A case of mistaken identity? Dr. Blasey: No chance.
Shadowy theories that Dr. Blasey could have mistaken the identity of her assailant have bounced through Washington’s conservative circles for days. And on Wednesday night, just hours before the hearing, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee released a document detailing their investigative work that showed they had interviewed two separate men who said they believed that they, not Judge Kavanaugh, assaulted Dr. Blasey. Even Judge Kavanaugh has speculated that perhaps Dr. Blasey was misremembering the incident.
As other senators sought to clarify Dr. Blasey’s memory, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, took the question head on.
“I am asking you to address this new defense of mistaken identity directly,” he said. “Dr. Ford with what degree of certainly do you believe Judge Kavanaugh assaulted you?”
Dr. Blasey, who sometimes uses her married name Ford, responded unequivocally.
“100 percent,” Dr. Blasey said.
— Nicholas Fandos
Democrats turn the tables on the G.O.P.
With Republicans deferring to Ms. Mitchell, Democrats used their allotted time to make broad political points about the integrity of Republicans’ investigation, the treatment of the victims of sexual violence in the United States, and Dr. Blasey in particular.
In one poignant exchange, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, reached for a quote from a colleague across the dais, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. Rather than reach, as other Democrats had done, for Mr. Graham’s statements dismissing the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh, Mr. Blumenthal began reading from a passage from the senator’s 2015 book, “My Story.”
“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 assailant,” Mr. Graham wrote of his time as a prosecutor. “I learned how much courage from a deep and hidden place it takes for a rape victim or sexually abused child to testify against their assailant.”
Mr. Blumenthal added, “If we agree on nothing else today, I hope on a bipartisan basis we can agree on how much courage it has taken for you to come forward.”
The contrast to Mr. Graham then and Mr. Graham now was striking. On Wednesday, he said his support for Judge Kavanaugh has not dimmed, concluding, “I don’t think he’s Bill Cosby.”
Thoughts from the Midwest
Dr. Blasey’s testimony inspired at least one woman to call into C-SPAN3 to share their own story of sexual abuse.
The caller, who identified herself as Brenda from Valley Park, Mo., tearfully told the host that Dr. Blasey’s appearance had caused an old trauma from her childhood to re-emerge.
“I’m a 76-year-old woman who was sexually molested in the second grade,” she said. She said her attacker had been a boy in seventh grade at her school.
“This brings back so much pain,” she said. “I thought I was over it, but it is not. You will never forget it. You get confused and you don’t understand it but you never forget what happened to you.”
But not every caller had the same reaction as Brenda. A viewer named James, from Princeton, Ind., said Ms. Ford was “lying like a dog.”
James, who said he was “not a big Trump supporter,” said he found much of Dr. Blasey’s testimony to be inconsistent.
“I wish that dang prosecutor had said, ‘Listen, I need more than five minutes and I could take her to the wood shed,’” he said.
An unusually clinical witness
During the questioning, Dr. Blasey’s background as a professor of psychology affiliated with Stanford University and Palo Alto University shaped her answers to questions. For example, describing the lingering consequences of having been attacked as a teenager, she invoked an obscure term — sequela — which refers to aftereffects of a disease or traumatic incident.
Asked how she remembers that it was Judge Kavanaugh and not some other person who attacked her, she answered clinically with a description of how memories of traumatic events form in the brain: “Just basic memory functions and also just the level of norepinephrine and the epinephrine in the brain that sort of, as you know, encodes — that neurotransmitter that codes memories into the hippocampus and so the trauma-related experience is locked there whereas other details kind of drift.”
Senator Feinstein responded: “So what you are telling us is this could not be a case of mistaken identity.”
“Absolutely not,” Dr. Blasey replied.
And, a bit later, asked what her strongest memory was, something she could not forget, she replied: “Indelible into the hippocampus is the laughter — the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
— Charlie Savage
An ineffective format for Judge Kavanaugh’s defense
Republicans said they chose to turn over their questions to Ms. Mitchell, a sex crimes prosecutor, so that they could have a more targeted, coherent hearing. But as her questioning began, the arrangement appeared more halting and cumbersome than efficient, as it resembled a courtroom trial than a typical Senate hearing.
The juxtaposition was jarring, particularly with Democrats using their time to cut straight to the heart of Dr. Blasey’s story. After Dr. Blasey’s opening statement gripped the hearing room, Ms. Mitchell immediately dug into granular details, asking the witness to read and correct messages she exchanged with a reporter at The Washington Post and a letter shared with Ms. Feinstein.
“The first two texts were sent by you on July 6, is that correct?” Ms. Mitchell asked. Dr. Ford spent long moments reading printouts of both and began to work through technical corrections.
And with only five minute blocks at her disposal, Ms. Mitchell was repeatedly cut off midquestioning.
“Miss Mitchell, I don’t know whether this is fair to interrupt, I want to keep people within five minutes,” Mr. Grassley said. “Is that a major problem for you in the middle of a question?”
Then again, Republicans on the committee may have been no better. During the lunch break, Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, one of the three senators on the committee who were there for the Clarence Thomas-Anita F. Hill hearings, told reporters, “I don’t think she’s uncredible. I think she an attractive, good witness.”
Asked what he meant by “attractive,” he said, “In other words, she’s pleasing.”
And then there was Senator Graham:
— Nicholas Fandos
Women are watching: “Credible.”
A group of 10 women watching the hearings in Bangor, Me. — the home state of Senator Susan Collins, whose vote will be pivotal in Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation, started out suspicious that Dr. Blasey had partisan motivations; some declared they believed her, while others said they were determined to approach the hearings with an open mind.
Jean Barry, a high school science teacher and a firm opponent of abortion rights, began listening to the hearing concerned about the timing of the accusations.
“So far she seems somewhat credible, like she’s telling us something that happened from her heart,” she said.
Emily McLaughlin, a sophomore at the University of Maine who was a treasurer for the college Republicans, said she believed Dr. Blasey, but wanted to hear from Judge Kavanaugh and wondered, too, whether she just had one beer.
During the short recess, the group had a lively back and forth. While most believed Dr. Blasey, some were waiting to hear further questioning and believed it was important to hear Judge Kavanaugh. They gathered again around the television as the hearings resumed, listening intently.
— Susan Chira
Kavanaugh ruled polygraphs are “an important law enforcement tool.”
Dr. Blasey, who has made her fear of flying clear, said that taking a polygraph test was almost as anxiety-provoking as an airplane flight. But her polygraph test did come out “no deception indicated.”
Judge Kavanaugh has written that polygraph tests have a role to play in law enforcement. In a 2016 opinion for a unanimous three-judge panel of his court, he ruled that the Department of Defense could withhold reports concerning the effectiveness of polygraph tests in response to request under the Freedom of Information Act.
The studies were exempt from disclosure, Judge Kavanaugh wrote, because they concerned “an important law enforcement tool.”
“The government has satisfactorily explained how polygraph examinations serve law enforcement purposes,” he wrote. “It has also explained how the reports assessing the efficacy of those examinations and identifying needed fixes likewise serve law enforcement purposes. Put simply, the reports help ensure that law enforcement officers optimally use an important law enforcement tool.”
— Adam Liptak
The other woman in the wings
A lawyer for Julie Swetnick, the third woman to accuse Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, restated on Thursday her request for an F.B.I. investigation, citing other people who could corroborate her allegations.
In a sworn statement released Wednesday, Ms. Swetnick said that at multiple parties in the Washington suburbs in the early 1980s, Judge Kavanaugh and his friends plied young women with alcohol and drugs, and in some cases “gang raped” them.
With Ms. Swetnick’s story hanging over Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, traded accusations of bad faith with staff members on the Senate Judiciary Committee overseeing in the proceedings, arguing over why the committee had not begun a full investigation into her claims. Republican staff members accused Mr. Avenatti of not agreeing to cooperate with an investigation; the lawyer declined on Thursday to identify his corroborating witnesses, saying they were hesitant to come forward publicly but willing to speak with law enforcement.
In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Avenatti said committee members had asked simply whether they could interview Ms. Swetnick, possibly by phone. This was insufficient, he said, given his calls for a full inquiry, an F.B.I. investigation and an opportunity for Ms. Swetnick to testify formally about her allegations. He shared emails showing that he and the committee began discussing Ms. Swetnick’s claims as early as Sunday night, with the committee asking for “evidence” before going dark on him until Wednesday, when he released her sworn statement.
— Jim Rutenberg
An emotional opening statement
Dr. Blasey delivered her opening statement, at times through tears, at times resolute — but always with palpable emotion.
Speaking her first words in public, Dr. Blasey told senators in explicit detail, her voice breaking at times, of the night she said the future Judge Kavanaugh pinned her to the bed, tried to rip her clothes off and clapped his hand over her mouth as she screamed.
“It was hard for me to breathe and I believed that Brett was going to accidentally kill me,” she said.
Dr. Blasey also described the lasting impact of the attack, especially how he held his hand over her mouth: “Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life.”
And today, she said death threats and vile epithets have “rocked me to my core.”
The main test for Dr. Blasey was whether she could appear credible before the senators, especially Republicans who have suggested that she is suffering from a case of mistaken identity — or that she has partisan motives.
She addressed the latter issue directly.
“I have been accused of acting out of partisan political motives,” she said. “Those who say that do not know me. I am a fiercely independent person, and I am no one’s pawn. 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 also poked holes in the mistaken identity theory when she described how she and Judge Kavanaugh met when their social circles intersected. She remembered his friends, including Mark Judge, who she said was in the room, while practicing swimming and diving at Columbia Country Club in suburban Maryland.
“This is how I met Brett Kavanaugh, the boy who eventually assaulted me,” she said.
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, when asked if he found Dr. Blasey credible, answered, “Let me suggest this. I know that we’ve got to take what she says very seriously.”
— Sheryl Gay Stolberg
The world gets its first view of Dr. Blasey
Dr. Blasey entered the hearing room flanked by two of her lawyers, Debra Katz on her right and Michael Bromwich on her left.
Dr. Blasey’s entourage in the hearing room where she will testify includes friends who traveled with her from California to provide moral support, according to a person familiar with her appearance. The group does not include her husband, Russell Ford, who stayed behind with the couple’s children.
The family has faced multiple threats since Dr. Blasey went public with her story.
Her friend Samantha Guerry said Thursday morning that Dr. Blasey “is terrified” to speak on Capitol Hill about her allegation of sexual assault by Judge Kavanaugh.
“But she’s spent quite a bit of time centering herself, and she is fierce and determined and undaunted, so we shouldn’t underestimate her,” Ms. Guerry said on NBC’s “Today.”
On Wednesday night, her team said of Dr. Blasey: “She’s ready.”
In the minutes before she arrived on Capitol Hill, Deborah Ramirez, another of Judge Kavanaugh’s accusers who alleges that he exposed himself to her at a drunken party in college, sent a message of support.
— Julie Hirschfeld Davis
A contentious, partisan start
The hearing began with prickly opening statements from Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Judiciary Committee chairman, and Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat.
Senator Grassley tried to establish Judge Kavanaugh’s credibility, excoriating Democrats for bringing up the Blasey allegations at the last minute, and defending Republicans, who have refused to allow an F.B.I. inquiry into Dr. Blasey’s and other allegations.
He started by noting that Judge Kavanaugh has undergone six background checks in the past.
“Nowhere in any of these six F.B.I. reports, which committee investigators have reviewed on a bipartisan basis, was there whiff of any issue, any issue at all in anyway related to inappropriate sexual behavior,” Mr. Grassley said.
Ms. Feinstein delivered a blistering assessment of Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness for the Supreme Court, running through not just Dr. Blasey’s accusations but other accusations from other women. Mr. Grassley called those accusations unsubstantiated.
Feinstein: The issue is Kavanaugh’s honesty now, not just what happened then.
At the conclusion of her opening remarks, Senator Feinstein said that the issue for the Senate to decide is not just whether it is true that Judge Kavanaugh, as a teenager, sexually assaulted Dr. Blasey, but also whether Judge Kavanaugh is being honest today about his past behavior.
She noted that in recent days, Judge Kavanaugh has not just denied attacking Dr. Blasey, but has also denied that he ever drank so much as a young man that he could not remember what happened and that as a teenager he was mainly focused on school, basketball, service projects and going to church. She contrasted that with various accounts by his former associates and classmates that he was a heavy drinker as a young man and that his defensive portrayal of himself had gone too far and was not credible.
“We are here for one reason, to determine whether Judge Kavanaugh should be elevated to one of the most powerful positions in our country,” she said. “This is not a trial of Dr. Ford. It’s a job interview for Judge Kavanaugh. Is Brett Kavanaugh who we want on the most prestigious court in our country? Is he the best we can do?”
Even before Dr. Blasey had come forward, Democrats had attacked Judge Kavanaugh’s credibility, arguing that Bush White House emails had shown that he had misled the Senate when he came before it as an appeals court nominee in 2004 and 2006, in distancing himself from various Bush-era controversies including work on other disputed appeals court nominees and Senate Republican staffers’ then-secret infiltration of internal Democratic computer files to learn which nominees they were likely to try to block and with what tactics.
— Charlie Savage
Religious Right weighs in
Leaders of the religious right have been using Twitter to urge prayer for Judge Kavanaugh ahead of his testimony. Conservative evangelicals and Catholics have waged a significant campaign to confirm him, backed by millions of dollars in field operations across the country, to achieve a long held dream of a conservative majority on the bench.
The tweets invoke divine protection against what many conservatives have called a smear campaign against Judge Kavanaugh from Democrats and the media, designed to derail a Supreme Court nominee who they hope would restrict abortion rights. A couple include prayer for Dr. Blasey, while stressing the overarching importance of the Supreme Court’s future.
President Trump rallied his base to pray yesterday:
Gary Bauer, president of American Values and who serves on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, stood by the judge:
— Elizabeth Dias
The jousting began even before the hearing.
An hour before the hearing, Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, held a news conference in support of Dr. Blasey, flanked by trauma experts who spoke of the difficult and often hostile cultural attitudes faced by survivors of sexual abuse.
Ms. Murray was one of a number of female senators who was emboldened to run for office after watching Anita F. Hill testify in 1991, and she referenced that experience directly, calling on her colleagues to learn from their past mistakes.
“In 1991, I and millions of women across the country watched as Anita Hill was interrogated and attacked and the Senate failed this crucial test,” Ms. Murray said. “Twenty-seven years later, in 2018, we need to do better and we certainly should not do worse.”
As Ms. Murray delivered her remarks, dozens of protesters supporting Dr. Blasey poured into the Hart Senate Office Building, chanting “we won’t go back” and wearing shirts that said “Believe Women.” Four young women, wearing their Holton-Arms uniforms, walked through the Hart office buildings hallways, arms linked together.
In a small committee room, Blasey v. Kavanaugh is a hot ticket
Public access is extremely limited inside the hearing room. Several members of Congress plan to attend — their seats are being held by members of their staff — and also in the audience is Alyssa Milano, the actress and a co-founder of the Women’s March, who told reporters she is here to support Christine Blasey Ford.
Ms. Milano, attending at the invitation of Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said she has stark memories of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. “I remember it really was the foundation of my learning what sexual harassment was,” Ms. Milano said.
Access for the press is also extremely limited. At Judge Kavanaugh’s first confirmation hearings there were 156 seats in the room for reporters. Today there are 48.