While testifying about sexual allegations made against him, an emotional Brett Kavanaugh said his 10-year-old daughter suggested they pray together for his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – An angry, defiant and openly emotional Brett Kavanaugh – facing the job interview of a lifetime for a seat on the Supreme Court – on Thursday blamed 11th-hour accusations of sexual assault on “a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.”
In a lengthy and dramatic opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee and in response to follow-up questions from disbelieving Democrats, the 53-year-old federal appeals court judge forcefully denied Christine Blasey Ford‘s claim that he attacked her as a 17-year-old in the summer of 1982, before his senior year in high school.
Ford appeared credible during several hours of testimony in the morning, going so far as to say that Kavanaugh’s actions “have damaged my life.” In response, Kavanaugh bitterly complained that his reputation and family life “have been totally and permanently destroyed” by the reopened investigation into his private life.
The tense, day-long session played out on live television and before a packed hearing room, a watchful president and a nation sitting in judgment. From the start, Kavanaugh appeared to have concluded that his only hope was to unite Republicans behind his nomination and give up on any support from Democrats.
“I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process. You’ve tried hard. You’ve given it your all. No one can question your effort,” he said, clearly singling out the Democrats on the panel. “But your coordinated and well-funded effort to destroy my family will not drive me out.
“You may defeat me in the final vote,” he said, “but you’ll never get me to quit. Never.”
Trump was thrilled with his nominee’s tone. “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him,” he tweeted after the hearing ended. “His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting.”
Democrats tried throughout the afternoon and into the evening to drive home three points: That an FBI investigation into the accusations could help sort out the truth, but Kavanaugh would not ask for one. That Mark Judge, who Ford said was in the room during the alleged attack, should be questioned beyond his brief, sworn statement denying knowledge. And that Kavanaugh, like Ford, should take a polygraph test.
Their efforts to cast doubt on Kavanaugh’s credibility didn’t sway most Republicans. But near the end of the nearly nine-hour hearing, Arizona’s Jeff Flake – a potential swing vote – said both Ford and Kavanaugh gave “compelling testimony.”
“In the end, we are 21 very imperfect senators, trying to do our best,” Flake said. “There is doubt. We’ll never move beyond that.”
Kavanaugh’s opening statement was more dramatic and detailed than what he had submitted to the committee in advance because, he said, he wrote it himself the day before. He delivered it in at times irate, at times weepy tones, pausing frequently for water to avoid breaking down.
He said the decision to publicize Ford’s originally private accusation and reopen his confirmation hearing was fueled in part by “revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside, left-wing opposition groups.” Kavanaugh worked in the 1990s on the investigation into President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, which led to his impeachment.
“This is a circus!” Kavanaugh shouted at one point, calling it a “grotesque, coordinated character assassination” that may prevent him from returning to a life that included teaching students at Harvard Law School and coaching girls basketball through the Christian Youth Organization.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was even angrier, “I hope the American people can see through this sham,” he said, accusing Democrats of springing the sexual assault allegations at the 11th hour on purpose.
“This is not a job interview,” Graham said. “This is hell.”
Playing to Trump, Republicans
Kavanaugh may have been aware that Trump, who nominated him 2½ months ago for the seat vacated by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, was watching on Air Force One as he returned from the United Nations. At any time, Trump can choose to withdraw the nomination and start over.
The former White House associate counsel and staff secretary, who has served 12 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, came to the hearing having survived six FBI background investigations. But he refused to agree with Democrats that a seventh probe could prove, in legal terms, “dispositive.”
Kavanaugh previously had submitted 17,000 pages of judicial opinions, speeches and writings and answered more than 1,200 written questions. Nearly 300,000 pages of documents from his White House years were reviewed. And in recent days, he was interviewed three times by the committee’s staff about multiple claims of sexual misconduct in his youth.
None of that compared to the onslaught that was to come Thursday afternoon.
From the Democratic side of the panel, five former prosecutors and five other opponents of his nomination stared down, having just heard Ford – a “terrified” California college professor – say she was “100 percent” certain that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a suburban Maryland home when she was just 15.
Democrats pounced on Kavanaugh’s high school behavior, from heavy beer drinking to crude references in his yearbook. That led him to defend his record at the school, including finishing at or near the top of his class each year and starring in athletics.
“I’m going to talk about my high school record if you’re going to sit here and mock me,” he said to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
“We got a filibuster but not a single answer,” Leahy said.
From law to sex, booze
During four days of testimony earlier this month, Kavanaugh steered clear of Democrats’ attacks about his views on presidential power, abortion, gun control and other issues. He cited Supreme Court precedent, refused to answer hypothetical questions and steered clear of politics.
He would not get that chance Thursday as senators on both sides of the aisle peppered him with questions on topics including the judge’s sex life and drinking habits.
He acknowledged an affinity for beer in high school and even today. “Sometimes I had too many beers. Sometimes others did,” he said. “I liked beer. I still like beer.
“But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out, and I never assaulted anyone.”
The issue of potential blackouts, possibly accompanied by next-day memory lapses about the previous night’s activities, was brought up repeatedly by Democrats in an effort to determine whether Kavanaugh might have done something he then forgot.
Despite his denials, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said, “Drinking is one thing, but the concern is about truthfulness.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the central question was about “credibility.”
On the issue of sex – “not a topic I ever imagined would come up at a judicial confirmation hearing,” Kavanaugh said – “I never had sexual intercourse or anything close to it during high school or several years after that.”
Democrats were not convinced. Feinstein asked Kavanaugh why he did not request that the FBI investigate the women’s claims, which she said raised “a real question of character for someone who is asking for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.”
Kavanaugh had been on the verge of confirmation to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court when Ford’s accusation came to light nearly two weeks ago. Since then, Deborah Ramirez accused him of exposing himself during a Yale University drinking game when they were both freshmen, and Julie Swetnick said he regularly engaged “in abusive behavior” toward girls in high school. Swetnick is represented by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn star and Trump accuser Stormy Daniels.
Kavanaugh sought to address all the accusations in his testimony. In an aside during the questioning, he said, “The Swetnick thing is a joke. That is a farce.”
“Over the past few days, other false and uncorroborated accusations have been aired,” he said. “There has been a frenzy to come up with something – anything, no matter how far-fetched or odious – that will block a vote on my nomination. These are last-minute smears, pure and simple.”
For a high court that does not allow cameras and prides itself on remaining above the political fray, the Kavanaugh nomination is a public relations disaster.
As the remaining eight justices privately granted five more cases Thursday for the term that begins next Monday, the potential ninth justice was on national TV addressing deeply personal issues. Earlier in the week, he had touted his high school virginity and showcased his summer 1982 calendar featuring “BEACH WEEK” and ballgames.
Kavanaugh almost broke down Thursday in talking about keeping such calendars, a habit he said he picked up from his father. He listed only a few weekend nights when he was in the Washington, D.C., area and said they were all accounted for.
“Let me emphasize this point: If the party described by Dr. Ford happened in the summer of 1982 on a weekend night, my calendar shows almost definitively that I was not there.”
The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a meeting Friday to take up Kavanaugh’s nomination, but that could be postponed if senators are not prepared to vote. If they go forward, Republican leaders have said they may bring Kavanaugh’s nomination to a vote in the full Senate by early next week.
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