Christine Blasey Ford said she is "one hundred percent" certain that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the person who sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, and she told a Senate committee that he and his friend laughed at her expense during the attack.
"With what degree of certainty do you believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?" Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois asked Ford during a Senate hearing that could determine whether the nominee is confirmed to the high court.
"One hundred percent," she responded.
Ford also told a nationally televised Judiciary Committee hearing her accusation was "absolutely not" a case of mistaken identity. She said the 1982 incident was "seared into my memory," even though she doesn’t remember all the details. Kavanaugh, who will testify later, has strongly denied this and other allegations of sexual misconduct.
The hearing was the first time the American public saw the person whose accusations had dominated the headlines for weeks, having only seen her before mostly in a single grainy photo in which she was wearing sunglasses. Her nerves were evident, and her voice cracked during her testimony.
President Donald Trump was watching the hearing from Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said. He hasn’t talked to Kavanaugh in a couple of days, she said.
The California psychology professor said the incident has "haunted me episodically as an adult." She said she was "terrified" to testify before the committee and that she she "agonized daily" about whether to come forward with her claim.
Ford said Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, was in the room during the attack and that the two were laughing at her. She said she had an "indelible" memory of "the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal brought Ford to tears when he thanked her for coming forward.
"If we agree on nothing else today, I hope on a bipartisan basis we can agree on how much courage it has taken for you to come forward, and I think you have earned America’s gratitude," Blumenthal said.
Ford silently mouthed, "thank you."
During a break, GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch told reporters that Ford was a "an attractive, good witness" but that it was too early to make a judgment. "I don’t think she’s uncredible."
Hatch said he still expects the Judiciary panel to vote on Kavanaugh Friday and expects him to be voted out favorably.
Questioning of Ford proceeded in five-minute chunks with a lawyer hired by Republicans, Rachel Mitchell, alternating with Democratic members of the panel and Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley enforcing the time limits.
Mitchell asked Ford about the atmosphere at the home before the alleged attack. "I can sketch a floor plan," Ford said, adding that the event was more of a gathering than a party.
Grassley of Iowa called for a "safe, comfortable and dignified" proceeding as the panel opened a historic hearing that promises to shape the Supreme Court’s future and redefine the "Me Too" era.
Kavanaugh said in his prepared statement that he doesn’t question that Ford may have been sexually assaulted by someone, but strongly denied that he was the attacker.
"I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation against me by Dr. Ford," Kavanaugh said. "I have never done that to her or anyone. I am innocent of this charge."
Ford said that though they went to different high schools, she had been friendly with a classmate of Kavanaugh’s and attended a number of parties that the future judge also attended.
"We did not know each other well, but I knew him and he knew me," Ford said. She said that her husband remembers that she gave Kavanaugh’s name when the couple discussed the attack in family therapy in 2012.
She said the attack occurred after she went upstairs to use the bathroom. She said she was pushed into a bedroom and onto a bed and that Kavanaugh got on top of her. Judge was in the room and encouraged the attack, she said.
"I believed he was going to rape me," Ford said. Kavanaugh put his hand on her mouth to keep her from screaming, she said, and because it was hard for her to breathe, "I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me." She said Judge, who has denied any part in such an attack, jumped on them and she was able to escape.
Asked what she remembers from that night, Ford responded: "The stairwell, the living room, the bedroom, the bed on the right side of the room as you walk into the room — there was a bed to the right — the bathroom in close proximity, the laughter — the uproarious laughter — and the multiple attempts to escape and the final ability to do so."
Under questioning from Mitchell, Ford said she didn’t know how she got home that night. She said the party took place "somewhere between" her home and the Columbia Country Club, about seven miles away. The Washington Post previously reported she told the paper the party took place near the country club.
"Has anyone come forward to say to you, ‘Hey, remember, I was the one that drove you home’?" Mitchell asked.
"No," Ford responded. She said she didn’t have her driver’s license at the time.
In his opening statement, Grassley said, "I want to apologize to you both for the way you’ve been treated," referring to threats made against Ford and Kavanaugh after her allegation became public.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein thanked Ford for her "strength and bravery in coming forward." The California senator said 60 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, and when women do report them, 'too often, women’s memories and credibility are put under assault.'"
"This is not a trial for Dr. Ford," Feinstein said. "It’s a job interview for Judge Kavanaugh."
Feinstein said the issue is "a real question of character for someone who is asking for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court," and noted that two other accusers came forward in the last several days.
Kavanaugh is trying to save a Supreme Court nomination that has become besieged by accusations of decades-old sexual misconduct. He has strongly denied all the allegations against him. Grassley lamented that the accusation surfaced after his panel held almost a week of confirmation hearings, while Feinstein accused the GOP of a rush to judgment and complained about a lack of other witnesses.
Ford said Kavanaugh tried to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth so she couldn’t scream. She is one of the three identified women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct but the only one who will testify Thursday.
Republicans are trying to get Kavanaugh, 53, confirmed as early as next week. The Judiciary panel has scheduled a vote for Friday, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been preparing colleagues for a weekend session that would allow a final vote in a matter of days.
Trump said Wednesday the allegations are "all false to me" but added that he could be persuaded otherwise by Thursday’s testimony. The committee’s 10 Democrats are calling on Trump to either withdraw the nomination or order the FBI to do a thorough investigation of the allegations.
A second woman, Deborah Ramirez of Colorado, claims Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken party when they were freshmen at Yale University. And in the most lurid allegation yet, Julie Swetnick of Washington said in a sworn statement released Wednesday that Kavanaugh took part in efforts during high school to get girls intoxicated so that a group of boys could have sex with them.
In a transcript of an interview with Senate investigators released Wednesday night, Kavanaugh said Ramirez’s allegation "sounds like an orchestrated hit to take me out." He rejected Swetnick’s claim in a statement Wednesday as "ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone."
Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage in the Senate and can’t afford more than one defection to ensure confirmation without Democratic support.
Several GOP lawmakers who remain publicly undecided — most notably Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Maine’s Susan Collins and Arizona’s Jeff Flake — said they want to hear what Ford has to say before making up their minds. Flake sits on the Judiciary Committee and will have a chance to question Ford and Kavanaugh.
Ford testified first, giving an opening statement before questions by senators and by Mitchell, hired by the panel’s 11 all-male Republicans to handle their questioning. Then Kavanaugh will do the same.
Capitol police imposed strict security measures to keep protesters at bay after about 70 people were arrested each day during Kavanaugh’s earlier hearing. At Ford’s request, the hearing is being held in a smaller room with less space for media and the public. Protesters are being kept off that floor of the office building. Among those attending was actress Alyssa Milano, an activist in the "Me Too" movement.
Seating Kavanaugh on the nation’s top court — or not seating him — could affect the fight for control of Congress in the Nov. 6 election. Republicans are looking for Kavanaugh to cement a conservative majority on the court, while Democrats say he could provide the fifth vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
According to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Wednesday, 59 percent of Americans think that if Ford’s accusation is true, Kavanaugh shouldn’t be confirmed. The poll found that 32 percent of the people who responded believe Ford, 26 percent believe Kavanaugh and 42 percent are unsure whom to believe.
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