WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In a bid to rescue his Supreme Court nomination, Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday denied allegations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when both were high school students and angrily told Congress that Democrats were engaged in "a calculated and orchestrated political hit."
"You have replaced 'advice and consent' with 'search and destroy," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee, referring to the Constitution's charge to senators' duties in confirming high officials.
He vowed to continue his effort to join the high court, to which President Donald Trump nominated him in July. Now a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh seemed assured of confirmation until Ford and several other accusers emerged in recent weeks. He has denied all the accusations, but it remained unclear how the day's dramatic testimony by Ford and Kavanaugh would affect his prospects.
"You may defeat me in the final vote, but you'll never get me to quit, never," he said.
In a daylong, extraordinary Senate airing of long-ago and painfully personal memories, Ford told the senators earlier that she was "100 percent" certain a drunken young Kavanaugh had pinned her to a bed, tried to remove her clothes and clapped a hand over her mouth as she tried to yell for help. A Kavanaugh friend stood by and they both laughed uproariously during the incident, which occurred in a locked bedroom at a gathering of high school friends, she testified.
President Trump tweeted: "Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting. 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!"
Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2018
In her three hours of testimony, Ford's tone was polite but firm as she detailed her accusations but offered no major new revelations. Rachel Mitchell, a veteran sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona who asked all questions for the committee's all-male GOP senators, seemed to elicit no significant inconsistencies in her testimony.
But as deferential and hushed as Ford's delivery was, Kavanaugh's was incensed and combative. He repeatedly interrupted Democratic senators' questions, including on whether he'd support their bid for testimony by Mark Judge, the friend who Ford has claimed participated in Kavanaugh's attack on her.
When Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., pressed him to request an FBI probe, Kavanaugh said he'd do whatever the committee wished and repeatedly refused to change that position. Trump and Republicans have refused to bring the FBI into the matter.
"I want to know what you want to do," Durbin said.
"I'm telling the truth," said Kavanaugh.
"I want to know what you want to do, judge!" Durbin repeated.
"I'm innocent. I'm innocent of this charge," Kavanaugh said.
The emotional tone continued as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Kavanaugh's strongest backers, lashed out at Democrats.
"What you want to do is destroy this guy's life, hold his seat open and hope you win in 2020," he said, referring to that year's presidential election.
Both Kavanaugh and Ford testified under sworn oath, leaving senators who will decide his fate and millions of Americans watching television to parse whose version to believe.
A White House official not authorized to speak publicly described Kavanaugh's opening statement as "game changing," saying the vigorous display would give GOP senators what they need to vote "yes." The official said aides understood that Trump was reacting positively to the performance.
Kavanaugh, 53, struggled to hold back tears, particularly when he referred to his own family.
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 never attacked Ford. "I have never done this to her or to anyone," he said.
During Kavanaugh's 45-minute opening statement, senators watched intently, the only sound the clicking of cameras. In the front row, family and friends quietly cried including his wife, Ashley, whose lips were trembling.
Among the television viewers on Thursday was Trump, who has mocked the credibility of Kavanaugh's accusers. The president watched aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington from the United Nations, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
After Ford's testimony, some Republicans gave no indications of wavering.
"You need more than an accusation for evidence. You need corroboration. That's what's missing here," said No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas.
But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of Ford, "She's a good witness. She's articulate, an attractive person."
During her testimony, Ford, now 51, said of Kavanaugh, "I believed he was going to rape me."
Asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont for her strongest memory of the alleged incident, Ford mentioned the two boys' "laughter — the uproarious laughter between the two and they're having fun at my expense."
When the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, asked how she could be sure that Kavanaugh was the attacker, Ford said, "The same way I'm sure I'm talking to you right now." Later, she told Durbin her certainty was "100 percent."
The California psychology professor spoke carefully and deliberately during the hearing, using scientific terminology at one point to describe how a brain might remember details of events decades later. The boys' laughter was "indelible in the hippocampus," she said, using her scientific expertise to describe how memories are stored in the brain and adding, "It's locked in there."
The Judiciary panel's 11 Republicans — all men — let Rachel Mitchell, a Phoenix prosecutor, ask most questions. She began by expressing sympathy for Ford, who'd said she was "terrified" to testify. Said Mitchell, "I just wanted to let you know, I'm very sorry. That's not right."
Mitchell led Ford through a detailed recollection of the events she says occurred on the day of the alleged incident. But under the committee's procedures, the career prosecutor was limited to five minutes at a time, interspersed between Democrats' questions, creating a choppy effect as she tried piecing together the story.
Mitchell's questions steered clear of the details of the alleged assault and focused at times on whether Ford was coordinating with Kavanaugh opponents. Mitchell asked who was financing her legal and security expenses. Ford responded that she had gotten help from well-to-do people back home and was aware of public contributions at the website GoFundMe.com but also said she'd not focused on such matters amid her family's recent moves due to threats.
Kavanaugh's teetering grasp on winning confirmation was evident when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, expressed concern, in a private meeting with senators Wednesday, about a new, third accuser, according to a person with knowledge of the gathering. Republicans control the Senate 51-49 and can lose only one vote. Collins is among the few senators who've not made clear how they'll vote.
Collins walked into that meeting carrying a copy of Julie Swetnick's signed declaration, which included fresh accusations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh and his high school friend Judge.
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.
In a sworn statement, Swetnick said she witnessed Kavanaugh "consistently engage in excessive drinking and inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with women in the early 1980s." Her attorney, Michael Avenatti, who also represents a porn actress who is suing Trump, provided her sworn declaration to the Judiciary panel.
Meanwhile, the lawyer for Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they attended Yale University, raised her profile in a round of television interviews.
Kavanaugh referred repeatedly Thursday to detailed calendar pages he had provided from the summer of 1982 when he was 17 years old — exams, movies, sports and plenty of parties. That's the year when Ford says she believes the assault occurred.
Nothing on the calendar appears to refer to her.
Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown released a statement on Thursday's hearing, saying,
“Dr. Ford’s courage is inspiring and I am very grateful to her for coming forward to tell her story, even in the face of deep personal cost. She was moving, heartfelt and honest. While I had already decided not to support Judge Kavanaugh based on his history of siding with corporations and Wall Street over workers, Dr. Ford’s testimony today was a powerful moment for our country.”
Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman also released a statement in response to Thursday's hearing, reading,
“I had the opportunity to watch the hearing today and listened carefully to both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testify. I believe allegations of sexual assault should be taken very seriously, and Dr. Ford deserved the opportunity to tell her story and be heard. I believe my job is to assess the facts that we have before us, and that’s very difficult when no corroboration exists regarding this allegation. Judge Kavanaugh has adamantly denied the allegation. The only three others named by Dr. Ford as being present, including Leland Keyser, who Dr. Ford described as one of her lifelong friends, have no recollection of this event or this party. In fact, Ms. Keyser says she was never at a party with Brett Kavanaugh and, in fact, does not know Brett Kavanaugh. Dozens of men and women who knew Brett Kavanaugh in high school have attested to his good character. This includes 65 women who knew him at that time who wrote a letter saying the Brett Kavanaugh they knew treated women with decency and respect. In America there is a presumption of innocence when there is no evidence to corroborate a charge. Throughout his decades of public service, Judge Kavanaugh has been thoroughly vetted by the FBI on six different occasions, and no such allegation ever surfaced. I have known Judge Kavanaugh for more than 15 years, I know his wife Ashley, and I know his family. The Brett Kavanaugh I know is a man of integrity and humility. He also has the right qualifications and experience to serve on the Supreme Court. In fact, the American Bar Association has given him their highest rating, unanimously. I support his confirmation.”