Trump’s court pick breaks down under questioning
US SUPREME court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has angrily and tearfully denied a university professor's accusation that he sexually assaulted her 36 years ago after she told a dramatic senate hearing she was "100 per cent certain" he did.
Christine Blasey Ford appeared in public for the first time to detail her allegation against Mr Kavanaugh, a conservative federal appeals court judge chosen by President Donald Trump for a lifetime job on the top US court.
Dr Blasey Ford told a Senate committee hearing she feared Mr Kavanaugh would rape and accidentally kill her during the alleged assault when both were high school students in Maryland.
Both fought back tears as they gave evidence over claims he sexually assaulted the then 15-year-old in the 1980s.
Mr Kavanaugh told the senate panel that his family and his name "have been totally and permanently destroyed."
KAVANAUGH ANGRILY DENIES ACCUSATION
Mr Kavanaugh spoke at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing after Dr Blasey Ford testified.
He said he didn't watch her testimony. Both spent hours testifying today.
Kavanaugh was asked by Democratic Senator Kamala Harris near the end of the hearing whether he had watched hers. Mr Kavanaugh responded: "I plan to, but I did not. I was preparing mine."
During questioning Mr Kavanaugh told the Judiciary Committee that he denied the allegation against him.
"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. Calling himself a victim of "grotesque and obvious character assassination."
Dr Blasey Ford had said she was terrified to come forward but did so because she felt it was her civic duty.
He said the process has become "a national disgrace".
"This is a circus," he said. "This is a calculated and orchestrated political hit".
Mr Kavanaugh said he wants politicians to know he never had sexual intercourse or anything close to it during high school or for many years after that.
He said the committee has a letter from 65 women who knew him in high school and they said he had always treated them with dignity and respect.
Mr Kavanaugh said the reason for the allegations is anger by some about President Donald Trump and the 2016 election, and out of revenge on "behalf of the Clintons."
In the 1990s, Mr Kavanaugh was on the team that investigated President Bill Clinton as part of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's investigation.
The report led to Mr Clinton's impeachment, though he was not removed from office. Mr Kavanaugh said that the allegations are also the result of money from left-wing opposition groups.
The father of two daughters said one of his girls said they should "pray for the woman" making the allegations.
"That's a lot of wisdom from a 10 year old," he said. "We mean no ill will to Dr Ford."
Mr Kavanaugh, too repeated phrases from a Monday statement in which he vowed not to withdraw from consideration.
"I am not questioning that Dr Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time. But I have never done that to her or to anyone. I am innocent of this charge," he wrote.
CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD TELLS HER STORY
Dr Ford says she "agonised daily" over whether to come forward about judge Brett Kavanaugh, fearing "my single voice would be drowned out".
"I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified," she told the senate committee.
Dr Ford recalled going to a party when she was 15 at which she claims she was attacked by Mr Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge. Mr Kavanaugh would have been 17 at the time.
"When I got to the small gathering, people were drinking beer in a small living room on the first floor of the house. I drank one beer that evening. Brett and Mark were visibly drunk. Early in the evening, I went up a narrow set of stairs leading from the living room to a second floor to use the bathroom. When I got to the top of the stairs, I was pushed from behind into a bedroom. I couldn't see who pushed me," she said.
"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 screaming."
"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," she said.
"Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack. They both seemed to be having a good time."
The psychology professor at Palo Alto University also addressed questions about why she did not report the assault at the time.
"For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details. I did not want to tell my parents that I, at age 15, was in a house without any parents present, drinking beer with boys," she said.
"I tried to convince myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should be able to move on and just pretend that it had never happened," Dr Ford said.
Dr Ford also explained why she came forward when she did, saying she thought it was her duty to offer her knowledge about a nominee to the Supreme Court.
"I thought it was my civic duty to relay the information I had about Mr. Kavanaugh's conduct so that those considering his potential nomination would know about the assault," Dr Ford said.
PROSECUTOR GIVEN 5 MINUTES TO QUESTION BLASEY FORD
Sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell questioned Dr Blasey Ford on Thursday during the televised hearing.
Ms Mitchell was in the unusual and difficult position of trying to chip away at Dr Blasey Ford's credibility - doing it on behalf of the 11 Republican men on the Senate Judiciary Committee who preferred not to question Dr Blasey Ford themselves.
She was given a strict five-minute time limit.
As her time for questioning Dr Blasey Ford was coming to an end, Ms Mitchell herself seemed to give voice to her exasperation with her task.
"Would you believe me that no study says that this setting in five-minute increments is the way to do that?" Ms Mitchell asked.
One Democratic senator, a former prosecutor who is not on the committee, said Mitchell had a "tough job."
An experienced prosecutor, Ms Mitchell does not operate under time constraints when she questions witnesses in a courtroom.
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri said, "I can't imagine doing either a direct examination or a cross-examination in five-minute increments. And she's not used to cross-examining people who are telling the truth."
In her very first exchange with Dr Blasey Ford, Ms Mitchell began by expressing sympathy for her, who said she was "terrified" to testify, saying, "I just wanted to let you know, I'm very sorry. That's not right."
But then she turned to her task, asking a series of small questions about the accuracy of statements she has made.
In a trial, the answers to those questions can help lawyers paint a picture of a witness as unreliable. But in the Senate hearing room,
Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley cut in to say her time was up and it was now the Democrats' turn to ask questions.
The questioning moved on to Senator Dianne Feinstein.
The tenor of the questions suggested that Ms Mitchell was trying, if gently, to question the reliability of Dr Blasey Ford's recollections and portray her as a pawn of Democrats who are out to stop Kavanaugh at any cost.
In one example, Ms Mitchell pointed out that Dr Blasey Ford did not mention Kavanaugh's name as her attacker between 1982, when the event allegedly took place, and 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband.
Ms Mitchell also asked her why she only contacted Democratic politicians about her allegation.
Dr Blasey Ford replied that she contacted her representative in Congress, Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Democrat, and that Eshoo recommended contacting Feinstein, a California senator and the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
Later, Ms Mitchell pressed her repeatedly to reveal who paid for a polygraph exam that Dr Blasey Ford took in the late summer.
One of her lawyers, Debra Katz, interjected, "Let me put an end to the mystery. Her lawyers paid for the polygraph."
The questions about the polygraph also illustrated that Ms Mitchell had little time and no prior access to Dr Blasey Ford, which might have allowed her to avoid asking questions where the answers hardly undermined her as a witness.
When Ms Mitchell asked why the polygraph was done near a Washington-area airport, Dr Blasey Ford replied that it was to accommodate her as she headed to her grandmother's funeral.
In a twist just hours before the hearing, it emerged late on Wednesday that Republicans on the Committee had been talking to two men who each believes he may have been the one who had the encounter with Dr Ford.
One even gave an "in-depth written statement" and said he "believes he, not Judge Kavanuagh, had the encounter in question with Dr. Ford," according to Fox News.
The other man talked to the committee on the phone and made a similar claim, the report said.
Dr Ford was also asked under oath what degree of confidence did she have that it was Mr Kavanaugh that attacked her.
"100 per cent," she said, leaning into the microphone.
In one of the more emotional moments of the morning, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy asked Dr Ford what stuck out to her in her memory.
"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter," Dr Ford said, her voice breaking up. "The laughter, the upraised laughter between the two and their having fun at my expense."
"You never forgot that laughter?," Senator Leahy said as Dr Ford nodded and one of her lawyers patted her back for reassurance.
"I was under one of them while they laughed. Two friends having fun together," Dr Ford said.
KAVANAUGH QUESTIONED OVER DRINKING HABITS
Mr Kavanaugh apologised after tangling with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar over his drinking in high school.
The senator asked Mr Kavanaugh about his drinking habits. Senator Klobuchar said Mr Kavanaugh wrote in testimony that he sometimes had too many drinks. She asked whether he ever drank so much that he couldn't remember what happened or part of what happened the night before.
Kavanaugh answered "no."
In a back-and-forth, he added, "Have you?" and followed up a second time. Senator Klobuchar said: "I have no drinking problem, Judge."
Kavanaugh responded: "Nor do I." After returning from a break, he apologised for asking her that question.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the Democrats' treatment Mr Kavanaugh is the "most despicable thing" he has seen in politics. Senator Graham said that Democrats sat on allegations against Mr Kavanaugh and then sprung them on the nominee at the last minute in a desperate attempt to prevent his confirmation.
The South Carolina senator said Democrats want to "destroy" Mr Kavanaugh's life and hold the seat open in the hope of winning the White House in 2020.
Senator Graham said a vote against Mr Kavanaugh would "legitimatize the most despicable thing I have ever seen in politics."
He also called the Democrats' tactics "the most unethical sham."
Senator Graham supported Republicans' ultimately successful efforts to block action on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.
OTHER ALLEGATIONS AGAINST KAVANAUGH
Among the other allegations Mr Kavanaugh is facing is one from Yale University classmate Deborah Ramirez, who has said Mr Kavanaugh drunkenly exposed himself to her at a dorm party when they were freshman.
Then on Wednesday, Julie Swetnick said he helped "spike" drinks at high-school parties where girls were "gang-raped."
Neither of those women has been granted permission to testify, but senators are not limited in what questions they can ask, which means Mr Kavanaugh is likely to face cross-examination by Democrats over those allegations.
TRUMP, CELEBRITIES SHARE VIEWS ON FORD, KAVANAUGH
President Donald Trump said Mr Kavanaugh "showed America exactly why I nominated him".
"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!" Mr Trump tweeted.
Donald Trump Jnr also tweeted his support: "I love Kavanaugh's tone. It's nice to see a conservative man fight for his honour and his family against a 35 year old claim with ZERO evidence and lots of holes that amounts to nothing more than a political hit job by the Dems."
The hearing was the top trending subject on Twitter with many people from both sides sharing their views on Dr Ford's testimony.