Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley kicked off Thursday’s highly anticipated hearing before the panel as Christine Blasey Ford appeared in public for the first time to describe her allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Grassley, R-Iowa, opened his remarks 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.
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.
The proceedings began with opening statements from Grassley and will continue with remarks from ranking committee member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
“I understand that both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh have been through a terrible past few weeks,” Grassley said. “They and their families have received vile threats. What they have endured is unacceptable and a poor reflection on the state of our politics.”
Feinstein, who first received a letter from Ford detailing her allegations in July, defended her decision not to turn over the accusations earlier to the FBI and other lawmakers.
“She reiterated that she wanted it to be held confidential, and I held it confidential up to a point where the witness was willing to come forward,” Feinstein said of Ford.
After taking an oath, Ford will deliver the prepared remarks she has already provided publicly, according to a schedule provided by the committee. Each senator on the committee will then be afforded a single five-minute round of questions, with the opportunity to ask questions alternating between Democrats and Republicans.
Republicans have retained Rachel Mitchell, an experienced sex-crimes prosecutor, to handle some of their questioning, saying it will help avoid an overtly political atmosphere.
According to her prepared testimony released ahead of the hearing, Ford plans to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her in the 1980s in a drunk high school party.
“Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life,” Ford will say. “For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details.”
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.
Ford has previously said there is “zero chance” she would have confused Kavanaugh for anyone else.
In response, an aide to Democrats on the Judiciary Committee reportedly unloaded on Senate Republicans, accusing them of “desperately trying to muddy the waters.”
Ford first brought her allegations to the attention of Feinsteinin July, but Feinstein didn’t disclose the allegations to her Senate colleagues or federal authorities until days before a crucial Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation earlier this month. Republicans have accused Feinstein’s office of compromising Ford’s anonymity by sitting on the allegations until she could deploy them for maximum political gain.
The hearing, which for days had been in doubt, is 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.
According to her prepared testimony, Ford will tell senators that she “thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me,” and “I believed he was going to rape me.”
She will explain that 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 will also describe one girl, “my friend Leland Ingham,” as also in attendance. Ingham, in a previously released statement, has also denied knowing Kavanaugh or having information about the alleged assault.
Ford’s letter to Feinstein in July, however, gave a different tally, saying that the gathering “included me and 4 others.”
Additionally, in a handwritten statement she provided the former FBI agent who administered her polygraph exam in August, Ford wrote “there were 4 boys and a couple of girls” at the party — again apparently contradicting her letter to Feinstein.
Republicans, through Mitchell, are expected to question Ford on the apparent discrepancies.
Ford is also expected to tell senators that 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.
Republicans, including President Trump, 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, even as her close college friend denied ever hearing about the episode and suggested she was making the claim for political reasons.
Ramirez has acknowledged not being sure whether Kavanaugh had assaulted her until last week, after she spent days consulting with her attorney.
Additionally, questions have surfaced concerning the credibility of some of Kavanaugh’s other accusers, who will not be present Thursday.
Julie Swetnick, who emerged Wednesday to accuse Kavanaugh of participating in “gang rapes” and rape “trains” in the 1980s, had a restraining order filed against her by an ex-boyfriend, Politico reported.
Swetnick is represented by anti-Trump lawyer Michael Avenatti, who has refused multiple requests by the Senate Judiciary Committee to interview her in the past week. On Wednesday afternoon, 60 men and women who attended Kavanaugh’s high school or sister schools signed a letter saying they had never heard of Swetnick or anything like the overt, systemic gang raping that she described.
Several other allegations emerged this week. 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.
The constituent, whose name was redacted in a document release by the Judiciary Committee but uncovered through tweets cited by the committee, recanted the claim Wednesday night on Twitter — but several media outlets continued to report the allegations for hours afterwards.
In a separate 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. Gardner’s office received the letter on Sept. 22.
“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.
“It’s bad — it’s doing damage to the Supreme Court,” Kavanaugh added. “It’s doing damage to the country. It’s doing damage to this process. It’s become a total feeding frenzy, you know? Every — just unbelievable.”
Fox News’ Gregg Re contributed to this report.