WASHINGTON — Professor Christine Blasey Ford said she was “100 percent” sure it was Judge Brett Kavanaugh who sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, an act she said “damaged her life” as she told her story in public for the first time at a Senate hearing Thursday.
The strongest memory of that encounter with Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge at a party of high schoolers 36 years ago, Ford said, was “the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
In a showdown before senators and a national audience, Ford testified knowing Kavanaugh would follow her with indignant denials before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering his nomination to the Supreme Court that she put in jeopardy.
Kavanaugh, 53, a federal appellate court judge, has repeatedly said the incident never happened and that he has never sexually assaulted any woman — including four others recently making allegations — in statements, in committee staff interviews and on national television.
But Ford remained unshakable in her memory that when she was 15 and Kavanaugh 17, he attacked her, answering a question of whether she could have mistaken him for someone else by saying, “Absolutely not.”
Arizona sex-crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, stepping in for the 11 Republican men on the committee, sought to raise questions about her credibility and tie her decision to come forward to Democrats, asking several times about her connections to them.
Ford admitted she had spoken to her congresswoman, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), in early July and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top committee Democrat, at the end of July, and had hired the law firm representing her at Feinstein’s suggestion.
But Ford, a Democrat, said she had no political motivation to come forward, though she said she felt it was her duty to tell the Senate about what she said Kavanaugh had done to her.
Under Mitchell’s prodding, Ford admitted she had flown to Hawaii and Tahiti, to the East Coast to see her family and attend her mother’s funeral, and to Washington for the hearing, even though she had initially said she couldn’t appear Wednesday because she had a fear of flying.
Democrats reminded her she was not in a court of law facing a prosecutor but testifying at a hearing about a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court and they all praised her as an inspiration for her courage in testifying.
“Dr. Ford, as difficult as this experience must be, I want you to know your courage in coming forward has given countless Americans the strength to face their own life-shattering past and to begin to heal their wounds,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
After her testimony, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) indicated they had learned nothing new.
Hatch, who said he saw no reason to delay a Friday morning committee vote to approve and send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate, called Ford “attractive” and “pleasing.”
As she read her opening statement looking up at the senators — Republicans who say they don’t believe her and Democrats who said they do — Ford, 51, sitting between her attorneys, spoke in a soft voice and at times appeared to be on the verge of tears.
“I don't remember as much as I would like to,” she conceded. “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.”
She said she struggled with whether to go public. “I am terrified,” she said, but added, “I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me.”
Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, told the senators the same account she had put in a confidential letter that surfaced two weeks ago about being shoved into a bedroom as she went upstairs at a small drinking party in suburban Washington.
There, she said, Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge locked the door and turned up the music. “Brett got on top of me,” Ford said, her voice wavering. “Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. . . . I believed he was going to rape me.”
When she tried to call for help, she said, “Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming. This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.”
Addressing criticism by President Donald Trump — who has sided with Kavanaugh and labeled her allegations a Democratic “con” and a “smear” — Ford tried to explain why she did not report the incident to anyone until 2012 and why she could not provide more details.
“For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details. I did not want to tell my parents that I, at age 15, was in a house without any parents present, drinking beer with boys,” she said.
She closed by putting the onus on senators to decide what to do with her testimony.
“My motivation in coming forward was to provide the facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh's actions have damaged my life, so that you can take that into serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed,” she said. “It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell the truth.”
Ford’s opening statement set the stage for a hearing that will require senators and the public to decide who they believe, Ford or Kavanaugh.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chair, opened the hearing with apologies to Ford and Kavanaugh for the threats they have received and promised a "safe, comfortable and dignified” hearing and called for “a show of civility” from both sides.
Grassley acknowledged two new accusations against Kavanaugh, but said the committee staff is still investigating those claims and that attorneys for the accusers had not responded to inquiries — and he said that the hearing would be only about Ford’s allegations.
Feinstein, the top committee Democrat, highlighted Ford’s credentials, including a doctorate from University of Southern California, and sought to explain the challenges that women who have been sexually assaulted face in coming forward.
The fate of Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, which would solidify a conservative majority for more than a generation, rests with a handful of undecided Republican senators who will closely watch the proceedings.
And the outcome of the hearing, with Senate Republican leaders pushing for a committee vote Friday and a full Senate vote as soon as early next week, could add momentum to women voting in a midterm election that could shift control of the House and Senate to Democrats.