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Ford says she is '100 percent' certain that Kavanaugh assaulted her; he angrily denies accusations

Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., September 27, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., September 27, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
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WASHINGTON — Christine Blasey Ford emotionally recounted for a rapt Senate committee Thursday her memory of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her at a summer gathering of teenagers in 1982.

The details of Ford’s account are by now familiar, but her nationally televised testimony — four hours that included a vehement denial that she could be confused about Kavanaugh’s identity — rocked a hearing that will determine Kavanaugh’s ambition to join the Supreme Court.

“I am here today not because I want to be,” Ford, a California psychology professor, said at the beginning of her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”

Later in the day, Kavanaugh responded with a tearful and angry denial, saying he had never sexually assault her or anyone else. He blamed a “calculated and coordinated political hit” to deny him a seat on the high court.

“This is a circus. The consequences will be with us for decades,” Kavanaugh said, adding defiantly to the committee’s Democrats: “You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit — never.”

He broke down several times, including when he described a moment when his wife, Ashley, and their 10-year-old daughter were recently praying. His daughter, he said in a choked voice, said they should pray for the woman who had accused him of wrongdoing.

Ford’s voice shook at times as she spoke, and her face was drawn. Occasionally, she took deep breaths, swallowed and blinked back tears, but she remained composed throughout the morning.

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She described a drunken Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge pushing her into a bedroom and locking the door. She said Judge watched while Kavanaugh got on top of her and tried to remove her clothes.

“I believed he was going to rape me,” she said. “I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. This is what terrified me the most.”

Ford said she eventually escaped the bedroom and left the house.

Pressed on whether she was certain her attacker was Kavanaugh, Ford replied: “One hundred percent.”

Republican senators on the committee, who have not wavered in their support of Kavanaugh, were cautious after Ford ended her testimony.

“Don’t you think we ought to wait before the hearing’s over?” said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Ford’s testimony had not shaken his support of Kavanaugh. He called her “a nice lady who has come forward to tell a hard story that is uncorroborated.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the longest-serving member of the Senate, was asked whether Ford was “credible” in her testimony.

“I don’t think she’s un-credible,” he said. “I think she’s an attractive, good witness. But it’s way early.”

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During the hearing, the 21 members of the Judiciary Committee appeared riveted as she testified in vivid detail.

Numerous senators leaned forward in their seats, elbows on the table, intently focused. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a key swing vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, looked especially gripped by her testimony, his hands folded in front of his face. Asked for his thoughts on the hearing when the committee broke for lunch, Flake said, “Still listening.”

The nation has never witnessed anything like the hearing that unfolded throughout the day.

Twenty-seven years ago, law professor Anita Hill testified before the Judiciary Committee that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her when they worked together at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But Ford’s testimony — which captivated Americans across the country — involved details of an alleged physical attack on a teenage girl.

She was calm and at times clinical in describing about how memory works, drawing on her training as a psychologist. But her recollections were raw.

When asked what she remembered the most about her encounter with Kavanaugh, Ford replied: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two. And they’re having fun at my expense.”

Democrats have called on Judge to be forced to appear before the committee.

On Thursday afternoon, his attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, declined to answer questions about her client until Ford and Kavanaugh had testified.

Van Gelder told The Washington Post earlier this week that her client had nothing to provide the committee, because he does not recall being present for the sexual assault that Ford described.

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Three floors above the hearing, 130 members of the public watched Ford’s testimony inside a packed overflow room. Outside, a line of people stretched down and around the hallway. Women, many of them high school and college students, bent over their cellphones to watch live streams of the event.

Some cried during Ford’s opening remarks, saying her words resonated with their own experiences of sexual abuse.

Anita Abraham, 62, a mental-health advocate and Democratic activist from Milwaukee, said: “I’d give the world to thank her ... She is so brave, so strong. I’m so proud of her.”

She said Ford had inspired her to tell her husband about being molested by her father as a 12-year-old girl.

“We cried together, and he told me how much he loved me. He told me he loved me even more,” she said, crying. “I’d never told anyone before.”

President Donald Trump watched Ford’s testimony on Air Force One as he flew back to Washington from New York on Thursday morning, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.

Sanders said Trump was watching the Senate hearing on a bit of a delay. The televisions on Air Force One were tuned to Fox News’ coverage of the hearing.

Upon arriving in Washington, Trump ignored a question shouted by a reporter about how he thinks the hearing was going.

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Inside the small hearing room, senators alternated between being comforting and solicitous with Ford — and combative with each other.

“I want to apologize to you both for the way you’ve been treated,” Grassley said as he opened the hearing, referring to Ford and Kavanaugh.

Republicans accused Democrats of holding on to Ford’s allegations for a last-minute attack on Kavanaugh, who had appeared poised to be approved to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

Grassley said Democrats on the committee refused to join Republicans in questioning Kavanaugh about Ford’s charges when they first were revealed to the full committee. “Which leads me then to wonder: If they’re really concerned with going to the truth, why wouldn’t you want to talk to the accused?” he said.

Democrats said their Republican colleagues in the majority had no interest in finding out the truth, as they refused to call Judge as a witness and said there was no need for an FBI investigation in to the charges.

“It’s about the integrity of that institution,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., referring to the Supreme Court, “and this institution.”

Ford said her initial motivation for telling her Congress member about her encounter with Kavanaugh was to try to prevent him from getting the nomination. She knew there was a list of qualified nominees being considered, she said, and she hoped that Trump and members of Congress knew her story, another candidate would be selected. She also called a tip line at The Washington Post.

She said she went public in an article in The Post only because word of her allegations had gotten out and that other reporters had shown up at her home and in her classroom.

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In an unusual move, the Republican senators on the committee, all male, turned over their time for questions to Rachel Mitchell, a veteran sex-crimes prosecutor from Arizona.

Mitchell started the morning by greeting Ford with a smile and an expression of empathy: “We haven’t met ... I just wanted to tell you that what first struck me from your statement this morning is that you were terrified. I just wanted to let you know, I’m very sorry. That’s not right.”

The format — five minutes of questioning for the prosecutor, five minutes for a Democratic senator — often frustrated Mitchell’s efforts to highlight Ford’s inability to remember key details of the day, including where exactly the event took place and how she got home.

Ford said her “best estimate” was that before the gathering she had been at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where she frequently swam. She said she had not been drinking or been on any medication.

Ford said she did not recall whether she had expected Kavanaugh to be at the gathering. She did expect Kavanaugh’s friend Judge and her close friend Leland Ingham to be present, she said.

Kavanaugh and Judge, she said, “were extremely inebriated. They had clearly been drinking prior [to the gathering], and the other people at the party had not.”

She went on to describe the premises as having a “sparsely furnished, fairly modest living room.”

“It was not really a party like the news has made it sound,” she said. “It was just a gathering that I assumed was going to lead to a party later on.”

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Kavanaugh and Judge, she said, tended to attend parties that were held later than she was typically allowed to stay out.

Toward the end of the morning, Ford grew emotional as Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told her, “I have found your testimony powerful and credible, and I believe you.”

“You have inspired and given courage to women to come forward” and inspired men, he said, “to listen respectfully to women survivors, and men who have survived sexual attack, and that is a profound public service regardless of what happens with this nomination.”

Blumenthal read a passage from a book by Graham, another member of the committee, describing his work as a prosecutor and the courage it takes for rape victims to share their traumatic stories.

“I learned how much unexpected courage from a deep and hidden place it takes for a rape victim or sexually abused child to testify against their assailants,” Graham wrote. “Trying to get a scared, confused, little kid or young woman who feels the best part of her life is over to recall a memory that their every psychological impulse is trying to suppress is not something you forget. It has stayed with me ever since.”

Looking down, Ford blinked back tears and nodded slightly.

— — —

The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis, Robert Costa, Ann Marimow, Gabriel Pogrund, Elise Viebeck and John Wagner contributed to this report.

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