing Ford’s statement. Other members of the audience, including actress Alyssa Milano and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), were wiping away tears, too, after listening to Ford’s words.
Republican senators, who until Thursday remained determined to press forward with a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination scheduled for Friday morning, entered the hearing room in a single-file line. Many sat stone-faced throughout Ford’s testimony, often leaning forward as she described some of the more harrowing details of her alleged assault. Among senators, all eyes were fixated on Ford. Democrats often glanced over to their Republican counterparts to survey their reactions.
When it was their turn to speak, Grassley and the entire Republican dais ceded their time to Rachel Mitchell, the outside counsel hired by Republicans to avoid the potentially poor optics of a panel of all male GOP senators questioning an alleged victim of sexual assault. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) chided Republicans for deferring to Mitchell, whom she said was trying to “undermine the memory and the credibility of Dr. Ford.”
Mitchell began by reviewing Ford’s story, asking detailed questions about specific aspects of her allegations, including the polygraph test that found her account to be truthful. Democrats used their time differently. They attempted to draw out details of the alleged assault and to discredit a theory floated by Republicans that Ford simply was misremembering the individual who assaulted her.
“How are you so sure that it was [Kavanaugh]?” Feinstein asked.
“The same way that I’m sure that I’m talking to you right now,” Ford said. “Basic memory functions.”
Feinstein then asked, “So what you are telling us is this could not be a case of mistaken identity?”
“Absolutely not,” Ford replied.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), speaking a few moments later, asked Ford to recount her strongest memory of the alleged attack.
“The uproarious laughter between the two,” she said, casting her eyes downward briefly. “They're having fun at my expense.”
During breaks in the testimony, Republicans mostly demurred when asked if they found Ford’s testimony to be credible. It was too early to make a determination, most said. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a member of the committee and its former chairman, said Ford was a “good witness,” “articulate,” and not “un-credible.”
For Ford, there were a few stumbles. At one point, she appeared uncertain in her response to questions about why she couldn’t attend a hearing on Monday due to her fear of flying, yet was able to fly for business and personal reasons. She explained that she had hoped committee staffers would come to her in California but then thought that was an “unrealistic request.” The committee had offered to send its investigators to California to interview her under oath.
“[T]hat was certainly what I was hoping, was to avoid having to get on an airplane, but I eventually was able to get up the gumption with the help of some friends and get on the plane,” she said.
But for the most part, it was Kavanaugh’s defenders who were left bewildered at the outset, predominantly over why Mitchell had spent so much time questioning Ford about aspects of her story that didn’t relate directly to the alleged assault. Mitchell, an accomplished prosecutor with a long record of handling sexual-assault cases, appeared herself to be frustrated with the process which limited her detailed inquiries to five-minute snippets, as requested by Ford’s lawyers. As a result, there were seemingly unrelated paths of questioning that, near the end of the hearing, were repeatedly batted down by Ford’s attorneys.
After asking questions about who had covered the cost of Ford’s legal bills and polygraph test, Ford’s lawyers Michael Bromwich and Debra Katz took turns pulling the microphone toward themselves to diffuse any possible conspiracy theories.
“Let’s end this mystery,” said Katz, “her counsel paid for the polygraph.”
Democrats seemed more than pleased with the ultimate outcome and were confident that Ford had come off as a credible witness. Republicans were less pleased with how Democrats had handled the initial allegation.
“I’m really upset that they knew about this in August and never told anybody,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who was notably upset in the hallway outside the hearing room. “All I can say is that we’re 40-something days until the election and their goal, not Ms. Ford’s goal, is to delay this past the midterms so they can win the Senate and never allow Trump to fill this seat. I believe that now more than ever.”
Minutes before, Mitchell had asked Ford her final set of questions. And she used her allotted five minutes to explain why the format was not ideal for addressing the charges at hand.
“Would you believe me if I told you there’s no study that shows that this setting in five-minute increments is the best way to [interview alleged victims of trauma]?” Mitchell asked.
“We’ll stipulate that,” Bromwich responded as Ford laughed.