By Lawrence Hurley, Andrew Chung and Amanda Becker
Fighting to salvage his U.S. Supreme Court nomination, Brett Kavanaugh angrily denied on Thursday a university professor’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her 36 years ago in a day of dramatic testimony that gripped the country
Christine Blasey Ford, her voice sometimes cracking with emotion, appeared in public for the first time to detail her allegation against Kavanaugh, a conservative federal appeals court judge chosen by President Donald Trump for a lifetime job on the top U.S. court.
Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee she feared Kavanaugh would rape and accidentally kill her during the alleged assault in 1982, when both were high school students in Maryland.
She said she was “100 percent certain” it was Kavanaugh who assaulted her.
Kavanaugh testified after Ford finished her appearance, claiming he was the victim of “grotesque and obvious character assassination” orchestrated by Senate Democrats. He said he “unequivocally and categorically” denied Ford’s allegation and vowed he would not back down.
“I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process,” Kavanaugh added.
Although they were at no point in the hearing room together, the clash pitted his word against hers.
The almost nine hours of intensely emotional testimony came against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault and had millions of Americans riveted to their TV screens and smart phones.
Ford has emerged in the eyes of many American women as a compelling figure in the #MeToo movement that is usually associated less with the names of victims and more with a list of high-profile men accused of misconduct.
It was not clear, however, if the drama changed the views of any senators.
The Senate, controlled 51-49 by Trump’s fellow Republicans, must now decide whether to vote to confirm Kavanaugh after the extraordinary nearly nine-hour hearing.
Four senators — Republicans Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Jeff Flake along with Democrat Joe Manchin — are seen as possible swing voters whose decisions will determine whether Kavanaugh is approved or rejected.
Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump and his confirmation would cement conservative control of the Supreme Court with disputes over abortion rights, immigration, gay rights, voting rights and transgender troops possibly heading toward the justices soon.
The Judiciary Committee, on which Republicans hold an 11-10 majority, was to meet on Friday morning and several senators said they expected it to vote then. The full Senate could vote within days.
Writing on Twitter after the hearing, Trump said of Kavanaugh: “His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”
Kavanaugh at times choked back tears, especially when he mentioned that his daughter suggested they pray for Ford, when he spoke of his father and when he mentioned women friends who had rallied to support him.
Kavanaugh sharply attacked Democratic senators, calling himself the victim of “a calculated and orchestrated political hit” fuelled by anger on the left at Trump’s 2016 election win over Democrat Hillary Clinton, his conservative judicial record, and revenge on behalf of Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
“I swear today, under oath, before the Senate and the nation, before my family and God, I am innocent of this charge,” Kavanaugh told the Judiciary Committee.
Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, said over four hours of testimony that a drunken Kavanaugh attacked her and tried to remove her clothing at a gathering of teenagers when he was 17 years old and she was 15.
“With what degree of certainty do you believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin asked Ford.
“One hundred percent,” she replied, remaining firm and unruffled even under questioning by a sex crimes prosecutor hired by the committee’s Republicans.
When Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein asked her if it could be a case of mistaken identity, as Kavanaugh and some Republican senators have suggested, Ford replied: “Absolutely not” .
Murkowski, one of the three moderate Republican senators who have not announced whether or not they will support Kavanaugh, told Reuters: “I find Dr. Ford’s testimony to be credible.”
For his part, Kavanaugh testified he was “100 percent certain” none of the alleged incidents of sexual misconduct occurred.
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