Christine Blasey Ford testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee
Updated at 5:42 p.m.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) made the most of his brief opportunity to question Christine Blasey Ford about her accusation that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in 1982 while a male friend did nothing to intervene.
"What is the strongest memory you have of the incident?" Leahy asked. "Something you cannot forget?"
"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two," Ford replied, her voice breaking. "I was underneath one of them while the two laughed. Two friends having a really good time with one another."
The exchange came during a Thursday hearing of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, examining one of multiple sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chair, restricted each member to five minutes of questioning for each of the two witnesses: Ford and Kavanaugh. Leahy used his five minutes to question Ford about her memory of the incident in an effort to bolster her credibility.
Later in the day, Leahy had a thoroughly antagonistic exchange with Kavanaugh.
Ford has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when she was 15 years old and Kavanaugh was 17. She has said that Mark Judge, a friend of Kavanaugh's, was in the room during the assault. At the beginning of the hearing, Ford retold the story, her voice frequently breaking as she did so.
Each Republican Senator, all 11 of whom are men, ceded his time to Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor from Arizona who was hired to handle Republicans' questioning. She alternated with committee Democrats in questioning Ford.
Leahy was the second Democrat to do so. He began by calling for a thorough FBI investigation, "as we have always done," of all the allegations against Kavanaugh. So far, three women have accused him of sexual assault. Leahy added that the committee should "take time to have all [relevant] witnesses testify." The Republican majority has so far refused to postpone the process, call additional witnesses or schedule further hearings.
Leahy then noted that he served on Judiciary 27 years ago, when Anita Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. "At that time, the Senate failed Anita Hill," he said. "I am concerned that we are doing a lot less for these three women today."
The Vermont Senator referred to claims by Kavanaugh supporters that Ford was "mixed up" about the identity of her attacker. "Judge Kavanaugh and the White House have even promoted a wild theory about a Kavanaugh lookalike," Leahy said, and then asked the witness if it was possible that this was a case of mistaken identity.
"No, it is not," Ford replied.
"You would not mix up somebody else with Brett Kavanaugh, is that correct?" Leahy asked.
"Correct," Ford replied.
Leahy then introduced multiple documents into the record. First, a statement by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, then a letter from 24 members of the U.S. House urging that the committee use the Task Force's recommended process for questioning trauma survivors, and a letter from 116 House members urging a delay in the confirmation process until all witnesses can be heard.
"Dr. Ford has been criticized for what she doesn't remember from 36 years ago," Leahy continued. "But we have numerous experts including a study from the U.S. Army Military Police School ... that lapses of memory are wholly consistent with severe trauma."
Then, Leahy concluded with a simple, direct question: "Dr. Ford, you do remember what happened, do you not?"
"Very much so," Ford responded.
That concluded Leahy's five minutes.
Mitchell, speaking for the Republican members, pursued a painstaking line of questioning about Ford's past accounts of the alleged assault, looking for inconsistencies. Ford offered some minor corrections and sometimes acknowledged that she could not remember some details. But she staunchly defended her testimony. At one point, she said she was "100 percent" certain of the truth of her account.
Thursday afternoon, Kavanaugh came out swinging in his testimony, denying the accusations against him and complaining bitterly of a process that he said had become “a national disgrace.” When Leahy began his five minutes of questioning, Kavanaugh went on the offensive, repeatedly interrupting the senator and evading the substance of Leahy’s questions.
The senator first noted that Ford had called for an FBI investigation of the allegations. Kavanaugh did not directly answer; instead, he blamed committee Democrats for obstructing proper handling of the matter.
Leahy brought up the failure of Grassley to bring forward Mark Judge as a witness.
“Judge has submitted sworn testimony to the committee,” Kavanaugh replied. Judge was, indeed, questioned by Republican committee staff under oath, but not called before the committee.
“Judge Kavanaugh, I’ve heard your line and you’ve stated it over and over again,” said Leahy, attempting to regain control of his five minutes — which by that point had dwindled down to two minutes and some change.
Leahy brought up Judge’s book, Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk, which references a character named Bart O’Kavanaugh “vomiting in someone’s car and passing out. Is that you?”
Kavanaugh dodged the question. Instead, he began a lengthy explanation of Judge’s troubled past and then noted that Judge “picked out names of friends of ours to throw them in as kind of close to what — for characters in the book.”
Which didn’t answer Leahy’s question. The senator then turned to Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook. The judge’s personal page boasts of epic beer drinking and seems to imply that a female classmate was very loose sexually.
Kavanaugh launched into a lengthy recounting of his academic and athletic success and community service during high school. Leahy asked the question again: “Does this yearbook reflect what you are?”
Kavanaugh parried. “The yearbook was something where the students and editors made a decision to treat some of it as farce, some of it exaggeration, some of it celebrating things that don’t reflect the things that were really the central part of our school,” he said, and remarked on the “absurdity” of “a Supreme Court nomination [being] based on a high school yearbook page.”
Grassley noted that Leahy’s time was up.
“We got a filibuster, but not a single answer,” said Leahy.