There was laughter and there were tears.
Christine Blasey Ford’s voice cracked on Thursday as she recalled for the Senate Judiciary Committee the brutal attack she says she endured over three decades ago in the bedroom of a Maryland home.
“Laughter — the uproarious laughter between the two,” Ford, her voice wavering, said as she struggled to maintain her composure and describe the harrowing details of the night she claims she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as his friend watched.
“They were laughing with each other…I was underneath one of them while the two laughed.”
Asked if she was sure Kavanaugh was her attacker, Ford answered unequivocally.
“100%,” she replied.
Hours later, an angry and tearful Kavanaugh battled to regain control of his own confirmation hearings, telling Congress that allegations by Ford and others have “totally and permanently destroyed” his family and his reputation.
The 53-year-old conservative appeals court jurist, his voice rising in defiance, denied ever sexually assaulting anyone, professed his love of beer and called the political firestorm that has erupted in the wake of Ford going public “a national disgrace.”
Kavanaugh condemned Democrats, who he blamed for being behind “a calculated and orchestrated political hit.”
President Trump commended his pick’s performance.
“Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting,” he tweeted. “Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”
The mood was intense as Kavanaugh became agitated with questions from Dems and his voice filled the room during the extraordinary session, unlike Ford’s more subdued testimony.
The room exploded with emotion as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked Kavanaugh to turn to the White House counsel Don McGahn, sitting in the front row, and urge him to suspend the hearing and call for an FBI investigation.
“Stop the clock!” Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) interrupted in the middle of Durbin’s remarks. “This committee is running the hearing. Not the White House, not Don McGahn.”
Grassley added, “We’re not suspending this hearing.”
The White House alone can order the FBI to open an investigation into non-federal crimes.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) then became the first Republican to directly address either witness as he launched into a fiery tirade, calling the hearings the “most despicable thing I’ve ever seen in politics.”
He then pointed to his Democratic colleagues and said they have “destroyed this guy’s life.”
“I hope the American people see through this sham,” he added.
In the front row, Kavanaugh’s family and friends, including his wife, Ashley, openly wept as he choked up more than once himself. Behind them, actress Alyssa Milano, a Ford supporter, watched the proceedings.
Echoing the spectacle inside, hundreds of protesters backing Ford marched through Washington and rallied on the steps of the Capitol building. The United States Capitol Police said at least 57 people were arrested for blocking traffic and crossing police lines.
Ford, a research psychologist from California, said she was “terrified” to testify.
In her three hours before the panel, Ford was cordial but firm in her responses to detailed questions from Rachel Mitchell, a veteran sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona who asked questions for the committee’s 11 GOP senators, who are all men. Ford also maintained that she is “an independent person and I am no pawn.”
Mitchell grilled Ford about a polygraph and asked who was paying her legal team as she attempted to chip away at Ford’s credibility. But any momentum she had was repeatedly interrupted by a strict five-minute limit.
Ford went on to detail her accusations, telling of a drunken young Kavanaugh pinning her to a bed, trying to remove her clothes and holding a hand over her mouth as she tried to yell for help. A friend of her alleged attacker stood by and she recalled “the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
Ford, now 51, said she believed Kavanaugh “was going to rape me.”
Four other women have come forward with similar claims over the past week, throwing Kavanaugh’s confirmation into turmoil.
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), in a nod to the #metoo movement, lamented how little has changed since Anita Hill testified before a Senate panel in 1991 about similar allegations against Justice Clarence Thomas.
“How women are treated in the United States, with this kind of concern, is really wanting a lot of reform,” Feinstein said.
Experts noted that Ford’s testimony appeared credible.
“As a former federal prosecutor who’s interviewed thousands of witnesses, Dr. Ford’s testimony rings true,” Jeffrey Cramer, a former assistant U.S. attorney and managing director at Berkeley Research Group, told the Daily News. “Not just what she’s saying, but how she’s saying it.
“The things she remembers, the things she doesn’t necessarily remember are said as someone who didn’t want to come forward nor planned some complicated story to tell,” Cramer added.
Kavanaugh, 53, when his turn came, struggled to hold back tears as he talked about his family and detailed a calendar from the summer of 1982 that he claimed proved his innocence.
The document, created when he was 17 years old, lists exams, movies, sports practices and vacations along with notes about parties.
Asked about drinking in high school, he said he had, sometimes to excess. “I like beer,” he said, but he also said he’d never passed out and denied ever attacking Ford.
“I have never done this to her or to anyone,” he said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) countered Feinstein’s reference to Hill later in the day, decrying the proceeding as unfair.
“This is worse than Clarence Thomas. I didn’t think it could get any worse than that. This is a national disgrace,” he said. “He was an immature high-schooler. So were we all.”
The bitter back-and-forth played out amid an election season battle being waged between conservatives and liberals, with the future make up of the Supreme Court hanging in the balance.
Trump and his fellow Republicans have rallied behind Kavanaugh, whose confirmation would cement a conservative majority of the court for a generation.
Despite the competing testimonies, the committee said it would vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Among the millions of Americans watching the proceedings was the President, who has stood by his pick and mocked the credibility of Kavanaugh’s accusers.
Trump tuned in while aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington from the United Nations and spent the rest of the day in the White House residence watching the hearing, a spokeswoman said.
If Kavanaugh’s nomination is approved by the committee, which is controlled 11-10 by Republicans, he must still be confirmed by the full Senate. The GOP controls the chamber by a narrow 51-49 margin.
A handful of moderate Republicans have not announced whether or not they support Kavanaugh and their reactions to the day’s testimonies could determine his fate.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), one of several Republicans who have not yet pledged their support, called for humility and said the proceedings did little to clear the cloud hanging over Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“This is not a good process. But it’s all we’ve got,” he said. “In the end, there is likely to be as much doubt as certainty going out of this room today. As we make decisions going forward, I hope that people will recognize that.
“In the rhetoric that we use and the language that we use going forward we’ll recognize that — that there is doubt. We’ll never move beyond that and just have a little humility on that front,” Flake added.
Graham’s outburst, which echoed the President’s flair for the dramatic, was not the only sign that the majority of Republicans remained steadfast in their support.
“You’re not guilty if someone makes an allegation against you in this country. We’re not a police state. We don’t give the government that kind of power,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said as the hearing stretched into the evening.
Kavanaugh replied, “I’m never going to get my reputation back. My life is totally and permanently altered.”