WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who has accused him of sexually assaulting her when both were teenagers aretestifying Thursday at a Senate hearing that could determine the balance of the nation’s highest judicial body.
Christine Blasey Ford is giving her account of the alleged incident, in which she says Kavanaugh assaulted her during a party when both of them where in high school.
In prepared opening remarks that were released late Wednesday, Ford detailed the incident in the summer of 1982, during which she claimed a visibly intoxicated Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, pushed her into a room, locked the door behind them and assaulted her. In the statement, she said she was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone, and didn’t reveal details of the incident until years later, to her husband and in therapy sessions.
Kavanaugh, who will appear separately before the Senate Judiciary Committee, also released an advanced text of his opening statement. He strongly denied the alleged assault on Ford, and accusations by others, characterizing them as last-minute smears.
He said such character assassinations — if allowed to succeed — will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving the nation, and added that he would not be intimidated into withdrawing from the judicial selection process.
Shifting the balance of the Supreme Court
The controversy surrounding the Kavanaugh nomination process comes just weeks ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections, in which Democrats are seeking to take control of Congress. President Donald Trump selected Judge Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was a “swing” vote on the Supreme Court and often sided with liberal justices on key cases. Kavanaugh’s confirmation could solidify a conservative majority on the court for a generation.
On Wednesday, President Trump claimed a concerted effort by Democrats to drum up sexual-misconduct charges against Kavanaugh.
“They are actually con artists because they know how quality this man is and they have destroyed a man’s reputation and they want to destroy it even more, and I think people are going to see that in the midterms, what they have done to this family, what they have done to these children, these beautiful children of his and what they have done to his wife. They know it is a big fat con job,” Trump said.
The president made the comments in a nearly 90-minute, often rambling press conference following his meetings with world leaders at the United Nations in New York.
Four other women have come forward in the past few days with detailed complaints about Kavanaugh. He has denied all the allegations.
On Wednesday evening, NBC News reported that an anonymous complaint was sent to Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado. According to the complaint, the sender said in 1998, she and her daughter were out with Kavanaugh and several friends, when an inebriated Kavanaugh “shoved her friend up against the wall very aggressively and sexually.”
According to media reports, Kavanaugh was also questioned Tuesday during a phone call with Judiciary Committee staff about an allegation that he sexually assaulted a woman in Rhode Island in the mid-1980s.
The office of Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode received a phone call Tuesday morning “making allegations concerning a rape on a boat in August of 1985,” according to transcripts of a call between committee staff and Kavanaugh released Wednesday to the media. Kavanaugh denies the allegations.
Trump could change his mind
Trump said he would watch Thursday’s potentially explosive Senate hearing and that he could still change his mind about his nominee once he hears what Ford has to say.
“It’s possible I’ll hear that and I’ll say, ‘Hey, I’ll change my mind,’” Trump said. “I can’t tell you. I have to watch tomorrow.”
Asked whether his own history, with numerous women accusing him of sexual assault, has shaped how he views accusations against Kavanaugh, the president said he knows what it’s like to be falsely accused and suggested Kavanaugh was being presumed “guilty until proven innocent.”
“This is beyond Supreme Court. This has everything to do with our country,” Trump said. “When you are guilty until proven innocent, it is just not supposed to be that way. … In this case, you are guilty until proven innocent. I think that is a very, very dangerous standard for our country.”
Smear campaign or full investigation?
In a CNN Poll conducted in August, most women across the country said they don’t want Kavanaugh to become the next Supreme Court justice. Only 28 percent of women polled were in favor of his appointment. Trump’s pick also had the lowest approval rating overall of any Supreme Court nomination in the past 30 years.
Democrats, including Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, continue to press for a full investigation of all the allegations.
“They should all be heard in a timely fashion and this notion that we are going to rush through simply Dr. Ford and then immediately have the committee move to a vote that is not a fair process,” Warner said.
Republicans, such as South Dakota Sen. John Thune, have accused Democrats of waging a smear campaign against Kavanaugh.
“I think the Democrats in the Senate have had one goal since the beginning of this process and that is to sink Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, and we are finding that they will go to any lengths to do that,” Thune said.
McConnell: Moving forward
A committee vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination is set for Friday, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said.
“We are going to be moving forward. I’m confident we are going to win. I’m confident that he will be confirmed in the very near future,” he added.
Democrats, including Washington state Sen. Patty Murray, are warning of a political backlash if Republicans ram Kavanaugh’s nomination through the Senate.
“This is not just a box to check. Women and their experiences are not just things to be plowed through. Women and all survivors should be heard and they should be respected,” she said.
Anti-Kavanaugh protesters have taken to the halls of Congress to pressure undecided Republicans, chanting, “Vote no or we will fund your opponent and defeat you.”
Among the undecided on Capitol Hill is Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
“Do I feel pressure? Sure. But I don’t feel pressured to make a decision until I’m ready,” she said.
Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.