University professor Christine Blasey Ford emotionally recounted on Thursday a sexual assault allegedly committed 36 years ago by Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, saying she believed she was going to be raped and even “accidentally” killed.
Blasey Ford, 51, told a tense Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that could make or break Kavanaugh’s nomination she was “100 percent” certain he was the assailant and it was “absolutely not” a case of mistaken identify.
“I am here today not because I want to be,” Blasey Ford said in her opening statement during which her voice quavered at times and she appeared occasionally to be on the verge of tears.
“I am terrified,” she said as she described the sexual assault which she alleges occurred at a high school party at a suburban Maryland home in 1982.
Democrats on the 21-member committee praised Blasey Ford’s courage in coming forward while a sex crimes prosecutor hired by the Republican side sought to gently poke holes in her story with questions about dates.
“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,” Blasey Ford said.
Kavanaugh, a conservative 53-year-old appeals court judge, was not present as the high-stakes session got underway in a packed committee hearing room.
He is expected to testify later in the day and has steadfastly denied the allegations of sexual misconduct made by Blasey Ford and two other women.
The accusations have thrust the Trump administration into the #MeToo movement’s harsh glare, and threaten to derail a conservative effort to tilt the nation’s highest court to the right for years to come.
The Kavanaugh nomination has turned into a political firestorm ahead of congressional elections and is threatening to derail Trump’s push to get a conservative-minded majority on the court ahead of the November vote.
Blasey Ford, wearing glasses and a sober dark blue suit, appeared nervous but poised as she sat at the witness table, consulting occasionally with her lawyer and swigging from a bottle of Coca-Cola.
A psychology professor who is married and has two children, she said Kavanaugh and a friend of his, Mark Judge, were drunk at the party and that she was pushed into a bedroom as she headed to the bathroom.
“Brett and Mark came into the bedroom and locked the door behind them,” she said. “I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me.
– ‘I believed he was going to rape me’ –
“He began running his hands over my body and grinding into me,” she said. “I yelled, hoping that someone downstairs might hear me.
“Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes,” she said. “He had a hard time because he was very inebriated.
“I believed he was going to rape me,” Blasey Ford said. “I tried to yell for help.
“When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling,” she said. “This is what terrified me the most and has had the most lasting impact on my life.
“It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me,” she said.
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and them having fun at my expense,” she said when asked about her most powerful memory of the incident.
Blasey Ford said she managed to escape when Judge jumped on the bed, sending them all toppling.
Outside the US Capitol, pro- and anti-Kavanaugh demonstrators gathered as senators pondered the fate of a nominee who could impact the balance of the top US court for decades.
Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had been a swing vote on a court currently divided between four conservative and four liberal justices.
The Republican president has fiercely defended his pick as a “great intellect” — but said Wednesday he would watch the highly charged hearing and was open to changing his mind.
“I can always be convinced,” Trump said.
At the same time, Trump said he was skeptical because he personally had been the target of “false charges” by various women.
The White House confirmed that Trump watched the testimony aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington from New York.
Democratic senators lauded Blasey Ford for testifying.
“I have found your testimony powerful and credible and I believe you,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut.
Blumenthal also hit out at Trump for failing to authorise an FBI investigation of Blasey Ford’s allegations.
“It’s up to the president of the United States and his failure to ask for an FBI investigation amounts to a cover-up,” Blumenthal said.
Blasey Ford ejected any suggestions she had political motivations.
“Those who say that do not know me,” she said. “I am a fiercely independent person and I am no one’s pawn.”
Kavanaugh has also been accused of exposing himself to a classmate, Deborah Ramirez, during an alcohol-fueled Yale University party a few years later.
On Wednesday, a third woman, Julie Swetnick, came forward with explosive allegations, saying she witnessed sexually abusive behaviour by Kavanaugh when he was a teenager and claimed she had been drugged and gang-raped at a party he attended in the early 1980s.
The hearing has brought back memories of the Senate confirmation process nearly three decades ago for Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill.
“Republicans belittled Professor Hill’s experience,” California Senator Dianne Feinstein said. “She was treated badly.”
“The entire country is watching how we handle these allegations.
“This is not a trial of Dr Ford,” Feinstein added. “It’s a job interview for Judge Kavanaugh.”