Politics

3 Takeaways From Christine Blasey Ford’s Testimony

Difficult to discern where GOP’s hired questioner is going — so far

Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party 36 years ago, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. (POOL PHOTO / SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Christine Blasey Ford delivered sometimes-powerful testimony Thursday as she described what she claims was a 1982 sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Republican senators, however, have said virtually nothing to defend him.

“The stairwell. The living room. The bedroom. The bed on the right side of the room. … The bathroom in close proximity,” she said when asked what she can’t forget about that night. “The laughter — the uproarious laughter. And the multiple attempts to escape and the final ability to do so.”

She told panel that it is “the laughter” from Kavanaugh and friend Mark Judge during the alleged incident that she remembers most.

The nominee, who denies Ford’s and other accusers’ allegations, will testify later Thursday. Republicans have not appeared to help Kavanaugh’s cause by having Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell handle their half of the questioning. Here are three takeaways from the morning session:

Destination: Unknown

Mitchell was selected due to her expertise working with sexual assault victims. And because she’s a woman. All GOP members of the panel are men, which they concluded would have made for negative optics.

She has been ultra-civil — even tender, at times — with Ford. For much of her time questioning Ford, it has been difficult to discern just where Mitchell wants to go with any one line of questioning. Often, her questions did not seem to relate to one another or appear building blocks to perceived holes in Ford’s account. In short, just where Mitchell wants to take her questioning is foggy at best.

Her questions did get a bit more pointed close to a 12:41 p.m. lunch break, when she appeared to be trying to cast doubt on a polygraph test Ford’s camp showed her being truthful about her allegations. Mitchell seemed particularly concerned that Ford took it on the same day of her grandmother's funeral. And the prosecutor also appeared to question Ford’s honesty when she noted the accuser claims a fear of flying but uses air travel often for vacations.

Notably, Mitchell also asked why Ford only reached out to Democratic lawmakers about her accusations. Ford responded by saying Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo is her congressional representative and Eshoo’s staff provided a copy of a confidential letter to Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s ranking member.

Toward the end of Ford’s testimony, Mitchell, incredibly, took a clear shot at the hearing’s format, informing Ford that the best way to measure the truthfulness of the victim of a traumatic event is not “in five-minute increments.”

She added the best method is a trained interviewer allowing the individual to state a “narrative” about the event.

Credibility test

Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono zeroed in on the matter of whether or not Ford is credible after a lunch break, asking Ford if political reasons led her to sound an alarm. “No,” Ford responded, saying she initially tried to alert Rep. Eshoo and the Washington Post while Trump was still narrowing down his shortlist over the summer.

Judiciary member Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, told reporters during the break that it is “too soon to tell whether she's credible.”

But Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of the Republican moderates who have yet to say how they will vote on the nomination, told reporters Ford is credible “thus far.”

Also during the break, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters that whether or not senators believed Ford was not the right standard.

“It’s not about ‘do I believe her,’” Graham told reporters. “It’s, is the allegation against Brett Kavanaugh corroborated in any significant detail? Is his denial any less believable than her accusation?”

Senators who are not members of the Judiciary Committee tuned in to at least some of the hearing, including Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala.

“I thought she looked credible from what I saw,” Shelby told reporters. “I thought Kavanaugh was credible too. So, we don’t know. Let’s let the process work. That’s all I know,” he added. 

Ford, a psychology professor and research psychologist, also at times talked about the brain and the science of anxiety, PTSD and other conditions of which she claims symptoms and can be triggered by traumatic event.

West Wing Watch

President Donald Trump is closely watching the hearing. So is Vice President Mike Pence, who could be relied upon to cast the 51st and decisive vote should the nomination make it to a floor vote.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters traveling with Trump that he was watching the hearing on a delay on Air Force One after a meeting in New York. When the president arrived at the White House, he entered the residence rather than the West Wing. He often watches news programs and coverage of major events upstairs — not in the Oval Office or nearby study.

Trump also delayed a meeting with Rod Rosenstein about the deputy attorney general’s future until next week. With nothing else on his public schedule until an evening fundraiser, the president - who on Wednesday left open that he could withdraw the nomination - has cleared his schedule to watch the hearing. Same for Pence, who canceled an appearance at an economic event.

Dean DeChiaro, Jennifer Shutt and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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