Ford, Kavanaugh set to testify in high-stakes U.S. Senate hearing

Watch live here as the U.S. Senate judiciary committee listens to testimony from U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her at a Maryland residence in the early 1980s. 

The Senate judiciary committee — 11 Republicans, all men, and 10 Democrats — is hearing from just two witnesses on Thursday: Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge who has long been eyed for the Supreme Court, and Ford, a California psychology professor who accuses him of attempting to rape her when they were teens.

Republicans have derided her allegation as part of a smear campaign and a Democratic plot to sink Kavanaugh’s nomination. But after more allegations have emerged, some Republican senators have allowed that much is riding on Kavanaugh’s performance. U.S. President Donald Trump has fiercely defended Kavanaugh but said Wednesday he was “open to changing my mind.”

The hearing will be the first time the country sees and hears from the 51-year-old Ford. In testimony released in advance of the hearing, she said she was appearing only because she felt it was her duty, was frankly “terrified” and has been the target of vile harassment and even death threats.

Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party 36 years ago, is shown before testifying on Thursday. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

“It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court,” she was to tell the senators. “My responsibility is to tell the truth.”

Ford will testify first at the hearing, and at her request is being held in a small, wood-panelled hearing room that seats only a few dozen spectators.

Republicans have hired an outside attorney, Phoenix prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, to handle much of their questioning. Thus, they will avoid having their all-male contingent interrogating Ford about the details of what she describes as a harrowing assault.

Political stakes are high

The stakes for both political parties — and the country — are high. Republicans are pushing to seat Kavanaugh before the November midterms, when Senate control could fall to the Democrats and a replacement Trump nominee could have even greater difficulty. Kavanaugh’s ascendance to the high court could help lock in a conservative majority for a generation, shaping dozens of rulings on abortion, regulation, the environment and more.

But Republicans also risk rejection by female voters in November if they are seen as not fully respecting women and their allegations.

Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor from Arizona being employed the Republican committee, is seen prior to Thursday’s confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Democrats plan to ask Kavanaugh if he’d be willing to undergo FBI questioning about the various claims — a request Republicans oppose — and press him about his drinking and behaviour as a teenager.

Questions for Ford will be aimed at giving her a chance to explain herself. That includes describing why it took her so long to publicly discuss the alleged incident and how it’s affected her life, the aide said.

Ford plans to tell the committee that, one night in the summer of 1982, a drunken Kavanaugh forced her down on a bed, “groped me and tried to take off my clothes,” then clamped his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream before she was able to escape.

“I believed he was going to rape me,” she will say, according to her prepared testimony.

In his prepared testimony, the 53-year-old appellate judge acknowledges drinking in high school with his friends, but says he’s never done anything “remotely resembling” what Ford describes. He has admitted knowing who she was, but has strenuously denied having a “sexual or physical encounter of any kind” with her.

He also provided the committee with detailed calendar pages with activities during the summer of 1982, while Ford has released sworn statements from people who said she had told them about the assault in later years.

Echoes of contentious 1991 session

The politically explosive hearings evoke comparisons to 1991, when Anita Hill accused now-Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Thomas denied Hill’s accusation.

The Republican-led committee still plans on holding a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Friday, despite Democratic protestations.

Protesters of Kavanaugh’s nomination gathered early Thursday in front of the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

Two other women have publicly come forward with years-old allegations concerning Kavanaugh’s behaviour in high school and college.

Deborah Ramirez, whose allegations of sexual misconduct were reported earlier this week by The New Yorker magazine, accuses Kavanaugh of exposure and unwanted physical contact with his genitals during the 1983-84 academic year, when both attended Yale University.

Julie Swetnick, a longtime federal government employee, submitted an affidavit to the committee — which carries the possibility of perjury if proven false — in which she accuses Kavanaugh of “abusive and physically aggressive behaviour towards girls.” She also alleges being drugged and sexually assaulted by unspecified males at a party Kavanaugh attended.

The committee has not yet invited her to testify, nor have they subpoenaed Mark Judge, a friend of Kavanaugh’s whose name appears in the accounts of both Swetnick and Ford.

The Republican members of the committee are, by rank: Chair Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Ben Sasse (Nebraska), Jeff Flake (Arizona), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Thom Thillis (North Carolina) and John Kennedy (Louisiana).

The Democratic members, by rank, are: Dianne Feinstein (California), Pat Leahy (Vermont), Dick Durban (Illinois), Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island), Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), Chris Coons (Delaware), Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Cory Booker (New Jersey) and Kamala Harris (California).

After the committee members vote, the full legislative body could have their say next week. Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate.

The vacancy on the top court is due to the retirement of Anthony Kennedy, who was often a swing vote on the nine-member panel. Ironically, Kennedy’s path to the position came after Ronald Reagan’s nominee, Robert Bork, was voted down by the Democratic-led Senate, and Douglas Ginsburg, the next planned choice, didn’t get officially nominated after it was revealed he used marijuana during the 1960s.

With files from CBC News

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