Senate hears 8 hours of Kavanaugh, Ford testimony

Lisa Mascaro, Alan Fram and Laurie Kellman
Associated Press

Washington – The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing featuring Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and a woman accusing him of sexual assault when they were teenagers has adjourned after more than eight hours.

Emotionally battling to rescue his nomination, Kavanaugh on Thursday denied allegations that he’d sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when both were high school students and told Congress the accusations and biting criticism by Democrats had “totally and permanently destroyed” his family and reputation.

Sometimes showing anger, other times fighting back tears, the conservative jurist launched a bristling attack on the “national disgrace” of his treatment by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Referring to the Constitution’s charge to senators in confirming high officials, he said, “You have replaced ‘advice and consent’ with ‘search and destroy.”

He vowed to continue his effort to join the high court, to which President Donald Trump nominated him in July. Now a judge in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, he seemed assured of confirmation until Ford and several other accusers emerged in recent weeks. He has denied all of the accusations, but it remained unclear how the dramatic testimony by Ford and Kavanaugh would affect his prospects.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC.

“You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit, never,” he said.

Shortly before, Ford had told the same senators that she was “100 percent” certain a drunken young Kavanaugh was the one who 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. A Kavanaugh friend stood by and they both laughed uproariously during the incident, she testified.

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 for the committee’s all-male GOP senators, seemed to elicit no significant inconsistencies in her testimony.

Both Kavanaugh and Ford testified under sworn oath.

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.

Kavanaugh called certain allegations against him a “joke” and a “farce.”

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018.

Kavanaugh was referring specifically to allegations by Julie Swetnick, whose name and allegations became public Wednesday, a day before the hearings. Swetnick said in a sworn statement that she witnessed Kavanaugh “consistently engage in excessive drinking and inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with women in the early 1980s.”

Kavanaugh was responding to questions from Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein when he said: “The Swetnick thing is a joke, that’s a farce.”

Feinstein asked Kavanaugh if he wanted to say more about Swetnick’s allegations. Kavanaugh responded: “No.”

In a heated exchange with a Democratic senator, Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh also dismissed the scrutiny of his high school yearbook as an “absurdity.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked Kavanaugh about his yearbook and the “drinking” and “sexual exploits” it mentions. As Kavanaugh started to respond, Leahy tried to cut him off.

Kavanaugh retorted, “I’m going to talk about my high school record if you’re going to sit here and mock me.”

After Kavanaugh talked about how he “busted his butt” on academics and played sports in high school, Leahy said: “We got a filibuster but not a single answer.”

Kavanaugh also took time to apologize after he tangled with Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar over his drinking in high school.

The senator from Minnesota said Kavanaugh 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.

The mood was intense as Kavanaugh’s voice filled the room for the extraordinary session, unlike Ford’s quiet testimony. 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.

In an election-season battle being waged along a polarized nation’s political and cultural fault lines, Trump and most Republicans have rallied behind Kavanaugh, whose confirmation would provide a chance to cement the conservative majority of the court for a generation.

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh takes the oath before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Republicans have accused Ford and the other women of making unproven allegations and have questioned why they’d not publicly revealed them for decades.

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.

During a break in the hearing, some of Kavanaugh’s strongest supporters 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.

But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of Ford, “She’s a good witness. She’s articulate, an attractive person.”

Ford's testimony

Ford finished her testimony Thursday afternoon, about four hours after the hearing began. Ford alleges that one night in the summer of 1982, a drunken Kavanaugh forced her down on a bed, groped her and tried to take off her clothes. She said she was ultimately able to escape.

Ford showed no hesitancy in affirming the crucial question about the alleged attack, telling senators her certainty that Kavanaugh was responsible was “100 percent.”

Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018.

Ford declared Thursday that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her as he and a friend shared “uproarious laughter” in a locked room at a 1980s high school gathering, recounting her allegations to the Senate Judiciary Committee and a riveted nation in a drama that threatens to derail Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.

Her account, delivered in a soft and sometimes-halting voice, came as the Judiciary panel began an extraordinary session that Republicans hope will let them salvage Kavanaugh’s chances of joining the high court. She showed no hesitancy in affirming the crucial question about the alleged incident, telling senators her certainty that Kavanaugh was her attacker was “100 percent.”

The conservative jurist’s Senate confirmation had seemed assured until Ford came forward and then other women emerged with additional allegations of sexual misconduct. Kavanaugh, now 53, has denied them all and awaited his own chance to testify later Thursday. It has become less clear that Republican leaders will be able to hold GOP senators behind President Donald Trump’s nominee.

Kavanaugh said near the end of the hearing that he didn’t watch Ford testify.

Kavanaugh responded: “I plan to, but I did not. I was preparing mine.”

In an election-season battle that’s being waged along a polarized nation’s political and cultural fault lines, Trump and most Republicans have rallied behind Kavanaugh. They’ve accused Ford and the other women of making unproven allegations and have questioned why they’d not publicly revealed them for decades.

But with televisions across the nation tuned to the hearing – senators among those riveted to their screens – it was unclear how lawmakers who will ultimately decide Kavanaugh’s fate will assess Ford’s credibility.

Ford resumed her testimony Thursday afternoon, saying her accusation against Kavanaugh not politically motivated.

Ford has said Kavanaugh trapped her on a bed and tried undressing her, grinding his body against her and muffling her cries with her hand. “I believed he was going to rape me,” she said in her opening statement.

Democrats have rallied strongly behind Ford.

Asked by 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.”

The 51-year-old 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.

Ford has said Kavanaugh friend Mark Judge was also in the room. Judge has said he doesn’t remember the incident and has declined to appear before the panel.

Phoenix prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, ask questions to Christine Blasey Ford at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Ford told Feinstein, that she’d “agonized daily” over coming forward about the alleged decades-old attack. She said she feared the personal consequences would be akin to “jumping in front of a train.”

In fact, both she and Kavanaugh have received death threats.

When Feinstein asked her 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 Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that her certainty was “100 percent.”

The Judiciary panel’s 11 Republicans – all men – let Rachel Mitchell, a veteran sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona, asked their questions. She began by expressing sympathy for Ford, who’d said she was “terrified” to testify, saying, “I just wanted to let you know, I’m very sorry. That’s not right.”

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.

Ford says no one helped write the letter she sent privately to Feinstein outlining her sexual assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh.

Asked Thursday by attorney Mitchell if she'd had help, Ford answered flatly, “No.”

Ford explained how she was weighing whether to come forward about the incident from 35 years ago. Kavanaugh denies assaulting her when they were teens.

In addition, her two attorneys said they’re working for her pro bono.

Debra Katz and Michael Bromwich said Thursday they’re not being paid to represent Ford.

Ford was pressed by attorney Rachel Mitchell if anyone was helping with her legal fees.

Ford said she understood a GoFundMe campaign was started to help her cover the costs of telling her story. She says friends were also helping pay for security for her and her family.

Bromwich said he had “no expectation of being paid.” Katz said similar.

Ford said Katz was recommended by the office of the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

Political divide

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand blasted Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee for failing to call additional witnesses to testify about allegations by Ford.

The New York senator said Thursday that it is “an outrage” that Republicans did not force Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge to testify under oath. Ford says Judge was present when Kavanaugh attacked her.

Gillibrand says the hearing “has been unfair” to Ford, noting that Republicans assigned a female prosecutor to question her on their behalf, even though Ford “is not on trial.”

Gillibrand said the message Republicans are sending to sexual assault survivors is, “We don’t believe you, your voice doesn’t matter and we don’t value you.”

Judge's memoir appears to support one aspect of Ford’s account of the summer of 1982.

Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday that she ran into Judge at the Potomac Village Safeway where he worked six to eight weeks after she says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while Judge watched. Ford said Judge was arranging shopping carts and seemed “nervous” to see her.

Judge wrote in his book “Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk” that he worked at the local supermarket the summer before his senior year, which would have been 1982. Judge says he worked there to raise money for football camp.

Ford has been criticized for saying she could not remember the precise date of her alleged assault.

Ford first brought her concerns privately in July to her congresswoman, Anna Eshoo. The California Democrat suggested she write the letter to Feinstein.

Ford described a “fairly brief” phone call with Feinstein once the senator had received the letter.

For says she started interviewing lawyers because the few other people she had told said she would need one.

Before Ford began, committee chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa defended the Republicans’ handling of the confirmation proceedings so far. Feinstein 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.”

Read: Ford's full prepared testimony 

Read: Kavanaugh's full prepared testimony

Kavanaugh and Ford were the only witnesses invited to testify before the panel. 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.”

Republicans acknowledged that much was riding on Kavanaugh’s performance. Even Trump, who fiercely defends his nominee, said he would be watching and was “open to changing my mind.”

Kavanaugh’s teetering grasp on winning confirmation was evident when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, expressed concern, in a private meeting with senators Wednesday, about a new, third accuser, according to a person with knowledge of the gathering. Republicans control the Senate 51-49 and can lose only one vote. 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 Mark Judge.

Collins said senators should hear from Judge. After being told Judge has said he doesn’t want to appear before the committee, she reminded her colleagues that the Senate has subpoena power.

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.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) (R) delivers an opening statement before hearing from Christine Blasey Ford during a hearing with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC.

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.”

Ford told the committee that, one night in the summer of 1982, a drunken Kavanaugh forced her down on a bed, “groped me and tried to take off my clothes,” then clamped his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream before she was able to escape.

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, he acknowledged drinking in high school with his friends, but said he’d never done anything “remotely resembling” what Ford describes. He said he never had a “sexual or physical encounter of any kind” with her.

In this Sept. 5, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh listens to a question while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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-Colo., 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.