BY: TANNER KENNEY
On Thursday, September 27th, 2018, both Professor Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh testified in an open hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about an accusation of sexual assault that occurred during their high school day.
The hearing began with opening remarks from Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) regarding the necessity the hearing, citing the damage done to the lives of both individuals testifying, and Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) followed with comments moving in the opposite direction of Sen. Grassley, an introduction of Blasey Ford, and an explanation of why the hearing is necessary for protecting the rights of victims of sexual violence, to which she was immediately interrupted.
Sen. Feinstein asserted that the hearing served to re-victimize Blasey Ford in a similar manner to Anita Hill and her appearance in front of the Committee during the confirmation hearings for Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. Blasey Ford was then sworn-in to the hearing and, following procedural instructions, she began her opening remarks, immediately holding back tears. In doing so, Blasey Ford bravely detailed her allegations of how she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh. Blasey Ford discussed a party where she, Kavanaugh, his friend Mark Judge, and two other friends – “P.J.,” and one more person she “could not recall” – were in attendance.
Blasey Ford said that a small gathering of friends were drinking beer, and after drinking one herself, she alleges she was pushed from behind into a bedroom across from an upstairs bathroom by both Kavanaugh and Judge, the door was locked, music turned up, and Kavanaugh placed his hand over her mouth. She alleges he could not get by her one-piece bathing suit under her clothes, and when she was able to do so, she unlocked the door, ran out of the room into the bathroom, and waited until she could no longer hear the two downstairs to flee the home.
Dr. Blasey Ford stated that she first named Kavanaugh as her attacker in a couple’s therapy session in 2012, and that her husband, Russell, could corroborate her story. From here, Blasey Ford detailed how she was able to work through her fears, one step at a time, to bring these allegations to light. She placed an anonymous “tip” to the Washington Post, and subsequently wrote a letter to Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and, subsequently, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). In a letter dated August 31st, Blasey Ford said that Sen. Feinstein wrote she still had not revealed her name to anyone not specifically requested. Blasey Ford says one of her email accounts was recently “hacked” and that an email recounting her allegations was fabricated and distributed via the address.
Dr. Blasey Ford said her “motivation was to be helpful” in providing accurate information regarding the actions and attitude of Kavanaugh, and that she would “do her best” in responding to questions from sex crimes-prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, who immediately acknowledged her “terrified” demeanor and laid-out guidelines to “alleviate” some of Blasey Ford’s stress. Sen. Feinstein began her questioning by submitting into evidence 140 letters of support of Blasey Ford and first asked why Blasey Ford “held it to” herself for “all these years,” but Blasey Ford retorted that she had not done that, eventually publicly naming Kavanaugh. She also said she was a “100%” certain that Kavanaugh was her attacker, that she has not seen him since, and that she saw Judge at a Safeway where he appeared to be very uncomfortable. She stated she said hello to him, and that his face turned white and he said “hello” back, but he appeared “nervous and not wanting to speak with [her]” roughly “6 to 8 weeks” after the attack.
The hearing was characterized by a lot of vulnerability on the part of Dr. Blasey Ford as well as a lot of praise for her bravery and courage by Democratic Senators during their questioning. The same is to be said for her counsels, Debra Katz and Michael Bromwitch, both of whom working pro-bono and the latter even leaving his position at Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP to represent Dr. Ford. Both Mr. Bromwitch and Ms. Katz presented as formidable protectors of Dr. Blasey Ford, guiding her meticulously through the ups and downs of the hearing and allowing her truth to shine through. Rachel Mitchell did the majority of the questioning on behalf of the Republican senators on the committee, probing Dr. Blasey Ford on her fear of flying, statements made to the media as well as her understanding of psychological factors.
Following the conclusion of her testimony, Chairman Grassley stated that the Committee reached out to the witnesses named by Blasey Ford, but they refused to testify, providing instead written statements. Notably, Chairman Grassley also stated that the minority did not participate in the process, despite their public requests, and did not acknowledge the majority’s refusal to subpoena those witnesses.
In stark contrast to Dr. Blasey Ford’s demeanor, Kavanaugh immediately launched his defense against Blasey Ford’s accusations in an opening statement that referenced letters of support for his claims. Kavanaugh spoke emphatically and emotionally in recalling his demands for a swift hearing, lamenting the destruction of his name, the reputation of his family, and more in criticizing the “10-day delay” between the accusations coming to light and this hearing. Interestingly, Kavanaugh chided the “left” for creating false accusations against him, referencing his own “Borking” at the hands of the Democratic minority. He said Dr. Blasey Ford’s letter was “held in secret” and publicly acknowledged by the minority “against Dr. Ford’s wishes” in order to destroy Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Kavanaugh spoke scathingly about the “well-funded” plot to destroy him before he turned to his family, primarily his mother, and claimed the allegations are “uncorroborated” and unsubstantiated. Kavanaugh began crying when speaking of saying nightly prayers with his young daughters, one of whom he claimed to have prayed for Blasey Ford, and stated he harbors no ill-will towards anyone as he has been under scrutiny for decades.
Kavanaugh frequently stated that he does not question Dr. Ford “may have been sexually assaulted” in some place, at some time, by someone, adding that he had never done such a thing “to anyone.” Kavanaugh discussed his high school parties, his drinking habits, and again appeared emotional while discussing how his father taught him to keep detailed calendars in order to memorialize both important and inconsequential events throughout one’s life.
Throughout his opening remarks, Kavanaugh rarely appeared calm, often shifting rapidly between yelling and crying, modulating his voice for most of his statement. Sen. Grassley then handed the floor to Mitchell for questioning and she began by asking his understanding of “sexual behavior.” Mitchell then asked Kavanaugh about his friend, Mark Judge, to which he had troubled responding as to the nature of their friendship.
Kavanaugh claims that he has not “talked” to Judge in several years, but stated that they may have been on “the same email chain” and that he is a talented writer who suffered from addiction for many years, coming close to death on one occasion. Sen. Feinstein was next to question Kavanaugh and asked why he has not requested the FBI investigate the allegations further.
Again, Kavanaugh lambasted the “nonsense” that took place during the 10-day break between the revelation of Blasey Ford’s allegations and this hearing. Kavanaugh called the allegations by Julie Swetnick an “outrage” and that they are patently false. Mitchell returned for questioning about drinking. which then turned graphic as the allegations were broken-down individually, including the detailed calendars that Kavanaugh proudly kept.
Unlike Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh asked for a break nearly immediately after questions began as he appeared to have a difficult time addressing the questions posited by both sides. After the hearing resumed, Sen. Leahy addressed Chairman Grassley’s refusal to subpoena Mark Judge and asked if Kavanaugh would want that to take place in a tense exchange. Kavanaugh then insinuated that questioning Judge would be akin to making fun of someone with an addiction.
The conversation then turned to his high school partying and his relationship with women, to which Kavanaugh yelled back at Leahy and listed his academic, athletic, and philanthropic accomplishments. As Leahy’s time expired, he lamented that “not one” question was answered and Mitchell returned to her previous line of questioning in asking about the nicknames of individuals named in Kavanaugh’s calendar. Mitchell then abruptly shifted her course to ask Kavanaugh about his knowledge that the statute of limitations for the alleged crime in the location it occurred does not expire, to which he answered in the affirmative and she finished with additional procedural questions.
Throughout the hearing, Democratic Senators chastised Chairman Grassley’s refusal to subpoena additional witness that could attest to Blasey Ford’s credibility, Kavanaugh’s long-accused history of debauchery, and, primarily, the alleged events, themselves. In doing so, the Democratic members of the Committee cited additional allegations from Debbie Ramirez as well as Julie Swetnick along with an additional anonymous fourth accuser reported by NBC News.
Although the Judiciary Committee requires witnesses to testify under oath, the introduction of evidence – including via testimony – does not follow the same procedures as they would in a court of law, and Kavanaugh’s confirmation process has seen its fair share of adjudication via the media. Mitchell, herself, has also come under public scrutiny for her refusal to prosecute a man for abusing his quadriplegic wife in 2003 as well as arranging a plea agreement with a Jehovah’s Witness for 6 months in prison after pleading guilty to assaulting a male teen. Even prior to the conclusion of the hearing, pundits wondered as to her ability to adequately represent the majority on the Committee and which side of the aisle she truly sat.
On July 9th, 2018, President Donald Trump announced Judge Kavanaugh’s highly controversial nomination after releasing a list of candidates to fill the seat on SCOTUS’ bench that will be opened by the retirement of Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. This was after Kavanaugh failed to make the list initially put forth by Trump in 2017 that resulted in the nomination and confirmation of another highly controversial judge, Neil Gorsuch, who filled the seat of the then-recently deceased Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.
Numerous legal experts, observers, and journalists have noted Judge Kavanaugh’s numerous potential personal problems, including a possible gambling problem and major credit card debt tied to Washington Nationals season tickets that could present potential conflicts of interest in addition to allegations of perjury. Moreover, Kavanaugh has been criticized for his work with the Starr investigation and subsequent change-of-heart regarding presidential power, including the office’s ability to pardon associates, employees, and even state crimes. And all of this is to say nothing of his work for the Bush Administration including a highly controversial torture program and his partisan rhetoric during today’s hearing. As the Senate Judiciary Committee moves closer to a full vote, the country, political analysts, career politicians, activists and survivors of sexual abuse continue to be embroiled in the political fights. The American Bar Association, following the hearing, also requested an FBI investigation into the allegations creating an air of doubt regarding the suitability of Brett Kavanaugh for the highest court of the land. With the confirmation nearing, all eyes are now on the Senate as key swing votes come into play.
Tanner Kenney is an energy and media professional with a background in journalism and received his M.S. in Global Affairs, Environment & Energy Policy from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. Recently, Tanner has focused on the advocacy of sustainable development through renewable energy technologies, transportation efficiency, and inclusive public policy.
Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.