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Emotions Dominate Ford And Kavanaugh Testimony

Sep 28, 2018
Originally published on September 28, 2018 7:41 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Brett Kavanaugh could be a step closer to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. It appears that Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee have the votes they need to move his nomination forward. NPR has confirmed that Arizona Republican Jeff Flake has said he will vote yes in support of the nominee. Chairman Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, explained why they are prepared to move ahead, despite the testimony from Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh assaulted her back in 1982.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK GRASSLEY: I found Dr. Ford's testimony credible and believe she's sincere in her version of the facts. But I also found Judge Kavanaugh's testimony credible and sincere. Ultimately, the existing evidence, including the statement of three alleged eye witnesses named by Dr. Ford, refutes Dr. Ford's version of the facts. There is simply no reason to deny Judge Kavanaugh a seat on the Supreme Court on the basis of evidence presented to us.

MARTIN: Several Democratic senators walked out of the meeting in the committee room this morning in protest, including California Democrat Kamala Harris. She spoke to reporters outside the hearing room and called the process a sham.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAMALA HARRIS: We are talking about putting somebody on the United States Supreme Court for a lifetime. For the sake of our democracy and the integrity of our democracy, you would think that members of the United States Senate would say, wait a minute. There's enough here to push pause. Let's reflect on what we're about to do.

MARTIN: For more, we're joined by NPR's congressional correspondent Scott Detrow in the studios this morning. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So Senator Flake - we mentioned he appears to be a yes at this point. This is something he had struggled with, though, this vote.

DETROW: He really had publicly with speeches on the Senate floor and at yesterday's committee hearing. I'll read just for a moment from the lengthy statement he put out talking about this. He said that, yesterday, we heard compelling testimony from Dr. Ford, as well as a persuasive response from Judge Kavanaugh. I wish that I could express the confidence that some of my colleagues have conveyed about what either did or did not happen in the early 1980s, but I left the hearing yesterday with as much doubt as certainty. Then he goes on to talk about a presumption of innocence. And he says that, given all he knows, he's going to vote for Judge Kavanaugh. That led to a really powerful emotional moment that's going to be hard for some people to hear, where he was on his way to that committee vote...

MARTIN: Yeah.

DETROW: ...He was in an elevator. And a woman held the door open and told him that she had been sexually assaulted and that, in her mind, his yes vote is telling her she does not matter.

MARTIN: CNN captured this on camera. And we've got that audio now.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Look at me when I'm talking to you. You're telling me that my assault doesn't matter, that what happened to me doesn't matter and that you're going to let people who do these things into power.

MARTIN: I think fair to say that's going to haunt Jeff Flake for a long time, that exchange. There are two other senators who could alter what many have said will be Kavanaugh's now-certain path to the Supreme Court, right?

DETROW: Yeah. Two Republican women, two of the people who ended up stopping the Senate from repealing all of Obamacare last year. That's Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Neither has said whether they will vote for him or not yet. He's likely going to be confirmed or approved by the judiciary committee this afternoon. That'll begin a process that will start over the weekend. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to move quickly. There's going to be a key early test vote of his confirmation on Saturday, likely. If that goes forward, there's a final vote likely Monday or Tuesday early next week.

MARTIN: And, of course, all of this is happening just weeks before a midterm election. I mean, in fact, Republicans argue this is all happening because there's an election in a matter of weeks, right?

DETROW: That's right. Republicans have said this has been a calculated political effort by Democrats, not necessarily Ford, but the response to all of the allegations and trying to stop Kavanaugh's nomination. Here's the thing - one of the main reasons why we think Democrats have a good chance of taking back the House is because of women voters, women voters in the suburbs much more inclined to vote Democrat, much more energized to vote. Given the emotions yesterday, given the millions of people across the country who watched that hearing, listened to that hearing and saw Ford's testimony and now see the Senate going forward with the confirmation despite that testimony, I wonder if that gender gap grows. And I wonder what the result is in an election that's just weeks away.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow. Thanks so much, Scott. We appreciate it.

DETROW: Thank you.

MARTIN: Now, all of this comes, as we mentioned, after what was really a wrenching day on Capitol Hill. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, appeared before the Senate judiciary committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

RICHARD DURBIN: With what degree of certainty do you believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?

CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: One hundred percent.

JOHN NEELY KENNEDY: None of these allegations are true?

BRETT KAVANAUGH: Correct.

KENNEDY: No doubt in your mind?

KAVANAUGH: Zero - 100 percent certain.

MARTIN: Earlier, we spoke with NPR legal affairs correspondent. Nina has covered many Supreme Court hearings but none like this.

Nina, good morning.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Let's begin with the first half of the hearing. This is when we heard from Christine Blasey Ford. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

FORD: I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified.

MARTIN: What kind of witness did Ford turn out to be, Nina?

TOTENBERG: She turned out to be a great witness. She never said more than she knew. She admitted she had gaps in her memory. She was the best kind of witness you could have possibly imagined.

MARTIN: And at one point, she was asked to get into the details of what happened on that night. Let's listen to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

FORD: I was pushed onto the bed, and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding into me. I yelled, hoping that someone downstairs might hear me. And I 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 very inebriated and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit underneath my clothing. 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 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.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We are listening to the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford. And I feel moved to apologize. I know many people are disturbed listening to this. And before we bring back Nina Totenberg, let's listen to one more bit of this testimony. Here's Rachel Mitchell. She was a veteran sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona. She was brought in to ask questions for the all-male Republican side of the aisle. And she did ask pointed questions about details of this incident as Ford remembered it and also about an encounter with Mark Judge, the other youth who is alleged to be in the room. She encountered him, she said, at a local grocery store.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

RACHEL MITCHELL: How were you able to narrow down the time frame?

FORD: I can't give the exact date, and I would like to be more helpful about the date. And if I knew when Mark Judge worked at the Potomac Safeway, then I would be able to be more helpful in that way.

INSKEEP: OK. Nina Totenberg has been listening with us. What's the significance about asking about the date of that later encounter with that individual?

TOTENBERG: Well, she hasn't been able to narrow down to a specific week or even a series of weeks that she's sure this happened. And so it's very difficult for Kavanaugh to respond because there isn't, you know, a specific day. And she said that she encountered Mark Judge at the grocery store just a few weeks after this happened. And he obviously was horrified at what had happened, she said. So that's the significance. And the committee has not subpoenaed Mark Judge, has not put him under oath and asked him to answer questions.

INSKEEP: Or there's an implied suggestion of why not an FBI investigation in her question. If somebody went back and looked at Safeway's records and found out when somebody named Mark Judge worked there, essentially, she's saying, maybe I would know something.

TOTENBERG: Exactly. She said, literally, if somebody would at least look at the employment records. And the FBI could do that quite easily.

MARTIN: So by the end of the morning, the consensus seemed to be that Christine Blasey Ford had done pretty well in her testimony, came off as very credible. So then, Nina, the afternoon - take us through what changed once Brett Kavanaugh sat down.

TOTENBERG: Kavanaugh came out with guns blazing, alternating between tears and fury. And at a few points, he even asked senators questions - that he put his questions to them, instead of the other way around. It was an extremely emotional and political performance.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

KAVANAUGH: This is a circus. The consequences will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades. This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country.

INSKEEP: OK. So, Nina, he goes beyond saying, I'm innocent. He goes on to say, there's a conspiracy against me. And I guess we should explain the reference to revenge on behalf of the Clintons. Kavanaugh was part of the Ken Starr investigation of Bill Clinton when he was president in the 1990s. In fact, he himself authored a memo advocating that Clinton should be forced to answer graphic sexual questions under oath. And now he's suggesting that they're somehow - or that Democrats are conspiring to get revenge on him. My question for you, Nina, having seen so many of these nomination battles, have you ever heard a Supreme Court justice candidate say something so partisan?

TOTENBERG: Never. After all, the job you're applying for when you're up for confirmation is to be a judge, to have a judicial temperament, to treat everybody fairly. And gone yesterday was the measured judge that Brett Kavanaugh painted himself to be in the earlier part of his hearings. And the person you saw yesterday was a pretty fierce, political partisan. And Kavanaugh ended by saying to the Democratic senators, you have turned advice and consent into seek and destroy.

MARTIN: Do you think he gets his seat? Do you think Kavanaugh sits on the court?

TOTENBERG: Well, it all is down to a few senators. And Mitch McConnell has been after this for decades. And he is trying to bullet through if he possibly can. Time is not on the Republicans' side. They know that, and they're going for it.

MARTIN: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. One more note - the American Bar Association gave Kavanaugh its highest possible rating after he was nominated. They are now calling for the vote on his confirmation to be delayed until there's an investigation into the charges against the nominee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.