A visibly angry and emotional Brett Kavanaugh adamantly denied the accusations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, telling senators Thursday his name has been “totally and permanently destroyed by vicious and false additional accusations” while blasting the process as a “national disgrace” and a “circus.”
“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” the Supreme Court nominee told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing on the accusations against him. “The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process. But you have replaced advise and consent with search and destroy.”
Earlier in the same hearing room, Ford appeared in public for the first time to testify on her allegations against Kavanaugh and told lawmakers in no uncertain terms that the Supreme Court nominee “sexually assaulted me” and insisted she is not mistaking him for another person.
“Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life,” Ford told the committee.
Kavanaugh told senators he has “categorically and unequivocally” denied the allegations since they first aired. Since then, he said, “my family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed by vicious and false additional accusations.”
During Thursday’s hearing, Kavanaugh abandoned his previously released opening statement to recite a more forceful rebuttal. He grew emotional throughout during his opening statement, including recounting how his 10-year-old daughter said of Ford, “we should pray for the woman.”
Kavanaugh insisted the allegations aren’t true, and said, “I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone.” He added, “I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process.”
Kavanaugh rebutted a number of claims from Ford, who said he attempted to rape her at a party in 1982: Kavanaugh said he didn’t run in the same crowd as Ford; he referenced that the others listed as being at the party now say they don’t remember it; he pointed out how Ford doesn’t remember where the party or how she got there; and he said his personal calendars from the time don’t indicate he attended a party like the one described.
“I’m not questioning that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in someplace at some time,” he said. “But I have never done this to her or to anyone. That’s not who I am, it is not who I was. I am innocent of this charge.”
Throughout her testimony, Ford choked up at times but voiced confidence, under sustained questioning, that the judge attacked her.
“So what you are telling us is that this could not be a case of mistaken identity?” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked.
“Absolutely not,” Ford replied. She added she’s “100 percent” certain it was Kavanaugh who attacked her.
As her testimony was winding down, Ford was pressed by questioner Rachel Mitchell about how the four people named by Ford as being at the party have said they have no memory of the event. She dismissed the significance of that, saying “nothing remarkable happened” to two of them that evening; the other two are the ones being accused.
And in a striking moment, Ford said the one female there, her friend Leland Ingham, has “significant health challenges” and is getting treatment. Ford said Ingham texted her an apology following her statement claiming no recollection of the party, while saying she wouldn’t expect her to remember the incident since she was downstairs.
The partisan divide over the allegations was on full display, with Democrats assuring Ford they support her. “I want to thank you for your courage and I want to tell you I believe you,” California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris told Ford during the hearing.
Republicans still expressed skepticism about the allegations but did not criticize Ford herself. Texas Sen. John Cornyn said after her testimony he found no reason “to find her not credible” but said “there are obviously gaps in her story.”
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he wasn’t convinced. “I did not find her allegations to be corroborated against Mr. Kavanaugh,” Graham said. “I don’t doubt that something happened to her, but she can’t say the house, the city, the month of the year.”
In her opening remarks, Ford choked up as she described growing up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and hanging out with boys from different schools in the area, including Kavanaugh, “the boy who sexually assaulted me.”
An emotional Ford described how a drunk Kavanaugh tried to rape her in the 1980s at a high school party. She told senators that she “thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.” Ford said she was able to run away.
On Thursday, Ford said she was “terrified” to detail her accusations but felt it’s her “civic duty.”
“I believed he was going to rape me,” Ford said.
She said Kavanaugh tried to rape her, while a friend, Mark Judge, was present. Ford said the strongest memory she has of the event is the “uproarious laughter between the two. And they’re having fun at my expense.”
Thursday’s hearing comes after days of negotiations between Senate Republicans and Ford’s attorneys – and amid more lurid last-minute allegations from other women who have accused Kavanaugh of improper sexual behavior in high school and college.
Kavanaugh has emphatically denied all the allegations. Kavanaugh, in his prepared testimony released ahead of Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, is expected to say, “the truth is that I have never sexually assaulted anyone – not in high school, not in college, not ever.”
The stakes for Kavanaugh could not be higher: Key swing-vote senators have said Thursday’s hearing presents a pivotal opportunity to assess Ford’s credibility and determine whether to advance Kavanaugh to the nation’s highest court.
Republicans retained Mitchell, an experienced sex-crimes prosecutor, to handle some of their questioning, hoping it would help avoid an overtly political atmosphere.
Republicans, through Mitchell, questioned Ford on apparent discrepancies or holes in the story.
In one curious exchange, Ford acknowledged she didn’t personally pay for the polygraph examination she took in August, and said she doesn’t know who did. Later in the hearing, her attorney Debra Katz said Ford’s “lawyers have paid for her polygraph.”
Another Ford attorney, Michael Bromwich, said during the hearing that Ford’s attorneys are working pro-bono.
Pressed by Mitchell, Ford said she couldn’t be more specific about the date of the incident, other than it was likely in 1982.
“I can’t give the exact date,” she said.
Under questioning from Mitchell, Ford said the area of the party was probably about a 20 minute drive from her parents’ home. She said someone probably drove her there, but she can’t remember who it was.
“Has anyone come forward to say to you, ‘hey, remember, I was one who drove you home?” Mitchell asked.
“No,” Ford replied.
Mitchell pressed Ford over her reported comments in the press that she was reluctant to give an interview to the committee because of her fear of flying. Asked how she traveled from California to Washington for Thursday’s hearing, Ford acknowledged she flew.
“I eventually was able to get up the gumption with the help of some friends and get on the plane,” she said.
But under questioning, Ford acknowledged she regularly flies – including once a year during the summer to visit family on the East Coast. She also admits that she has flown to numerous places for vacaction, including Hawaii, Costa Rica, the Pacific islands, and French Polynesia.
The hearing, which for days had been in doubt, was the first chance for the public to see Ford, in person, explain in detail what she claims happened at the Maryland house party in 1982 where Kavanaugh allegedly jumped on top of her and tried to muffle her screams — and why she didn’t tell anyone about the episode until 2012.
“He began running his hands over my body and grinding into me,” Ford testified on Thursday, describing that day. “I tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy. Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes.”
She said she eventually got away, locking herself in a bathroom as the two eventually went downstairs.
In her opening statement, Ford said she remembers “four boys” being at the party, including one “whose name I cannot recall.” The people she did name — Kavanaugh and his classmates Mark Judge and P.J. Smyth — have denied under penalty of felony knowing anything about the alleged episode.
Ford also named a girl, “my friend Leland Ingham,” as also being in attendance. Ingham, in a previously released statement, has denied knowing Kavanaugh or having information about the alleged assault.
Ford told senators she finally decided to disclose the alleged assault during a therapy session in 2012 because during a remodeling of her house that year, she insisted on installing a “second front door” — leaving her husband and others wondering why.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley kicked off Thursday’s highly anticipated hearing before the panel by noting past FBI background checks of Kavanaugh turned up no evidence of any wrongdoing.
“Nowhere in any of these six FBI reports, which committee investigators have reviewed on a bipartisan basis, was there a whiff of any issue,” Grassley said.
Feinstein, the committee’s top Democrat, defended her decision not to turn over the accusations earlier to the FBI and other lawmakers. She said Ford wanted it to “be held confidential.”
Though she learned of the allegations in July, Feinstein didn’t disclose them to her Senate colleagues or federal authorities until days before a crucial Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation earlier this month.
Ford said Thursday she decided to go public with her allegations after reporters began staking out her home and work.
Each senator on the committee was afforded a single five-minute round of questions, with the opportunity to ask questions alternating between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans allowed Mitchell to ask questions on their behalf.
The proceedings have been jolted by late-breaking developments: In a statement released Wednesday evening, Judiciary Committee Republicans revealed that on Monday, they have conducted interviews with two separate men who claim they, and not Kavanaugh, had the encounter with Dr. Ford in 1982.
In response, an aide to Democrats on the Judiciary Committee reportedly unloaded on Senate Republicans, accusing them of “desperately trying to muddy the waters.”
Several other allegations have emerged over the last week – and Kavanaugh has denied them all. Republicans have repeatedly pointed out that none of the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh has first-hand corroboration.
In The New Yorker on Sunday, former Kavanaugh classmate Deborah Ramirez claimed that Kavanaugh had exposed his penis to her at a party decades ago.
Another woman, Julie Swetnick, emerged Wednesday to accuse Kavanaugh of participating in “gang rapes” and rape “trains” in the 1980s. Swetnick is represented by anti-Trump lawyer Michael Avenatti.
On Tuesday, a constituent told the office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., that in 1985, two “heavily inebriated men” referred to as “Brett and Mark” had sexually assaulted a “close friend” on a boat. But that person recanted the claim Wednesday night on Twitter.
In another case, Kavanaugh was asked by GOP investigators this week specifically about a new claim in a letter received by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., from an anonymous individual apparently in Denver, alleging that Kavanaugh “shoved” someone up against a wall “very aggressively and sexually” during an outing in front of four witnesses in 1998.
Speaking to Judiciary Committee investigators, Kavanaugh has maintained his innocence and has lamented the “total feeding frenzy” of last-minute accusations.
“We’re dealing with an anonymous letter about an anonymous person and an anonymous friend,” Kavanaugh told committee investigators asking about the alleged episode. “It’s ridiculous. Total Twilight Zone. And no, I’ve never done anything like that.
Fox News’ Gregg Re contributed to this report.