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Christine Blasey Ford says Kavanaugh assault ‘seared' in her memory
[WASHINGTON] The woman who accuses Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers testified to senators Thursday that the incident was "seared into my memory" even though she doesn't remember all the details.
Christine Blasey Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee that while she doesn't recall where or exactly when in 1982 the incident occurred, she remembers Kavanaugh groping her at a house party, trying to take off her clothes and covering her mouth to keep her from screaming.
"The details about that night that bring me here today are the ones I will never forget," the California psychology professor said. "They have been seared into my memory and have haunted me episodically as an adult." She said she was "terrified" to testify before the committee and that she she "agonized daily" about whether to come forward with her claim.
The hearing was the first time the American public saw the person whose accusations had dominated the headlines for weeks, having only seen her before mostly in a single grainy photo in which she was wearing sunglasses. Her nerves were evident, and her voice cracked during her testimony.
Told by the committee's Republican chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley that she could have a break at any time, Ms Ford said with a smile, "I anticipate needing some caffeine if that is available."
Senator Grassley, called for a "safe, comfortable and dignified" proceeding as the panel opened a historic hearing that promises to shape the Supreme Court's future and redefine the "Me Too" era.
Mr Kavanaugh, who is set to testify after Ms Ford, said in his prepared statement that he doesn't question that Ms Ford may have been sexually assaulted by someone, but strongly denied that he was the attacker.
"I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation against me by Dr. Ford," Mr Kavanaugh said. "I have never done that to her or anyone. I am innocent of this charge."
Ms Ford said that though they went to different high schools, she had been friendly with a classmate of Mr Kavanaugh's and attended a number of parties that the future judge also attended.
"We did not know each other well, but I knew him and he knew me," Ms Ford said. She said that her husband remembers that she gave Mr Kavanaugh's name when the couple discussed the attack in family therapy in 2012.
In his opening statement, Senator Grassley said, "I want to apologize to you both for the way you've been treated," referring to threats made against Ms Ford and Mr Kavanaugh after her allegation became public.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein thanked Ms Ford for her "strength and bravery in coming forward." The California senator said 60 per cent of sexual assaults go unreported, and when women do report them, "too often, women's memories and credibility are put under assault."
"This is not a trial for Dr Ford," Senator Feinstein said. "It's a job interview for Judge Kavanaugh."
Senator Feinstein said the issue is "a real question of character for someone who is asking for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court," and noted that two other accusers came forward in the last several days.
Mr Kavanaugh is trying to save a Supreme Court nomination that has become besieged by accusations of decades-old sexual misconduct. He has strongly denied all the allegations against him. Senator Grassley lamented that the accusation surfaced after his panel held almost a week of confirmation hearings, while Senator Feinstein accused the GOP of a rush to judgment and complained about a lack of other witnesses.
Ms Ford said Mr Kavanaugh tried to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth so she couldn't scream. She is one of the three identified women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct but the only one who will testify Thursday.
Republicans are trying to get Mr Kavanaugh, 53, confirmed as early as next week. The Judiciary panel has scheduled a vote for Friday, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been preparing colleagues for a weekend session that would allow a final vote in a matter of days.
President Donald Trump said Wednesday the allegations are "all false to me" but added that he could be persuaded otherwise by Thursday's testimony. The committee's 10 Democrats are calling on Mr Trump to either withdraw the nomination or order the FBI to do a thorough investigation of the allegations.
A second woman, Deborah Ramirez of Colorado, claims Mr Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken party when they were freshmen at Yale University. And in the most lurid allegation yet, Julie Swetnick of Washington said in a sworn statement released Wednesday that Mr Kavanaugh took part in efforts during high school to get girls intoxicated so that a group of boys could have sex with them.
In a transcript of an interview with Senate investigators released Wednesday night, Mr Kavanaugh said Ms Ramirez's allegation "sounds like an orchestrated hit to take me out." He rejected Ms Swetnick's claim in a statement Wednesday as "ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone."
Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage in the Senate and can't afford more than one defection to ensure confirmation without Democratic support.
Several GOP lawmakers who remain publicly undecided - most notably Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Maine's Susan Collins and Arizona's Jeff Flake - said they want to hear what Ms Ford has to say before making up their minds. Senator Flake sits on the Judiciary Committee and will have a chance to question Ms Ford and Mr Kavanaugh.