Her voice crackling with emotion, Christine Blasey Ford told senators Thursday she’s “100 percent” certain she was sexually assaulted 36 years ago by Brett Kavanaugh, and to this day is traumatized by remembering his drunken laughter as he stifled her cries for help.
Judge Kavanaugh told senators hours later that he, too, was “100 percent certain” he’d never done that, nor any of the other sexual misconduct accusations that have been thrown at him over the last two weeks.
“I have not questioned that she might have been sexually assaulted at some point in her life by someone, some place, but as to me, I’ve never done this. Never done this to her or to anyone else,” he said.
“I swear to God,” he added.
After nearly nine hours of testimony from both accuser and accused, 21 senators on the Judiciary Committee will now render a first judgment Friday on whether to advance his nomination to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court.
GOP aides said that will be followed by a first test vote on the Senate floor Saturday, followed several days later by a confirmation vote.
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Asked if they had enough Republicans on board, Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “I think so.”
There was little sense that minds were changed Thursday, with Democrats emerging from the hearing to say they continued to believe her and Republicans saying she was compelling but her case has been undercut by the very witnesses she says were present.
“There’s likely to be as much doubt as certainty going out of this room today,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who had said he entered the committee room with his mind still not made up.
The hearing was a continuation of four days of testimony the committee heard earlier this month, including more than 30 hours of questions and answers with Judge Kavanaugh. While Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the panel’s top Democrat, was aware of Ms. Blasey Ford’s allegations at the time, she didn’t raise them then, only going public a week later, just as the committee was preparing to vote.
The vote was delayed while the committee negotiated terms with Ms. Blasey Ford. She refused to speak to committee investigators — Judge Kavanaugh did so on multiple occasions — and rejected GOP scheduling suggestions, finally agreeing to Thursday.
For the most part, she confirmed the account she told to reporters earlier this month, though the details she added were powerful. Seared in her brain, she said, were Judge Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, “drunkenly laughing during the attack.” After she escaped their clutches, she said, she heard them “laughing and loudly walk down the narrow stairs, pin-balling off the walls on the way down.”
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But she apologized for not remembering when, where, or exactly who was at the party where she says the assault took place.
“I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t remember as much as I would like to,” she said. “But the details about that night that bring me here today are ones I will never forget. They have been seared into my memory and have haunted me episodically as an adult.”
Republicans had a sex-crimes prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, ask their questions, and she prodded Ms. Blasey Ford on her memory of the night. Democrats did their own questioning, tapping into Ms. Blasey Ford’s emotions and saying the gaps in her memory are understandable.
“A trauma survivor cannot be expected to remember every painful detail,” said Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.
He asked her what the chance was that it was Judge Kavanaugh and not someone else who assaulted her. “One hundred percent,” she said.
Committee staffers have interviewed two other men who came forward privately to claim they may have been the ones involved in the encounter in question. Neither of those was mentioned directly during the hearing, but Ms. Blasey Ford said there was no question in her mind it was Judge Kavanaugh.
“So, what you’re telling us is this could not be a case of mistaken identity?” Mr. Durbin asked.
“Absolutely not,” Ms. Blasey Ford said.
At times it had seemed she would choke up during her testimony. Instead, it was Judge Kavanaugh who did so, repeatedly pausing to collect himself, sipping glass after glass of water as he struggled to contain his indignation and anger at accusations he says have “permanently destroyed” his family name.
“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” he said.
He didn’t question that Ms. Blasey Ford may have been assaulted by someone, but said it wasn’t him.
Where Ms. Blasey Ford compelled with conviction, he offered facts. He went through the calendars he scrupulously kept in high school, saying there was no time when the encounter could have occurred. He pointed to the other people Ms. Blasey Ford has said were at the party, each of whom has “refuted” her account.
And he said his decades of work promoting women in law and winning sterling reviews from female students who’ve taken his classes and lawyers who’ve practiced before him show who he is. He said if confirmed to the court, he will be the first to have an all-female class of clerks.
He also broke into tears recalling praying this week with his 10-year-old daughter, who suggested they should say a prayer for Ms. Blasey Ford.
Committee Democrats said they didn’t have doubts that Ms. Blasey Ford was truthful and Judge Kavanaugh was lying. But they said one way to get more clarity would be to ask the FBI to investigate.
“If our Republican colleagues are so certain of Judge Kavanaugh’s story, they should immediately demand that the White House order the FBI to reopen the background investigation, and hold off on a vote for several days so all the facts can come out,” said Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Judge Kavanaugh was repeatedly asked to endorse that plan. At first he seemed evasive, insisting the committee probe was enough. But by the end of the hearing, he said he would do whatever the committee wanted.
Senate Republicans have rebuffed the FBI idea, though, saying it would mean more delays but no more clarity.
On Thursday, Republicans pointed to no less than former Democratic Sen. Joseph R. Biden, who, when running the hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, dismissed the value of an FBI background probe.
“I think it’s time to vote,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, Texas Republican.