Fiery Kavanaugh denies quiet accuser Ford in Senate showdown

Both Kavanaugh and Ford said the alleged assault and the storm of controversy that has erupted 36 years later had altered their lives forever. (Reuters)
Updated 28 September 2018

Fiery Kavanaugh denies quiet accuser Ford in Senate showdown

  • Ford recounted for the senators and a nationwide TV audience her long-held secret of the alleged assault in a locked room at a gathering of friends when she was just 15
  • Kavanaugh angrily denied her allegation, alternating a loud, defiant tone with near tears of his own

WASHINGTON: In an emotional day like few others in Senate history, California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford quietly but firmly recounted her “100 percent” certainty Thursday that President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers — and then Brett Kavanaugh defiantly testified he was “100 percent certain” he did no such thing.
That left senators to decide whether the long day tipped their confirmation votes for or against Trump’s nominee in a deeply partisan fight with the future of the high court and possibly control of Congress in the balance.
Showing their own certainty, Republicans quickly scheduled a recommendation vote for Friday morning in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they hold n 11-10 majority. They’re hoping for a final Senate roll call next week, seating Kavanaugh on the court for the Oct. start of its new term.
In the committee’s packed hearing room for hour upon hour Thursday, both Kavanaugh and Ford said the alleged assault and the storm of controversy that has erupted 36 years later had altered their lives forever and for the worse — perhaps the only thing they agreed on during their separate testimony marked by a stark contrast of tone and substance.
Ford recounted for the senators and a nationwide TV audience her long-held secret of the alleged assault in a locked room at a gathering of friends when she was just 15. The memory — and Kavanaugh’s laughter during the act — was “locked” in her brain, she said. Ford delivered her testimony with deliberate certitude, though admitting gaps in her memory as she choked back tears at some points and said she “believed he was going to rape me.”
Hours later, Kavanaugh entered the hearing room fuming. He angrily denied her allegation, alternating a loud, defiant tone with near tears of his own, particularly when discussing his family. He decried his confirmation opposition as a “national disgrace.” He interrupted senators and dismissed some questions with a flippant “whatever.”
“You have replaced ‘advice and consent’ with ‘search and destroy,’” he said, referring to the Constitution’s charge to senators’ duties in confirming high officials.
Democrats pressed the judge to call for an FBI investigation into the claims, but he would say only, “I welcome whatever the committee wants to do.”
Republicans are concerned, among other reasons, that further investigations could push a vote past the November elections that may switch Senate control back to the Democrats and make consideration of any Trump nominee more difficult.
Trump made his feelings newly clear that he was sticking by his choice. “His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting,” he tweeted. “The Senate must vote!“
Trump nominated the conservative jurist in what was supposed to be an election year capstone to the GOP agenda, locking in the court’s majority for years to come. Instead Kavanaugh has seemed in peril and on Thursday he faced the Senate hearing amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct at the top of powerful institutions.
The day opened with Ford, now a 51-year-old college professor in California, raising her right hand to swear under oath about the allegations she said she never expected to share publicly until they leaked in the media two weeks ago and reporters started staking out her home and work.
As Anita Hill did more two decades ago when she alleged sexual misconduct by Clarence Thomas, the mom of two testified before a committee with only male senators on the Republican side of the dais.
The psychology professor described what she says was a harrowing assault in the summer of 1982: How an inebriated Kavanaugh and another teen, Mark Judge, locked her in a room at a house party as Kavanaugh was grinding and groping her. She said he put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams. Judge has said does not recall the incident.
When the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, asked Ford how she could be sure that Kavanaugh was the attacker, Ford said, “The same way I’m sure I’m talking to you right now.” Later, she said her certainty was “100 percent.”
Her strongest memory of the alleged incident, Ford said, was the two boys’ laughter.
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” said Ford, who is a research psychologist, “the uproarious laughter between the two.”
Republican strategists were privately hand-wringing after Ford’s testimony. The GOP special counsel Rachel Mitchell, a Phoenix sex crimes prosecutor, who Republicans had hired to avoid the optics of their all-male line up questioning Ford, left Republicans disappointed.
Mitchell’s attempt to draw out a counter-narrative — mainly that Ford was coordinating with Democrats — was disrupted by the panel’s decision to allow alternating five-minute rounds of questions from Democratic senators.
During a lunch break, even typically talkative GOP senators on the panel were without words.
John Kennedy of Louisiana said he had no comment. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said he was “just listening.”
Then Kavanaugh strode into the committee room, arranged his nameplate, and with anger on his face started to testify with a statement he said he had shown only one other person. Almost immediately he choked up.
“My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed,” he said.
He lashed out over the time it took the committee to convene the hearing after Ford’s allegations emerged, singling out the Democrats for “unleashing” forces against him. He mocked Ford’s allegations — and several others since — that have accused him of sexual impropriety.
Even if senators vote down his confirmation, he said, “you’ll never get me to quit.”
Kavanaugh, who has two daughters, said one of his girls said they should “pray for the woman” making the allegations against him, referring to Ford. “That’s a lot of wisdom from a 10-year-old,” he said choking up. “We mean no ill will.”
The judge repeatedly refused to answer senators’ questions about the hard-party atmosphere that has been described from his peer group at Georgetown Prep and Yale, treating them dismissively.
“Sometimes I had too many beers,” he acknowledged. “I liked beer. I still like beer. But I never drank beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone. “
When Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, pressed if he ever drank so much he blacked out, he replied, “Have you?” After a break in the proceedings, he came back and apologized to Klobuchar. She said her father was an alcoholic.
Behind him in the audience as he testified, his wife, Ashley, sat looking stricken.
Republicans who had been scheduled to vote as soon as Friday at the committee — and early next week in the full Senate — alternated between their own anger and frustration at the allegations and the process.
“You’re right to be angry,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, his voice rising in anger, called the hearing the “most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.”


Macron backs month of Brexit talks as Johnson visits

Updated 22 August 2019

Macron backs month of Brexit talks as Johnson visits

  • Macron has rejected Johnson’s calls to scrap a key arrangement regarding Ireland
  • The EU argues the backstop is necessary to avoid the re-emergence of checkpoints in Ireland

PARIS: French leader Emmanuel Macron backed the idea of a month of further talks to find a solution to Brexit while ruling out major compromises as he met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for talks on Thursday.
Like German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, Macron supported allowing another 30 days to find a solution to the vexed issue of the Irish border which has bedevilled negotiations since 2017.
“We need to try to have a useful month,” Macron said alongside Johnson who insisted that solutions were “readily available” to prevent checkpoints returning in divided Ireland.
But Macron, who admitted he had a reputation as the “hardest in the gang” on Brexit, has rejected Johnson’s calls to scrap a key arrangement for Ireland negotiated between the EU and former British premier Theresa May.
At stake is the so-called “backstop,” which is a provision guaranteeing that border checks will not return between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland which is part of Britain.
Johnson considers the backstop to be “anti-democratic” and an affront to British sovereignty because it will require London to keep its regulations aligned with the EU during a transition exit period.
“The technical solutions are readily available (to avoid checkpoints) and they have been discussed at great length,” Johnson said. “You can have trusted trader schemes, you can have electronic pre-clearing.”
The EU argues the backstop is necessary to avoid the re-emergence of checkpoints which could lead to a return of fighting on the divided island where anti-British violence has claimed thousands of lives.
“I want to be very clear. In the coming month, we will not find a new withdrawal agreement that is far from the fundamentals,” Macron said at the Elysee palace in central Paris.
Since Johnson’s ascent to power last month, the chances of a “no deal” Brexit on October 31 have risen, which economists see as likely to wreak economic damage on Britain and the EU.
“The EU and member states need to take the possibility of a ‘no deal’ outcome much more seriously than before,” a senior EU official told reporters in Brussels on Thursday on condition of anonymity.
A French official said on Wednesday that this was becoming the “most likely” scenario.
The Paris visit was the second leg of Johnson’s first foreign trip as prime minister.
On Wednesday, he was in Berlin for talks with Merkel who appeared to offer a glimmer of hope by saying Britain should try to find a breakthrough to the issue over the next month.
“I want a deal,” Johnson told Macron. “I think we can get a deal and a good deal.”
He added that he had been “powerfully encouraged” by his talks with Merkel. “I admire that ‘can do’ spirit that she seemed to have.”
But many Brexit watchers see Merkel’s remarks as fitting a pattern in which she has often been more conciliatory in public about Brexit than Macron, whose abrasive remarks have caused anger in London in the past.
“There is not the width of cigarette paper between Paris and Berlin on these issues,” a senior aide to Macron said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
The EU official in Brussels added that the EU was “a little concerned based on what we heard yesterday (in Berlin).”
“We are waiting for new facts, workable ideas,” the official added.
Johnson, who has deployed his French language skills to charm diplomats in Paris before, has staked his leadership on withdrawing Britain from the EU by the current deadline of October 31 — “do or die.”
Some analysts see a risk of relations between Macron and Johnson becoming stormy in public, which could lead to a blame game about a “no deal” Brexit.
Johnson reportedly once called the French “turds” over their stance on Brexit during his time as foreign secretary — remarks he later said he could not recall.
But Macron pre-empted any attempt to deflect blame onto the European side during a press conference on Wednesday before Johnson’s arrival.
“It will be the responsibility of the British government, always, because firstly it was the British people that decided Brexit, and the British government has the possibility up to the last second to revoke Article 50,” he said.
Article 50 is the legal mechanism used by EU members states to withdraw from the bloc which was triggered by Britain in March 2017.
At the weekend, Macron, Merkel and Johnson will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of both Brexit and Johnson, at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.