It was a day that will be remembered for decades on Thursday in Washington, D.C., as the hotly anticipated Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford featured compelling and powerful testimony on the sexual assault allegations roiling the capital. Nearly two weeks after reports emerged that Kavanaugh was being accused of a sexual assault while he was in high school 36 years ago, the accuser finally made her case in public, and Kavanaugh got a chance to respond on the national stage.
The day started with the delicately negotiated appearance of Blasey Ford, a psychology professor who wrote a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in July alleging that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a D.C. area house party in the summer of 1982. Ford laid out her case essentially the same as has been reported in the media. Republicans hired an independent counsel — Rachel Mitchell, a sex crimes prosecutor from Maricopa County, Ariz. — to question Ford on the senators’ behalf. All the Republicans on the committee yielded their allotted five minutes to Mitchell. But because the questions alternated between Republican and Democrat members and no Democrat was willing to cede time to Mitchell, her line of questions were often disjointed. As a prosecutor accustomed to laying out facts and proving what and where, she was not especially equipped for a cross-examination to poke holes in Ford’s story.
But Mitchell was able to establish some key facts: Ford does not remember where the party took place. At 15, she was too young to drive herself, but she does not remember how she got to the party, nor does she remember how she got home from the party. Ford’s attorneys were recommended to her by Feinstein’s office, and they are representing her pro bono. When asked who paid for a polygraph that found no flaws in Ford’s story, Ford replied that she did not know, and then her attorneys stepped in to say that they had paid for it. Ford said the polygraph was taken in an airport hotel on the day of her grandmother’s funeral. Ford’s attorneys had initially declined the committee’s invitation to testify, saying Ford had a fear of flying, but Ford testified that she regularly flies nationally and internationally. Ford’s story had numerous gaping holes and she was unable to offer any kind of proof. But her testimony was emotional and seemed credible.
After Ford was dismissed, Kavanaugh finally had his chance to speak — and he came out with guns blazing.
In testimony that was just as forceful — if not more so — as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s before the same committee in 1991, Kavanaugh vehemently and unequivocally denied he committed the offense or any of the other offenses that have been alleged since Ford’s story went public. With the raw fury of a man who says he has been falsely accused of a horrific crime, he forcefully took on committee Democrats, laying into them for their extreme rhetoric and tactics in trying to defeat his nomination. He said he had no ill will towards Ford, and did not doubt that she had been sexually assaulted, but said emphatically it was not him.
In the most emotional moment of the testimony, he spoke of how earlier in the week his 10-year-old daughter led the family to pray for Ford. Telling the story brought Kavanaugh and his wife, seated behind him, to tears. Kavanaugh became emotional to the point of tears several times as he recalled his early life with his parents, the effect the allegations had on his family, and the support he had received from friends and colleagues. And he declared repeatedly that he was innocent. Any summary of Kavanaugh’s testimony does not do the moment justice, as the room was held in rapt attention:
After Kavanaugh concluded his raw 40-minute opening statement, committee Democrats seemed stunned. Sen. Feinstein, at the center of the controversy for her decision to sit on the letter until it seemed certain Kavanaugh was sailing towards confirmation, was the first to question him and stammered through her allotted time, not even using the full five minutes. She called for an FBI investigation, prompting Kavanaugh to ask why one was needed when he was sitting right in front of the committee.
Kavanaugh’s highly compelling remarks were rivaled only by those of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who made a furious indictment of the conduct of Democrats throughout the confirmation process. It was a speech that will go down as one of the most powerful in Senate history:
From there, Democrats were mostly relegated to examining Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook and his drinking habits. Their playbook for the rest of the hearing was to establish that Kavanaugh had a drinking problem in high school so that they could make the far-fetched case that Kavanaugh assaulted Ford while he was so drunk that he didn’t remember it. Kavanaugh pushed back at Democrats during the first round of questions. After a particularly heated moment with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the committee went into recess, during which Kavanaugh and Klobuchar apologized to one another, and the hearing went on mostly without incident from there. In the final question, Kavanaugh swore again in the name of God that he was innocent.
So, what was learned about the actual case from Thursday’s barn burner? Very little. While Ford’s testimony seemed genuine and compelling, Kavanaugh’s was just as much if not more so. Ford’s accusation was uncorroborated at the beginning of the day, and remained uncorroborated at the end of the day. Kavanaugh did seem to have a partying lifestyle that involved a bit too much drinking. But as a Catholic, straight-A student, he testified that he never had a serious drinking problem and never engaged in sexual activity with anyone in high school. Even though he was presented with the impossible task of proving a negative, Kavanaugh was able to offer some proof in the form of a meticulous diary with no mention of the party and the denials of the alleged witnesses that the events ever took place. It seems to be an irreconcilable, unresolvable case of she-said, he-said.
But what was learned about the confirmation process and the state of politics in the United States in the Trump era? Quite a lot. Kavanaugh’s and Graham’s scathing indictments of the conduct of Democrats and left-wing activists exposed just how far they are willing to go to maintain their grip on power. Most leftist public policy victories in the last 50 years, like abortion and same-sex marriage, have been achieved not through popular vote or legislative action but through court mandates from unelected judges. Democrats and leftists are terrified of losing those gains under a Republican appointee who would tilt the balance of the court and are willing to entertain outlandish uncorroborated claims of violent felonies to take him down.
Sexual assault remains front and center in the public discourse in the #MeToo era, and rightfully so. Ford deserved a hearing of her own, and it does seem likely that Ford has experienced some form of sexual assault at the hands of some person. But it also seems likely that it was not Kavanaugh. Due process remains important to the American system, and uncorroborated and unproven claims that are thoroughly inconsistent with the conduct of a man cannot be allowed to disqualify him from public service.
Several Republicans thought to be on the fence came forward in the hours after the hearing to say they would vote for Kavanaugh. It’s even possible one or more red-state Democrats will back him as well. There are likely more bumps in the road ahead, and the left will continue to fight and resist the nomination. But Judge Kavanaugh does seem to be on his way to becoming Justice Kavanaugh in a matter of days.
Photo credit: Screenshot via YouTube