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News Brief: Ford And Kavanaugh Recap


It was a little hard to believe the other day when an NPR survey found that most Americans planned to watch the hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. It was a little hard to believe before. And yet, it seemed to be happening yesterday as Christine Blasey Ford testified under oath and on television and on the radio that the man considered as the next nominee of the Supreme Court sexually assaulted her.


CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.

INSKEEP: Kavanaugh's response was direct.


BRETT KAVANAUGH: I've never sexually assaulted anyone.


Blasey Ford, for her part, opened her testimony by walking through the details of exactly what did happen that night. When she was at this high school gathering, Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, were there.


FORD: Brett and Mark came into the bedroom and locked the door behind them. There was music playing in the bedroom. It was turned up louder by either Brett or Mark once we were in the room. 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.

MARTIN: Those details - hard to hear for many. She testified through the morning into the earlier afternoon. And then, it was Kavanaugh's turn at the mic. He was visibly angry, described himself as a man who had been dragged through the mud as part of a political conspiracy.


KAVANAUGH: My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed by vicious and false additional accusations. The 10-day delay has been harmful to me and my family, to the Supreme Court and to the country.

INSKEEP: So what have we learned about what really happened in 1982? And also, what happens next? We're joined in the studio by Mara Liasson, who is NPR's national political correspondent. Mara, good morning.


INSKEEP: And I should say Mara's in a separate location - but here in our studios, NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow. Scott, good morning to you.


INSKEEP: OK, so Christine Blasey Ford described this assault in terms that were clearly disturbing to many people across the country - described the weight of the man on top of her, for example. And then, she spoke of the long, long aftermath. Let's listen.


FORD: Brett's assault on me drastically altered my life for a very long time. I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone these 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. I convinced myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should just move on and just pretend that it didn't happen.

INSKEEP: Scott, I think it's noteworthy that Republicans who commented at all on her testimony have essentially said she's credible. Few, if any, said, we don't believe you. We think you're perjuring yourself. She was not really attacked here by the Republican side directly.

DETROW: Yeah, and I think that was one of those moments that really resonated because, early on, there was an argument from some corners that even if this did happen, Brett Kavanaugh was a high schooler. Things happen when you're in high school. You're stupid in high school, and everybody should move on. And that shouldn't disqualify him. She made it clear in this testimony - this has affected her for her entire life. There have been serious consequences from this incident throughout her entire life.

MARTIN: And so much of this is about perception, right?


MARTIN: Like, how she presents herself - does she appear to be credible, whether or not you do think she's telling the truth? And it was so different. We had seen the story. We had seen the words written on the page in her opening statement that had been released previously. It was different - wasn't it, Mara? - to hear her articulate this, to walk back in time and use her own words to describe it.

LIASSON: Yes, and that was one of the reasons why both Democrats and Republicans thought she was really credible. She was low-key. She was poised. She was tearful at times, but she was also sweet and apologetic and obliging - all the things that women try to be. So she did come off as credible. Her testimony was widely described as a disaster for the Republicans. And that was a kind of unanimous opinion, at least until Kavanaugh came in.

DETROW: You know, aside from the big moments where she described things that we're listening to, there were several little moments that I think really jumped out. When she would say, you know - like, when she would be asked, where did you get this advice? And she said, my friend on the beach told me - so many things that just made her seem like an...

LIASSON: Normal person.

DETROW: ...Ordinary person plucked out of, you know, normal life.

INSKEEP: And also, details of the attack itself that made you feel like you were there - let's listen to one of those.


MARTIN: The uproarious laughter between the two - and they're having fun at my expense.

PATRICK LEAHY: You've never forgotten that laughter. You've never forgotten them laughing at you.

FORD: They were laughing with each other.

LEAHY: And you were the object of the laughter.

FORD: I was, you know, underneath one of them while the two laughed - two friends having a really good time with one another.

MARTIN: So that's Ford describing what stood out to her when Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, asked her, what is the one thing that is indelible in your memory? And that's what she said, the laughter. Mara, it was a very different moment when Kavanaugh took the stand. He also was incredibly emotional. But he was angry, wasn't he?

LIASSON: He was angry. He was yelling. He was crying. I don't think we've ever seen a potential Supreme Court justice act like this. And he was extremely partisan. He came in and delivered a real Trumpian statement that he was a victim, that it was filled with grievance. He blamed Clinton - the Clintons for getting revenge on him, Trump haters, the left. He said it was a calculated, orchestrated political hit on him. And this was - you know, Clarence Thomas talked about a high-tech lynching. This was the high-tech lynching on steroids.

MARTIN: We've got that tape, Mara.

LIASSON: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: I want to play this of him referring to the Clintons and the political ploy here.


KAVANAUGH: This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups. This is a circus.

MARTIN: Is there any evidence of this conspiracy theory, Mara?

LIASSON: Well, there's no doubt that Republicans feel the process was deeply, deeply unfair. And, of course, millions of dollars are spent on Supreme Court battles from the left and the right. Whether the Clintons orchestrated this - there's certainly no evidence of that. But he really - you know, when I listened to that, I thought Donald Trump could not have said this better himself. This is how Republicans feel. They feel that this process has been unfair. This has been a hit job on him, not unlike how Democrats felt when Republicans held up a vote for Merrick Garland for 10 months.

DETROW: And there is - few things in the world are more unifying for a party than feeling under siege, feeling under attack. Kavanaugh made a decision that he's in a political fight and he would act like a political fighter, not like a judge.

MARTIN: Right.

DETROW: And that was a clear decision he made. And I think a lot of Republicans did rally around him in the moment, feeling like, yeah, we're all under attack here.

INSKEEP: Mara...

LIASSON: And don't forget why he had to do this. His appearance on Fox News, which itself was extremely unusual, was widely considered to be a failure. And the president wanted him to be more aggressive. And especially after the morning, he had to do this to save himself.

INSKEEP: Mara, you mentioned that Christine Blasey Ford was apologetic and, as you put it, behaved in a way that women are often expected to behave. Kavanaugh, you mentioned, was quite angry, when he was not tearful. He actually stopped talking from time to time, he was so tearful talking about his family. But his angry anger and emotion were notable - particularly when he was questioned by women on the committee. Amy Klobuchar - Senator Amy Klobuchar - asked if he'd blacked out while drinking. And Kavanaugh replied, have you? He later apologized for that, but not so much for this exchange with Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.


DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I don't understand. You know, we hear from the witnesses. But the FBI isn't interviewing them and isn't giving us any facts. So all we have...

KAVANAUGH: You're interviewing me. You're interviewing me. You're doing it, Senator. I'm sorry to interrupt, but you're doing it. That's - there's no conclusions reached.

INSKEEP: There is a sign of the angry - anger that you were talking about.

MARTIN: And Dianne Feinstein really was made a target in these conversations, with Republicans repeatedly pointing to her and her staff - did you leak this? You were supposed to keep this anonymous. Did this come out of your camp? Which her staff has totally denied.

DETROW: Yeah, and she says the reason was simple. Ford had said, keep this confidential. And she said the most important thing was honoring the wishes of someone who was assaulted.

INSKEEP: Let me just ask about one person who tried to stay level-headed the entire time - Rachel Mitchell, the sex crimes prosecutor who was brought in to ask questions for the Republicans. They kept yielding their time to her. But then, suddenly, she went away.

MARTIN: Was gone.

INSKEEP: Stopped being...

LIASSON: Well...

INSKEEP: She was still sitting there but stopped being called upon.

DETROW: She did...

INSKEEP: What happened, Scott?

LIASSON: Well, Rachel Mitchell...

DETROW: Yeah, that's...

LIASSON: Rachel...

MARTIN: Scott - I'm calling on Scott.

DETROW: All right. That's because Republicans made a political calculation. They did not want to be sitting there questioning, attacking a woman who was describing a sexual assault. That made sense, but I think it also backfired in a way that you had this visual of Republicans sitting there with their arms crossed. They realized that was a mistake, and they realized they had political points they wanted to make. So early in Kavanaugh's questioning, Lindsey Graham decided to speak for himself and make a very loud point.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: When you see Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them that Lindsey said hello because I voted for them. I would never do to them what you've done to this guy. This is the most unethical sham since I've been in politics. And if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn't have done what you've done to this guy.

MARTIN: So, Mara, what now?

LIASSON: What now - there's going to be a vote in the Judiciary Committee, we think, today. A bunch of senators - Flake, Collins, Donnelly, Manchin and Murkowski - all considered to be on the fence to one extent or another - were huddling yesterday.

MARTIN: They have to make up their mind.

LIASSON: They have to make up their minds. Bob Corker came out yesterday saying he's a yes. I think the chances of Kavanaugh being confirmed are better than even.

MARTIN: NPR's Mara Liasson and Scott Detrow for us this morning. Thank you to both of you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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