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World Kavanaugh Hearing: Christine Blasey Ford steps up to make her case

Kavanaugh’s confirmation was thrown into turmoil after Blasey came forward with the claim that he assaulted her at a party when they were both in high school. He denies it.

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Christine Blasey Ford is appearing Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about her accusation that Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, sexually assaulted her.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation was thrown into turmoil after Blasey came forward with the claim that he assaulted her at a party when they were both in high school. He denies it.

Since Blasey came forward, two more women have accused him of sexual misconduct at parties in high school and in college.

Blasey entered the hearing room flanked by two of her lawyers, Debra Katz on her right and Michael Bromwich on her left.

In the minutes before she arrived on Capitol Hill, Deborah Ramirez, another of Kavanaugh’s accusers who alleges that he exposed himself to her at a drunken party in college, sent a message of support via Twitter. “Thinking of you today, Christine. They want us to feel alone and isolated but I’m there wrapping my arms around you and I hope you feel the people of this nation wrapping their arms around all of us. Holding you up in spirit,” the message said.

The jousting has begun.

An hour before the hearing, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., held a news conference in support of Blasey, flanked by trauma experts who spoke of the difficult and often hostile cultural attitudes faced by survivors of sexual abuse.

Murray was one of a number of female senators who was emboldened to run for office after watching Anita Hill testify in 1991, and she referenced that experience directly, calling on her colleagues to learn from their past mistakes.

“In 1991, I and millions of women across the country watched as Anita Hill was interrogated and attacked and the Senate failed this crucial test,” Murray said. “Twenty-seven years later, in 2018, we need to do better and we certainly should not do worse.”

As Murray delivered her remarks, dozens of protesters supporting Blasey poured into the Hart Senate Office Building, chanting “we won’t go back” and wearing shirts that said “Believe Women.” Four young women, wearing their Holton-Arms uniforms, walked through the Hart office buildings hallways, arms linked together.

— In a small committee room, Blasey v. Kavanaugh is a hot ticket

Public access is extremely limited inside the hearing room. Several members of Congress plan to attend — their seats are being held by members of their staff — and also in the audience is Alyssa Milano, the actress and a co-founder of the Women’s March, who told reporters she is here to support Christine Blasey Ford.

Milano, attending at the invitation of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said she has stark memories of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. “I remember it really was the foundation of my learning what sexual harassment was,” Milano said.

Access for the press is also extremely limited. At Kavanaugh’s first confirmation hearings there were 156 seats in the room for reporters. Today there are 48.

— Will Blasey be a credible witness and maintain her composure?

Lawyers for Blasey, a research psychologist in California, have been tight-lipped about how they are preparing for the hearing, but they said in a statement Wednesday that “she is ready.” Since she came forward, Blasey and her family have received death threats and were forced to move out of their house.

“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified,” Blasey will say, according to her prepared remarks. “I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”

She will also come armed with a rebuttal to one of the Republicans’ central plans: that she misidentified Kavanaugh as her accuser. “We did not know each other well,” she will say, “but I knew him and he knew me.”

But Blasey will also face scrutinizing and at times uncomfortable questioning about the episode, and she has already said that she cannot remember the specific date or location of the assault. Republicans have hired Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona sex-crimes prosecutor, to lead their portion of the questioning, which Blasey’s lawyers have argued will inappropriately give a political proceeding the feel of a courtroom examination. Democratic senators will question the witnesses themselves.

— Will Blasey’s testimony sway the audience?

A number of key Republican swing votes — Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have indicated that they will be closely watching Blasey’s testimony before deciding how to vote. The votes of moderate Democratic senators up for re-election this fall in states that Trump won in 2016 are also potentially still up for grabs.

Collins will watch the hearing from her hideaway office just off the Capitol rotunda. She’s told aides she will be glued to the screen.

Murkowski canceled a meeting of the committee she chairs to watch live.

Flake is the only swing vote on the Judiciary Committee.

Blasey’s testimony will also be of interest to the president. Though he cast doubt on her story at a news conference Wednesday, Trump told reporters that he would be watching the hearing and “could be persuaded” by Blasey.

“It’s possible I’ll hear that and I’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m changing my mind,'” he said. “That is possible.”

— Will the allegations of other accusers come up?

Since Blasey’s account was published in The Washington Post almost two weeks ago, two other women have come forward and accused Kavanaugh of drunkenly engaging in sexual misconduct at parties they attended. Democrats in particular are eager to press him on both cases.

Ramirez told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself in front of her when they were both drunk at a party as undergraduates at Yale.

And Wednesday, another woman, Julie Swetnick, came forward and said that in high school, she observed Kavanaugh engaging in misconduct at parties where women were verbally abused, inappropriately touched, made “disoriented” with alcohol or drugs, and “gang raped.” The New York Times has not been able to independently corroborate either woman’s allegation.

There were other, less detailed accusations shared with senators. For example, in an anonymous letter sent to Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., a woman said her daughter witnessed Kavanaugh drunkenly push her friend, a woman he was dating, up against a wall “very aggressively and sexually” after they left a bar one night in 1998.

Neither Ramirez nor Swetnick will testify before the committee Thursday. Staff members on the Senate Judiciary Committee have invited them to give a statement, though Republicans on the panel have declined to say whether they would support having another hearing to allow the other accusers to speak.

— Can Kavanaugh turn the tables and put senators on the defensive?

Clarence Thomas shocked the all-white Judiciary Committee in 1991 when he testified at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing that the accusations of sexual harassment raised by a law professor he once worked with, Anita Hill, amounted to a “high-tech lynching.”

Kavanaugh is expected to paint himself as the victim of “last-minute smears,” according to the prepared remarks he submitted to the committee Wednesday, while issuing a broader warning about the danger of the allegations against him.

“Such grotesque and obvious character assassination — if allowed to succeed — will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country,” he will say, according to the prepared remarks.

— Can senators avoid a repeat of the Anita Hill hearing?

The treatment Hill received before the Judiciary Committee in 1991 — a profusion of abrasive questions from an all-male panel — prompted a cultural firestorm, with outraged women running for office in unprecedented numbers.

While there are many differences between the social and political climate in which Hill testified and the one in which Blasey will take the stand, there are still two Republicans on the committee who were there when Hill testified: Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s chairman, and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah. (One current committee Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, also sat on the committee then.)

In an effort to avoid the optics of a majority-male panel grilling a female sexual assault victim, Senate Republicans have employed Mitchell to question both Blasey and Kavanaugh. But some of the senators have made clear to reporters that they reserve the right to ask Blasey questions themselves.

Some of the Republicans have already been blunt about their skepticism of Blasey’s allegations, with Hatch calling her “mixed up” and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina describing the claims as a “drive-by shooting.”

— What is the Democrats’ strategy for questioning Kavanaugh?

Senate Democrats are expected to question Kavanaugh’s credibility, forcing the judge to defend his categorical denials about the accusations and to account for his drinking habits as a teenager and young adult, following news reports and public statements he has made indicating he could be a heavy drinker.

All of the women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct said the episodes happened while he was intoxicated.

Kavanaugh described himself in his high school yearbook as a member of the “100 Kegs or Bust” club, and his freshman college roommate told The New Yorker that he recalled that the judge was “frequently, incoherently drunk.”

“I would be wanting to hear what kind of environment it was in high school,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who sits on the committee, said on CNN on Sunday, before Ramirez came forward. “Apparently, there was a lot of drinking and partying going on.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Catie Edmondson, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Nicholas Fandos © 2018 The New York Times

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