The future makeup of the nation’s highest court hangs in the balance as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and one of a trio of women accusing him of sexual misconduct testify Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Destined to be strikingly similar to the explosive 1991 testimony of Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas, Thursday’s televised hearing could prove explosive as Christine Blasey Ford answers questions about allegations that a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and tried to take off her clothes during a Maryland house party in the early 1980s.
Kavanaugh plans to “categorically and unequivocally” deny the accusations, according to a copy of his opening remarks that were released on Wednesday.
The 53-year-old appeals court judge, who could swing the Supreme Court to the right for a generation, denies ever having a “sexual or physical encounter of any kind” with Ford, the first of three women to come forward with claims against him in recent weeks.
“I am innocent of this charge,” Kavanaugh will tell lawmakers.
Two other women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, have also accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.
The highly anticipated hearing, which follows two tense weeks of partisan bickering over the explosive claims, will begin with Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) making opening remarks.
Democrats have embraced Kavanaugh’s accusers and called for an FBI investigation before moving the nomination moves forward. They have also petitioned to have others testify, including Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s high school pal, who Ford says was in the room when she was attacked. Republicans, on the other hand, have bristled at the thought of delaying the conservative jurist’s confirmation any longer.
At 10 a.m., Ford will appear first and deliver her opening statement.
After she speaks, each committee member will have five minutes to question her. Republicans — wary of the optics of their 11 all-male committee members grilling a woman claiming to be a victim of sexual assault — will likely cede their time to outside counsel. The GOP has hired Rachel Mitchell, a seasoned sex-crimes prosecutor from Arizona, to ask questions on their behalf.
Following the release of Kavanaugh’s opening remarks, Ford’s legal team made public four sworn and signed affidavits that were sent to the panel that were sent to the panel on Wednesday from Ford’s husband and friends. Each states that Ford told them about the alleged assault before Kavanaugh was named as President Trump’s pick for the lifetime appointment to the bench. The results of a polygraph indicating Ford was being truthful was also released.
Ford’s allegations have not only deepened political divisions, but also turned Kavanaugh’s nomination into a referendum on the #MeToo movement and led to a nationwide discussion about how and when women report sexual misconduct.
Her time before the panel will inevitably echo Hill’s testimony that then-Supreme Court nominee Thomas sexually harassed her while she worked under him at the U.S. Department of Education nearly three decades ago.
Hill’s moving and matter-of-fact account captivated the 20 million people who tuned in to watch — but ultimately failed to derail Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court.
The bitter public battle in recent days led Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to lament on the Senate floor Wednesday that “the past couple of weeks makes it clear that we haven’t learned much at all” from the Hill proceedings.
Following her questioning, Ford will be ushered from the room and Kavanaugh will undergo the same process.
Democrats, including possible 2020 presidential contenders Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), will likely grill Kavanaugh on the accounts of the other accusers who will not be appearing before the panel. Both Booker and Harris hammered Kavanaugh on his time working in the George W. Bush White House and his conservative credentials during his first round of hearings three weeks ago. On Thursday, they’re more likely to focus on his days as a teen and college student.
According to the prepared copy of his opening remarks, Kavanaugh plans to tell the senators that he “drank beer with my friends, usually on weekends. Sometimes I had too many. In retrospect, I said and did things in high school that make me cringe now.”
But the detailed and disturbing account of Swetnick, made public Wednesday, paints a very different picture.
In a three-page sworn declaration, Swetnick, of Washington, D.C., says she witnessed Kavanaugh “consistently engage in excessive drinking and inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with women in the early 1980s.” She claims Kavanaugh and other teens would spike girls’ drinks and gang-rape them — and alleges she was a victim herself.
Ramirez, meanwhile, came forward with claims that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a Yale University dorm party.
The additional claims led all 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to urge Trump — who has faced his own litany of sexual misconduct allegations — to either “immediately withdraw the nomination or order an FBI investigation into the allegations.”
Trump has stood by his pick and taken to questioning his accusers’ credibility. He also made clear that he sees the battle over Kavanaugh as having major ramifications on the upcoming midterm elections, accusing the Democrats of playing a “con game.”
“If the Democrats are playing this game, that is disgraceful. It is a disgrace to the country. And I think you are going to see it in the midterms,” Trump said as he met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New York during the United Nations General Assembly. “I think people are wise too. It is a just con game. They are bringing people out of the woods. And they could do that to anybody.”