Kavanaugh denies allegations, says confirmation process is a ‘national disgrace’ in testimony
Thursday - 27/09/2018 17:35
Ford and Kavanaugh: Who they are, what they’ve said so far
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh began his testimony Thursday afternoon saying the confirmation process was a “national disgrace.” He said the allegation from Dr. Ford was a “calculated and orchestrated political hit” fueled by anger against Mr. Trump, and said this series of events “has been a circus.”
During questioning, Senator Dick Durbin asked Judge Kavanaugh to seek a hearing suspension and pursue an investigation from the FBI. “I welcome whatever the committee would like to do.” He would not directly say he would like the FBI involved. Senator Lindsey Graham then said this was the “most unethical sham” he’s seen since being in politics, saying he was voting “yes” for Judge Kavanaugh.
Earlier Thursday, Senators and an Arizona prosecutor questioned Christine Blasey Ford about her testimony against Justice Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee whom she called “the boy who sexually assaulted me” in the 1980s. Dr. Ford, fighting back tears, delivered an opening statement about the alleged assault at a 1982 party, the years of trauma it caused and her agonizing decision about whether to speak out.
Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, acting for the judiciary committee’s all-male contingent of Republicans, then questioned Dr. Ford for nearly three hours about the assault, what she told others about it and when, her mental health (including her fear of flying), her political motivation and her communications with politicians, journalists and her therapist.
A 51-year-old research psychologist in Northern California, Dr. Ford alleges that she was sexually assaulted in 1982 by Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s latest nominee to the Supreme Court. Dr. Ford detailed her allegations in a letter sent in July to Dianne Feinstein, a California senator and the judiciary committee’s top Democrat. Initially, Ms. Feinstein kept the letter and Dr. Ford’s identity secret at her request. But after rumours of its existence circulated around Washington, the Senator turned over the letter to the FBI, which relayed it back to the judiciary committee’s chairman, Chuck Grassley. Dr. Ford went public to identify herself, the contents of the letter were published by various U.S. media organizations, and the Senate committee arranged for her to testify.
At Thursday’s hearing, Dr. Ford delivered a tearful opening statement before answering senators' questions. The GOP’s all-male contingent on the committee hired Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona prosecutor, to ask their questions. Here are some of the highlights of what Dr. Ford said.
On what happened: Dr. Ford said that she had known the future judge as a teenager. One night in the summer of 1982, at house party in the Chevy Chase/Bethesda area of Maryland, he forced her down on a bed, “groped me and tried to take off my clothes,” then clamped his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream before she was able to escape. “I believed he was going to rape me.”
On how it affected her: She writes that the assault “drastically altered my life,” filling her with shame and fear. “Recounting the details caused me to relive the experience, and caused panic attacks and anxiety,” she says, but she did confide in close friends and eventually her husband years later. She alluded to her attacker being a prominent judge, but did not name Judge Kavanaugh outside therapy sessions until this summer.
On memory and the brain: Asked whether she could be sure of her memory that it was Brett Kavanaugh who assaulted her, Dr. Ford answered: “100 per cent.” She spoke in detail about how memories are imprinted in the hippocampus, and said one part of the experience in 1982 stood out: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter ... I was underneath one of them while the two laughed. Two friends having a really good time with one another.”
On why she’s coming forward: “I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified,” she said in her opening statement. “I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me when Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”
On the public reaction: Dr. Ford described receiving messages of support from women for coming forward, but also said threats forced her family to move out of their home, and hackers accessed her e-mail and spread her personal information. “My family and I have been the target of constant harassment and death threats, and I have been called the most vile names imaginable.”
On political motivation: Dr. Ford said she does not have any political motivation for coming forward with the accusations. When Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii asked Ford about her motive for appearing, Ford said she’d been trying to get the information on the alleged assault to the committee while there was still a list of potential high court nominees.
In July, Mr. Trump picked a conservative appeals-court judge to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court left by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Judge Kavanaugh, 53, was a former player in Kenneth Starr’s investigation into president Bill Clinton in the 1990s, and handled judicial appointments in the George W. Bush White House. Judge Kavanaugh went through confirmation hearings in August and September, and despite bitter procedural fights he seemed on track to be confirmed. But then the allegations by Dr. Ford emerged, leading senators to invite him back for new hearings.
On Thursday, as he prepared to read his testimony, he said he “wrote it himself. This is my statement.” Here are some highlights from his written and verbal testimonies:
On the allegations: “My life is totally and permanently altered," Judge Kavanaugh said during a line of questioning. In his verbal testimony, he said Dr. Ford’s accusations are “radically inconsistent” with his character, from youth to present day, and chronicled his childhood. “The truth is that I have never sexually assaulted anyone — not in high school, not in college, not ever,” Judge Kavanaugh wrote in his prepared written testimony. He acknowledged that Dr. Ford “may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time,” but he denied it was him.
On his whereabouts in 1982: Judge Kavanaugh gave the senators pages from his personal calendar in 1982, and nothing in them appears to mention Dr. Ford. Though a snapshot of his life that summer, several days are blank and it’s unlikely the calendar documents every single thing he did. It also appears to list activities with two people who Dr. Ford said were at the gathering where she says she was assaulted. During questioning, the calendars were a large focal point from Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, who asked if there were other parties during the four months shown.
On his high-school drinking: Judge Kavanaugh said multiple times during the questioining that sometimes he had too many beers, but did not drink to the point of blacking out, and it would never lead to sexual assault. He said he drank beer, still likes beer and “everyone was drinking.” When asked how many beers is too much, Judge Kavanaugh could not answer it.
On political attacks: Judge Kavanaugh said since his nomination in July, there has been a “frenzy” from the left to find “something, anything” to stop him from being confirmed. He called the confirmation process a “national disgrace.” Judge Kavanaugh continued to say the allegation was a “calculated and orchestrated political hit” fueled by anger against Mr. Trump, and said this series of events “has been a circus.”
On public reaction: Judge Kavanaugh said since the allegations surfaced, he and his wife have received violence e-mails, as well as threats to him and his friends.
The battle over timing and terms
As soon as she told Ms. Feinstein about her allegations, Dr. Ford faced a complicated and dangerous decision about whether to testify. Her options: testify and risk an all-out attack on her credibility and personal life, or stay anonymous and allow Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation to go unchallenged. Eventually, she decided. “My civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation,” she told The Washington Post.
But to make sure the testimony would be on her terms, she pressed the Senate committee for certain conditions. She wanted the FBI to open an investigation before she would appear; the Republicans refused. She wanted more time before testifying, to ensure terms she felt were fair and safe; the committee insisted on her appearing within days, initially setting Sept. 24 as her only take-it-or-leave-it chance to speak. Her lawyers asked the committee to subpoena a man she says was the other person in the room when the 1982 attack occurred; the committee did not do this. It wasn’t until Sept. 23 that Dr. Ford and the senators reached an agreement and scheduled the hearing for four days later.
The other accusers
Deborah Ramirez: On Sept. 23, The New Yorker magazine broke the news of a second accuser of Judge Kavanaugh. Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of Judge Kavanaugh’s at Yale University, alleged that in the 1983-84 school year, he exposed himself to her at a party, thrust his penis at her face and made her touch it as she pushed him away. Several Democratic senators had been made aware of her story and were investigating it, the magazine reported. Judge Kavanaugh denied the accusations, saying in a White House-supplied statement that it was "a smear, plain and simple.”
Julie Swetnick: Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti identified another woman, Julie Swetnick, on Sept. 26 making allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. In a signed statement released by Mr. Avenatti, Ms. Swetnick said the future judge and his high-school friend, Mark Judge, would sometimes spike punch at house parties to “cause girls to become inebriated and disoriented” so they could be “gang raped” in another room. She said this happened to her in 1982, and that both boys were present when it happened. Judge Kavanaugh denied the allegation: “This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone," he said in a statement. "I don’t know who this is and this never happened.”
Where Trump stands
For Mr. Trump – a man accused of sexual assault and harassment by multiple women, including his ex-wife Ivana – keeping quiet on Dr. Ford’s allegations would seem like a prudent course. Instead, he has vouched for Judge Kavanaugh, questioned Dr. Ford’s story credibility and accused his political opponents of staging the controversy to “destroy and delay” the judge’s confirmation. On Wednesday, a day before the hearing, Mr. Trump said he could “withdraw his support” for Judge Kavanaugh depending on the testimony. Mr. Trump originally defended Judge Kavanaugh, but continued by saying, “you know, believe it or not, I’m going to see what’s said.”
Why is the FBI involved?
The alleged assaults described by Judge Kavanaugh’s accusers are not federal crimes, so the Federal Bureau of Investigation would not have authority to investigate those cases criminally. But the FBI is in charge of doing background checks on prospective Supreme Court judges and other federal appointees, so its agents could look into the cases for the purpose of informing the Senate. They had already done this and closed the case. But in her negotiations to testify, Dr. Ford had asked for an FBI investigation before she would appear before the committee. Republican senators' insistence on seeing Dr. Ford within days, not weeks or months, made that very difficult.
Even if a new investigation had been possible in that time, ordering the FBI to investigate isn’t something the judiciary committee can do on its own. Some Senate committees have general oversight powers over the agency’s budget and policies, but ultimately the FBI answers not to the Senate, but to the Attorney-General and the President.
Mr. Grassley, the committee’s chairman, could have asked Mr. Trump to instruct the FBI to reopen its background check. President George H.W. Bush did this in 1991 during the Anita Hill controversy (more on that below). But Mr. Grassley has not sought Mr. Trump’s help in steering the FBI that way, despite multiple pleas from Democratic senators.
Before Kavanaugh: The Anita Hill furor
In Washington and beyond, the Kavanaugh affair is bringing up memories of another case where a prospective Supreme Court judge was accused of sexual misconduct. In 1991, Clarence Thomas was picked by then-president George H.W. Bush for a seat on the top court. Law professor Anita Hill came forward with allegations that Justice Thomas had sexually harassed her years earlier, when he was her boss at two government agencies. Millions of Americans watched Senate hearings where Dr. Hill told her story, and was grilled by Republican senators suggesting she had made up the allegations and was mentally unstable.
The controversy didn’t stop Justice Thomas’s appointment: His confirmation went to the Democrat-controlled Senate and passed 52-48, with 11 Democrats supporting Mr. Bush’s candidate. But for many American women, the vitriolic treatment of Dr. Hill was a catalyst for political action. The next year was dubbed the “Year of the Woman” when a half-dozen female members were elected to the Senate, where there had been only two women previously. One of the “Year of the Woman” senators was Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat to whom Ms. Ford sent her letter about Judge Kavanaugh.
There are important differences between Hill vs. Thomas and Ford vs. Kavanaugh. One is race: Both Dr. Hill and Justice Thomas are black, a fact that Justice Thomas used vocally in defending himself against an investigation he called a “high-tech lynching.” But the other big difference is the #MeToo movement, which has renewed conversation about sexual assault and the obstacles women face in reporting it. Sexual misconduct receives much more attention than it did then, and allegations of wrongdoing have toppled powerful men in politics, media, the arts and other fields – which makes it harder for the Senate to ignore the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. But Dr. Hill cautioned against seeing the judge’s hearing as a referendum on #MeToo’s progress, whatever its outcome. “Remember, #MeToo is about raising awareness," she told Associated Press in a telephone interview on Sept. 25. "Just because the Senate’s awareness hasn’t been raised, doesn’t mean that the rest of us haven’t evolved and learned.’”
Beyond Kavanaugh: What’s at stake for U.S. justice
Packing the Supreme Court with right-wing jurists has been one of Mr. Trump’s goals since the 2016 election, when he courted the support of conservative groups such as the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation to prepare lists of possible nominees. He’s already filled one vacancy with a candidate from that list, Neil Gorsuch; he was confirmed last year. But putting another conservative on the bench would give conservatives a majority on the nine-member court.
Judges Kavanaugh and Gorsuch are "originalists," a school of thought that encourage hard-line interpretations of written law and avoid inferring rights that the framers of the U.S. Constitution would not have foreseen. “A judge must … interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written,” Judge Kavanaugh said when his nomination was announced in July.
Here are some of the important issues at stake if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed:
Abortion: Women’s rights activists are worried that the Supreme Court could weaken the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which upheld the right to safe and legal abortions. In his confirmation hearings, Judge Kavanaugh said he respected Roe and would be cautious about overturning it entirely, but he stopped short of saying it had been settled decisively and left room open for supporting restrictions on abortion.
Privacy rights: Judge Kavanaugh, a veteran of the George W. Bush administration, has frequently supported giving the government broad national-security powers, such as collecting Americans' personal data in secret.
Environment: Judge Kavanaugh’s originalism has given him a narrow interpretation of how the U.S. government can regulate the environment, and as an appeal judge he has weighed in against several Environmental Protection Agency regulations. His view has been that policies to protect against climate change should be for Congress to decide, not the EPA.
Russia: A right-leaning Supreme Court would also give Mr. Trump an advantage if it ever has to weigh in on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and Moscow’s ties to the Trump campaign. Two of the President’s campaign officials have pleaded guilty to federal crimes, but the legal issues get murky if Mr. Trump himself were subpoenaed or prosecuted.