WASHINGTON – After the death threats, the speculation about her motives and the rallies both for and against her, Christine Blasey Ford spoke for herself Thursday.
An emotional but definitive Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee – and millions of television viewers – that she’s “100 percent” certain she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh decades ago.
With a breaking voice, Ford described what happened to her at a house party in 1982 with Kavanaugh – “the boy who sexually assaulted me.”
“Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes,” Ford said.
She testified that she was pinned to a bed by Kavanaugh as he tried to stop her from screaming by covering her mouth with his hand, making it hard for her to breathe.
Ford believed he was going to rape her and thought he might accidentally kill her.
At the time, she was 15 – the same age as one of her two sons.
Ford said her strongest memory of the incident is the “uproarious laughter” of Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, who she said was also in the room.
“They were having fun at my expense,” she said. “I was underneath one of them while the two laughed.”
Asked by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., how certain she is that Kavanaugh assaulted her, Ford replied: “100 percent.”
When Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Christine Blasey Ford how she so clearly remembered her alleged encounter with Brett Kavanaugh, she said “basic memory functions” and went on to explain the science behind them.
Ford described herself as a reluctant witness who came forward out of her civic duty.
“I am here today not because I want to be,” she said, her voice breaking. “I am terrified.”
The 51-year-old psychology professor had entered the walnut-paneled Senate committee room mid-morning – the culmination of what she’s called the hardest weeks of her life.
“After I read my opening statement, I anticipate needing some caffeine,” she said.
Ford, wearing a navy blue suit and glasses she occasionally pushed to the top of her head, sipped first coffee and then Coke throughout her more than two-hour appearance. She turned and waved to supporters sitting behind her after taking her seat at the witness table.
The mother of two, who later told the semi-circle of senators that she’s “no one’s pawn,” stoically faced Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley as he opened the hearing.
“I want to apologize to you both for the way you’ve been treated and I intend hopefully for today’s hearing to be safe, comfortable and dignified for both of our witnesses,” Grassley, R-Iowa, said to both Ford and the absent Kavanaugh.
The dozens of photographers that typically would have been jockeying to capture Ford’s first seconds in the spotlight had been limited to eight. The video cameras were unobtrusively placed throughout the room.
The nearly 50 reporters squeezed into tables on the room’s outer edges where they furiously typed her words into their laptops had also been reduced in numbers to fit into a space smaller than the one usually used for such blockbuster hearings.
Kavanaugh, who has categorically denied the allegations, was scheduled to testify after Ford. He planned to tell senators that he’s not questioning whether Ford “may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time.”
“But I have never done that to her or to anyone,” he stated in prepared remarks provided to the committee in advance.
Kavanaugh got a dry run when he sat for an interview with Fox News on Monday.
But Thursday was the first time the public could hear directly from Ford.
Asked why she originally wanted her account to be anonymous, Ford said that after Kavanaugh’s nomination received substantial support, she determined she would only suffer /”for no reason” by speaking out.
As Ford detailed the threats she’s received since going public, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., looks down at the table. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., clasped his hands in front of his face and stared straight ahead.
When Rachel Mitchell, the attorney that the all-male Republican members of the committee had tasked with probing Ford on their behalf, began her questions, she tried to make Ford feel comfortable.
“The first thing that struck me from your statement this morning is that you’re terrified,” Mitchell said. “I’m very sorry. That’s not right.”
In comments during a lunch break that suggested why Republicans deferred to Mitchell, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called Ford an articulate witness and an “attractive person.”
“In other words, she’s pleasing,” Hatch told CNN.
Among those sitting in the six rows of chairs behind the witness table was actress Alyssa Milano, an outspoken advocate of the #MeToo movement. Milano had been invited by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
“I felt like I needed to be here and show solidarity in my support for Dr. Ford for this day that will surely be incredibly difficult for her,” Milano said.
She was seated next to Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List which has been pushing senators to support Kavanaugh’s nomination.
In order to avoid protesters, the entire floor where the hearing was set to take place was restricted to just staff, press and invited guests with high police presence.
The first two rows of seats behind the witness table were Ford’s invited guests. The third row was for Kavanaugh’s guests – that will swap when Kavanaugh testifies. But as of 10 a.m. the third row was empty.
The remaining three rows are invited guests and members of Congress. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Jackie Speier of California – lawmakers who have all been vocal about sexual harassment – were in the audience.
Zaina Bjaffa, a senior at the private high school in Maryland that Ford attended, was one of four Holton-Arms students who attended the hearing to support Ford.
“Our school teaches us to advocate for ourselves and I’m just proud to be here,” Bjaffa said.
The hearing has captivated Capitol Hill. In a bathroom of the Senate building where the hearing was taking place, a woman sat on the floor following the hearing on her phone. Crowds of reporters lined the hallway watching on their phones and computers.
President Donald Trump watched Ford’s testimony aboard Air Force One, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. Trump did not comment to reporters after exiting the helicopter that brought him back to the White House.
Contributing: Eliza Collins and David Jackson, USA TODAY.
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