Dr. Christine Blasey Ford appeared inside the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill Thursday to testify about the accusation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her decades ago, marking a culmination in the battle over the federal judge who stands to become President Donald Trump’s second appointment to the nation’s highest court. Her testimony, which captivated the room, was followed later in the day by testimony from Kavanaugh, who mounted a fiery self defense.
After opening remarks by Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, and Dianne Feinstein of California, Ford delivered her opening statement, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified,” and added, “I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me.” Ford said she has “agonized daily” over whether or not to come forward with her accusation. She also dispelled notions that political motives are behind her have coming forward, telling the Judiciary Committee, “I am an independent person and I am no one’s pawn.”
Ford, 51, then told her account of the alleged assault by Kavanaugh, hewing closely to the account she described earlier this month to The Washington Post, her voice breaking at times. She said she believed Kavanaugh intended to rape her that night. Ford said the incident “drastically altered her life for a very long time.” Read the full text of her statement here.
Feinstein asked Ford whether it’s possible her accusation springs from a case of mistaken identity or from her misremembering the events of the alleged incident. She said it was “absolutely not” a case of mistaken identity. When Feinstein pressed her on how she can be certain the memory is accurate after 36 years, Ford responded, “Just basic memory functions, and also, just the level of norepinephrine and the epinephrine in the brain that … encodes that neurotransmitter, encodes memories into the hippocampus.”
Rachel Mitchell, the veteran sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona hired by Grassley to conduct the questioning of Ford, opened by recognizing Ford’s uneasiness about testifying publicly. “I just wanted to tell you that the first thing that struck me from your statement this morning is that you were terrified,” Mitchell said. “I just wanted to let you know, I’m very sorry. That’s not right.” The special counselor then launched into her line of inquiry, showing Ford an image of a text message Ford had exchanged with a reporter from The Washington Post, and questioned Ford on whether the statements in the text message and the remarks she delivered to the Judiciary Committee were accurate. Ford confirmed that they were.
Mitchell also focused much of her questioning on the polygraph test Ford took and passed. She coaxed Ford into revealing that the polygraph exam was taken at an airport hotel on the day of or the day after her grandmother’s funeral.
Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois told Ford, “You have brought many families into an honest yet painful dialogue that should have happened long ago.” He brought up a report about two men who have come forward claiming to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the incident Ford has been describing happened with them — and not Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, the friend of Kavanaugh’s whom Ford has said was present at the time of the alleged assault.
Durbin questioned again how certain she is that the teens in the bedroom on the night in question were Kavanaugh and Judge.
“100 percent,” Ford responded.
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked for to describe her most enduring memory of the incident. She replied that Kavanaugh’s and Judge’s inebriated laughing sticks with her most. “Laughter — the uproarious laughter between the two and they’re having fun at my expense,” she said.
Before Kavanaugh even had a chance to testify, some were already are saying Ford’s testimony could be a fatal blow to his chances at being confirmed to the Supreme Court. According to a BuzzFeed News report, a former Trump administration official said it’s all but over for Kavanaugh, and that the questioning by Mitchell “looks like a persecution.” The unidentified source said of Kavanaugh, “He’s the Sixth Sense nominee: He’s dead but he’s the only one who doesn’t know it.”
As the drama unfolds inside the Dirksen Senate Office Building, protesters showed up in full force outside. Hundreds showed up to protest Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the high court. Some demonstrators following the proceeding on their smartphones were seen crying during the more emotional parts of Ford’s testimony.
The testimony resumed following a lunch break, and early in the second session Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, said she was going to cut to the heart of the matter and asked directly, “Is there a political motivation for your coming forward?”
“No. And I’d like to reiterate again,” Ford said, “I was trying to get the information to you while there were still other what looked like equally qualified candidates.”
Corey Booker, a Democratic senator from New Jersey, then spoke directly Ford asking how she, her husband and sons were holding up during this tumultuous time in her life. Booker also thanked her for providing a public service as the Senate deliberates on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court
The proceeding continued with Democrats pointing out that Ford has asked for an investigation by the FBI and assailing Republicans and President Trump for preventing one from being launched.
Senator Kamala Harris echoed that point, and criticized Mitchell for not using all of the best practices for questioning sexual assault victims that are listed on the website of her office. Harris also was adamant that the proceeding on Thursday was not a trial but a job interview. She, too, took a moment to address Ford directly. “I want you to know, you are not on trial,” Harris said, prompting a show of emotion from Ford. She added, “You are a true profile in courage in our country at this moment in time.”
Mitchell eventually prompted Ford’s lawyers to admit they were working for her on a pro bono basis. But other than that and the revelation about the polygraph exam, Mitchell seemed to do little to unearth new information or cast doubt on Ford’s version of events. The hearing ended at around 2:30 p.m. and the Judiciary Committee took a 45-minute recess with Kavanaugh waiting to take his turn at the witness table.
After the hearing wrapped up, Democrats blast Republicans for not compelling Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s friend and the other teen present during the alleged attack, according to Ford’s account, to testify before the Judiciary Committee. The Associated Press reported that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said it was “an outrage” and unfair to Ford to not force Judge to be placed under oath and questioned by senators.
Watch Ford’s complete opening statement below.