Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh forcefully defended himself from sexual assault allegations Thursday, arguing that they were part of a mission to destroy his reputation and torpedo his nomination.
Speaking before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Kavanaugh argued that the Senate was mishandling allegations that as a teenager he held down Christine Blasey Ford, put her hand over her mouth and attempted to remove her clothes.
“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” he said. “The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process. But you have replaced advice and consent with search and destroy.”
Holding back tears, he talked about his 10-year-old daughter suggesting that they pray for Ford during their nightly prayers.
“This onslaught of last-minute allegations does not ring true,” he said. “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. It is not who I am. It is not who I was. I am innocent of this charge.”
Speaking separately earlier in the day, Ford, now a California psychology professor, said that she was “100 percent” positive that it was Kavanaugh who sexually assaulted her.
During testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning, she fought back tears as she recounted what she says happened at a house party in the 1980s.
“I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me,” she said. “He began running his hands over my body and grinding his hips into me. I yelled, hoping someone downstairs might hear me, and tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy. Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes.”
“He had a hard time because he was so drunk, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit under my clothes,” she continued. “I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. This was 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.”
Ford relayed her most vivid memory of the alleged incident, while also relying on her advanced education in psychology.
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense,” she said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley opened the hearing on sexual assault allegations by apologizing to Brett Kavanaugh and Ford for threats against their families and complaining about the process to date.
As Ford sat quietly at a table, Grassley argued that the allegations should not have surfaced toward the end of the confirmation process, especially after she had sent a confidential letter.
“This is a shameful way to treat our witness who insisted on confidentiality and of course Judge Kavanaugh, who has had to address these allegations in the midst of a media circus,” he said.
The Thursday morning hearing was the first time that the American public would hear directly from Ford, who alleges that as a teenager Kavanaugh held her down, put his hand over her mouth and attempted to remove her clothes at a house party in Maryland.
“With Kavanaugh’s hand over my mouth, I feared he may inadvertently kill me,” Ford wrote in a letter she sent to ranking committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein after President Donald Trump announced Kavanaugh as his nominee.
Absent from the hearing will Mark Judge, who Ford said was also in the room participating in the alleged assault, or other witnesses.
Grassley said that the committee had made multiple requests for additional evidence or information from attorneys for Deborah Ramirez, who claimed that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a party at Yale University, and Julie Swetnick, who claimed that she was gang-raped at a party attended by Kavanaugh and Judge.
“My staff made eight requests, yes eight requests, for evidence from attorneys for Ms. Ramirez and six for Ms. Swetnick,” he said.
In her opening remarks, Feinstein began by reading off the professional accomplishments of Ford, which include two master’s degrees and a doctorate, prompting Grassley to interrupt and note that he intended to introduce her himself.
Comparing the hearing to the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991, Feinstein said that this time as well “our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have made it clear that no matter what happens today, the Senate will plow right through and elevate Kavanaugh.”
“This is not a trial for Dr. Ford,” she added. “It’s a job interview for Judge Kavanaugh … Is he the best we can do?”
President Trump watched part of Blasey Ford’s testimony on board Air Force One during his flight back to Washington from his meetings at the United Nations in New York. The President was watching a recording of the hearing on a delay, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on board the flight. As Trump walked into the White House shortly after noon, he didn’t respond to a shouted questions about whether he thought Blasey Ford was credible or if he still supported Kavanaugh.
Many members of the judiciary committee on both sides of the aisle declined to comment midway through the hearings when they broke for votes. Republicans on the committee who did weigh in, however, seemed to be unconvinced that this would derail Kavanaugh’s nomination because there was no concrete, eye-witness evidence to back up her claim. “All the witnesses she’s identified said it didn’t happen. there’s no corroboration. Without corroboration I don’t think she can meet the burden of proof establishing what she alleges happened happened,” said Sen. John Cornyn.
When asked if the committee would now subpoena Mark Judge, the other person Ford alleges was in the room when Kavanaugh assaulted her, Cornyn said that his letter denying it ever happened that he provided to the committee was sufficient. “He testified under penalty of perjury,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham had similar sentiments. “It’s about is the allegation against Brett Kavnaaugh corroborated in a significant detail?” he said.
Throughout the morning, protesters were scattered across the Capitol, including supporters of both Kavanaugh and Ford.
“I felt so enraged,” said Carola Lewis, a Kavanaugh supporter from Rockville, Maryland, who came to a rally on the Capitol in support of Kavanaugh an hour and a half before the hearing was slated to start. “Just from what I have seen of Judge Kavanaugh I can’t reconcile [the allegations] with the person I’ve seen and heard. It’s hard for me to hear.”
The supporters of Ford were frequently outfitted in black shirts and pins that read “I believe Christine Blasey Ford.” Some put tape over their mouth, in order to show, as one supporter put it, “how they are trying to silence us.”
Capitol Police were not letting protesters on to the floor of the actual hearing. When TIME rode the elevator with a group of them and began asking questions, a male and female protester both began talking. The female protester, who identified herself as Tae Phoenix from Seattle, interrupted the male.
“You’re a dude. I’m a survivor. Let me talk,” she said.