WASHINGTON — The fate of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court could be determined Thursday in an extraordinary and controversial Senate hearing on Professor Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault accusations against him.
In a hearing with tight security and a national television audience, Ford and Kavanaugh will take turns telling their version of what did, or did not, happen 36 years ago — when, Ford alleges, Kavanaugh tried to rape her at a small house party in suburban Washington.
President Donald Trump has sided with Kavanaugh but said Wednesday he has not made up his mind — adding significance to the high-stakes Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Asked if he could withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination, Trump said, “I can’t tell you. I have to watch tomorrow. They could be convincing,” adding, “If I thought he was guilty of something like this ... yeah, sure.”
Ford will go first, making a statement and then taking five-minute segments of questions alternating from each side. Republicans can let their time be taken by Maricopa County, Arizona, sex-crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell. Then it’s Kavanaugh’s turn.
With no other witnesses or results of an independent investigation, senators and viewers must decide who they believe, Ford or Kavanaugh. Here are five things to consider.
What yardstick will the few senators and viewers who are undecided settle on to judge the testimony?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Kavanaugh should be deemed innocent until proved guilty as in a court of law. “We’re supposed to uphold fairness and the presumption of innocence,” he said.
But Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the hearing is not a legal proceeding but a fact-finding mission.
“Find the facts,” he said, “and then let the Senate and let the American people make their judgment — not whether the person's guilty or innocent, but whether the person deserves to have the office for which he or she is chosen, plain and simple.”
How will each of them come off — genuine, sympathetic, truthful?
“You listen to how they talk, how they react, how they answer questions,” said University of Richmond Law School Professor Carl Tobias. “For some, it comes down to their gut reaction.”
After his earlier testimony and Monday’s night interview, Kavanaugh has shown his style: Patience, legal knowledge and anecdotes to humanize himself in his hearing, and with emotion and a resolute stance of denials and fairness demands on TV.
Ford is an unknown quantity. As a longtime professor, Tobias said. “I would expect she’s done a lot of public speaking,” he said. “I would expect she would be articulate and smart.”
Kavanaugh has practiced, and Ford likely has prepared, for the hearing, but their performance will depend on how they act under tremendous pressure.
What role will the thin evidence both have provided so far play?
Everything Ford and Kavanaugh have provided falls a little short of being definitive, and other materials raise doubts about each of them. And the emergence of new evidence is possible.
Ford offers her therapist’s notes from 2012 when she revealed her encounter with Kavanaugh, affidavits from her husband and friends confirming she told them, and letters by dozens of friends vouching for her. She also took a lie-detector test.
Kavanaugh produced his 1982 calendar that shows no entry for the party, affidavits from his friend Mark Judge and two others allegedly there saying they weren’t there, and scores of letters supporting his truthfulness.
Ford will be faced with the fact that none of her friends, including her best friend, at that time remembered the party. And Kavanaugh will have to explain his Georgetown Prep yearbook page and its descriptions of drinking to the point of vomiting and relationships with girls.
Will the hearing turn on the two distinct styles of questioning?
Republicans chose a woman prosecutor to represent them to “depoliticize the process and get to the truth” — and provide cover for the fact that all 11 committee Republicans are men.
Mitchell’s style will be watched closely. She could base her questions on Republicans’ investigation of Ford’s claims, dismissed by Democrats as partisan, or GOP senators’ requests.
Committee Democrats, who include four women, will ask supportive questions of Ford but will grill Kavanaugh on his drinking and references on his yearbook page.
The wild card will be questions about the recent allegations made by two other women this week.
How fair are the accusations and the process to resolve them?
Trump and McConnell have called Ford’s allegations, withheld by a Democrat for months until the last minute, a “Democratic con” and a “smear” aimed at derailing Kavanaugh.
McConnell said that “vague, unsubstantiated, and uncorroborated allegations of 30-plus-year-old misconduct” should not destroy Kavanaugh’s good name.
Schumer said that the Republicans’ process is fatally flawed without an FBI background investigation into the claims, that the votes should be delayed and that Republican attacks on the accusers are demeaning to women.
Those are issues viewers will have to weigh in determining if they have enough information to decide if they can believe Ford or Kavanaugh.
TIME: 10 a.m.
LOCATION: Room 226 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
TELEVISION: CSPAN3 will air the hearing beginning at 9:45 a.m. Cable news shows likely will be airing at least parts of the hearing.
The committee also will livestream the hearing.