The hearing quickly derailed — if the purpose was any meaningful fact-finding.
Brett Kavanaugh fiercely defended himself Thursday against allegations of sexual assault made by Christine Blasey Ford in an explosive, sometimes surreal, Senate hearing that may determine one way or the other the fate of his Supreme Court nomination.
The federal judge opened the hearing with an angry, emotional, sometimes meandering statement that sharply contrasted with his prior public appearances. He attacked Senate Democrats and unequivocally denied the allegations made against him, while detailing his career achievements and vaguely invoking the threat of a left-wing conspiracy to sink his confirmation.
“This has destroyed my family and my good name. A good name built up through decades of very hard work and public service at the highest levels of the American government,” Kavanaugh said. “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.”
The hearing quickly derailed — if the purpose was any meaningful fact-finding. Kavanaugh was combative with Democratic senators, frequently interrupting them or flatly refusing to answer their questions. Republican senators, who stayed silent for almost the entirety of Ford’s testimony earlier in the day, suddenly found their voices and forcefully defended their party’s nominee. In a particularly impassioned rant, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) shredded Democrats for, in his mind, permanently bastardizing the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominees.
These are the seven moments that summarize a stunning day of testimony from a man who may soon sit on the nation’s highest court.
1) Kavanaugh’s angry opening statement
In a remarkable 45-minute opening testimony, Brett Kavanaugh defended himself, not only against the allegations of sexual assault brought by Ford but also the entirety of his career. He lamented that he might no longer be able to teach law or coach his girls’ sports teams because of the allegations. He cited his hiring of women clerks. He invoked his 10-year-old daughter, who he said suggested the night before that their family pray for Ford.
But more than anything, Kavanaugh was mad. He began his statement nearly yelling and didn’t turn it down for the better part of an hour. He conjured the Clinton boogeyman and he, as a nominee to be an impartial Supreme Court justice, lambasted Democratic senators for allegedly engineering a political witch hunt to block his nomination.
One section sums it up concisely:
This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups. This is a circus. The consequences will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades. This grotesque, character assassination will dissuade confident and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country.
Though he was far more aggressive than he had been in his Fox News interview — a performance that President Trump is said to have disliked — Kavanaugh was careful to allow due respect to Ford herself.
“I’m not questioning that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time, but I have never done this to her or to anyone,” he said. “That’s not who I am. It is not who I was. I am innocent of this charge.”
He focused his ire on Democrats instead, even suggesting that the release of the allegations shortly before the Senate was to begin formally voting on and advancing his nomination might have been “planned.”
This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” he said.
2) Kavanaugh interrupts Dianne Feinstein
In a few rounds of questions with Republican outside counsel Rachel Mitchell, whom Republicans had brought in to question Ford to avoid the appearance of old white men interrogating the victim of an alleged sexual assault, Kavanaugh gave concise and often one-word answers.
But when Democrats began to ask their questions, he was combative and talked over them, to the senators’ evident frustration as they were allotted only five minutes to question the nominee.
The interruptions started almost immediately, as Feinstein homed in on the question of why an FBI investigation had not been called to look into the allegations, a point that Democrats would return to repeatedly.
One such exchange:
KAVANAUGH: My family’s been destroyed by this, Senator. Destroyed.
FEINSTEIN: And —
KAVANAUGH: And whoever wants to — you know, whatever the committee decides, you know, I’m all in.
FEINSTEIN My question is —
KAVANAUGH: Immediately. I’m all in immediately.
FEINSTEIN: And the terrible and hard part of this is when we get an allegation, we’re not in a position to prove it or disprove it.
The same thing would happen, again and again, as Democratic senators sought to ask their questions. A similar exchange with Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT):
LEAHY: It was not investigated by the FBI. He’s not been called or —
KAVANAUGH: Should have been handled in a due course, Senator. When it came in.
LEAHY: I would — I would disagree with that. I’ve been on this committee 44 years. Both Republicans and Democrats. I’ve never seen somebody that critical and not allowed to be here, called to testify or an FBI background.
KAVANAUGH: He’s provided sworn testimony, and, Senator —
LEAHY: He has not —
KAVANAUGH: Senator, let me finish.
3) Dick Durbin leaves Kavanaugh silent
Democrats harped on the FBI question a lot. They asked Kavanaugh frequently whether he would support a federal inquiry. He was evasive, saying that he would do whatever the committee wanted to do,but carefully not stating affirmatively that he would welcome a FBI investigation.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, zeroed in on this question in his five minutes of questioning. He even suggested Kavanaugh turn to White House counsel Don McGahn, who was in attendance, and ask McGahn, right then and there, to suspend the confirmation process until an FBI investigation had been completed.
Kavanaugh continued to evade.
“Why would you resist that kind of investigation?” Durbin asked.
“Senator, I welcome, I wanted the hearing last week,” Kavanaugh said.
“I’m asking about the FBI investigation,” Durbin said.
“The committee figures out how to ask the questions. I’ll do whatever. I’ve been on the phone multiple times with committee counsel,” Kavanaugh said. “I’ll talk to —”
“Judge Kavanaugh, will you support an FBI investigation right now?” Durbin pressed.
“I will do whatever the committee wants to —” Kavanaugh said, before Durbin interjected.
“Personally, do you think that’s the best thing for us to do?” Durbin said.
Kavanaugh sat silently for an uncomfortable number of seconds (seven, by my count).
“You won’t answer?” Durbin asked.
“Look, Senator, I have said I wanted a hearing, and I said I would welcome anything. I’m innocent,” Kavanaugh said. “This thing was held, held when it could have been presented in the ordinary way. It could have been held and handled confidently at first, which was what Dr. Ford’s wishes were, as I understand it. It wouldn’t have caused this, destroyed my family like this effort has.”
“I think an FBI investigation will help all of us on both sides of the issue,” Durbin said.
4) Lindsey Graham yells at Democrats
At that point, Republicans dropped their outside counsel. Lindsey Graham wanted to speak, and he was red hot. He started by asking Kavanaugh if he was aware that Feinstein had already received Ford’s allegations and recommended a lawyer for Ford when he was being interviewed by her and her staff in August.
He accused the Democrats of timing the allegations and the onslaught against Kavanaugh to win elections in the 2018 midterms. Graham was as angry as Kavanaugh had been in his opening statement.
“I hope the American people can see through this sham,” Graham said, his voice raised, his face red. “God, I hate to say it because these have been my friends, but let me tell you, when it comes to this, you’re looking for a fair process, you came to the wrong town at the wrong time, my friend.”
This is going to destroy the ability of good people to come forward because of this crap. Your high school yearbook. You have interacted with professional women all your life, not one accusation. You’re supposed to be Bill Cosby when you’re a junior and senior in high school. And all of a sudden you got over it. It’s been my understanding that if you drug women and rape them for two years in high school, you probably don’t stop. Here’s my understanding. If you lived a good life, people would recognize it.
“To my Republican colleagues, if you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics,” Graham said. Then, gesturing to the Democrats: “You want this seat? I hope you never get it.”
5) Sheldon Whitehouse and Kavanaugh talk about farting
Kavanaugh’s yearbook was another point of emphasis for Democrats, as they pieced through all the high school lingo and secret code that Kavanaugh and his friends used to describe their time at Georgetown Prep.
It led to some particularly remarkable exchanges with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Some of the issues were serious — such as whether one note amounted to boys bragging about their sexual conquests.
But they also talked about flatulence. And drinking games. And vomiting.
“What does the word ‘ralph’ mean in that?” Whitehouse asked.
“That probably refers to throwing up,” Kavanaugh said.
Whitehouse then moved to “boofing,” a term that had been spinning through the public discourse for the past few days but nobody really understood.
“That refers to flatulence,” Kavanaugh said. “We were 16.”
“So when your friend Mark Judge put the same thing in his yearbook page back to you, he had the same meaning, it was flatulence?” Whitehouse asked.
“I don’t know what he did, but that’s my recollection,” Kavanaugh said.
6) “I like beer”
Many of the Democratic questions about Kavanaugh’s credibility dealt with his drinking. Ford has alleged that Kavanaugh was “visibly drunk” when the assault occurred. The other women who have accused him of misconduct have also included alcohol in their accounts.
Kavanaugh insisted, again and again, that he had never drank so much that he could not remember what happened, testimony belied by other statements given by his high school and college friends and acquaintances. But he stood by it, even when presented by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) with prior statements that would appear to contradict him.
The nominee resorted to one line that he might have found disarming and maybe relatable: “I like beer.” He repeated it at least five times, by my count, throughout the hearing.
“I liked beer,” he said in his opening statement. “I still like beer, but I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone.”
He even, strangely, asked several senators whether they liked beer. “Did it refer to alcohol? Did it relate to alcohol?” Whitehouse asked at one point.
“I like beer. I don’t know if you do,” Kavanaugh said. “Do you like beer, Senator, or not? What do you like to drink?”
Or whether they had ever drank so much they blacked out.
“Could you answer the question, Judge? That’s not happened? Is that your answer?” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asked.
“Yeah,” Kavanaugh said, “and I’m curious if you have.”
“I have no drinking problem, Judge,” Klobuchar replied.
7) Kavanaugh swears to God
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) ended a day with a nod to the conservative evangelical Christian base with whom Republicans have been preoccupied throughout the Kavanaugh fight.
After establishing that Kavanaugh believed in God, Kennedy concluded by asking the nominee to swear by the deity that he did not do what Ford and others have accused him of doing.
“None of these allegations are true?” Kennedy asked.
“Correct,” Kavanaugh said.
“No doubt in your mind?”
“Zero. 100 percent certain.”
“Not even a scintilla?” Kennedy pressed.
“Not a scintilla. 100 percent certain, Senator.”
Kennedy concluded: “Do you swear to God?”
Kavanaugh obliged: “I swear to God.”
The hearing was over. A vote in the Judiciary Committee, and then on the Senate floor, awaits.
Author: Dylan Scott