WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was thrust into turmoil Sunday after the woman accusing him of high school-era sexual assault told her story publicly for the first time. Democrats immediately called for a delay in a key committee vote set for this later week and at least one Republican panel member said he’s willing to hear from the woman, but that the confirmation process must not be derailed.
The woman, Christine Blasey Ford, told The Washington Post in her first interview that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed at a Maryland party they attended in the early 1980s, clumsily tried to remove her clothing and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford said. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”
Ford, 51 and a clinical psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, says she was able to get away after a friend of Kavanaugh’s who was in the room jumped on top of them and everyone tumbled.
Kavanaugh, 53 and a federal appeals judge in Washington, on Sunday repeated his earlier denial of Ford’s allegation.
“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time,” Kavanaugh said through the White House.
The allegation first came to light late last week in the form of an anonymous letter that has been in the possession of Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, for some time.
The committee concluded four days of public hearings on the nomination and the panel’s Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, scheduled a Thursday vote on whether to recommend that the full Senate confirm Kavanaugh for a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.
Democrats, led by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, immediately called for the vote to be postponed, though Republicans gave no indication Sunday that they would accede to the calls by Democrats, most of whom already publicly oppose Kavanaugh.
But Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who sits on the committee, said Sunday he’s willing to hear from Ford provided that it’s “done immediately” so the confirmation process can continue as scheduled. Graham said he would “gladly listen to what she has to say” and compare her story against all the other information the committee has so far considered about Kavanaaugh.
Critics have accused Republicans of fast-tracking the process to get Kavanaugh seated on the court ahead of the first day of the fall term, Oct. 1.
A spokesman for Grassley said Kavanaugh already went through several days of hearings and was investigated by the FBI. The spokesman, Taylor Foy, said Feinstein, who was first notified of the allegation in late July, should have brought the matter to the panel earlier.
“It raises a lot of questions about Democrats’ tactics and motives,” Foy said.
The White House has accused Feinstein, who revealed the letter’s existence late last week, of mounting an “11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation.” The White House has sought to cast doubt about Ford’s allegation, noting that the FBI has repeatedly investigated Kavanaugh since the 1990s for highly sensitive roles he has held, including in the office of independent counsel Ken Starr, the White House and his current post on the federal appeals court in Washington.
Both Democratic and Republican senators questioned Feinstein’s handling of the allegation. Feinstein on Sunday called on the FBI to investigate Ford’s story “before the Senate moves forward on this nominee.”
Kavanaugh’s nomination has sharply divided an already closely divided Senate, with most Democrats opposing him and most Republicans supporting him.
But the allegation, particularly coming amid the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault, coupled with Ford’s emergence could complicate matters, especially as key Republican senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are under enormous pressure from outside groups who want them to oppose Kavanaugh on grounds that as a justice he could vote to undercut the Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion in the U.S.
Collins and Murkowski have not said how they will vote. Neither senator is on the Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to vote on a recommendation for the lifetime appointment.
Ford told the Post that Kavanaugh and a friend—both “stumbling drunk,” she says—corralled her into a bedroom during a house party in Maryland in the early 1980s when she was around 15 and Kavanaugh was around 17. She says Kavanaugh groped her over her clothes, grinded his body against hers and tried to take off her one-piece swimsuit and the outfit she wore over it.
Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand when she tried to scream, she says. She escaped when Kavanaugh’s friend jumped on them and everyone tumbled, she says.
In the interview, Ford says she never revealed what had happened to her until 2012, when she and her husband sought couples therapy.
Portions of her therapist’s notes, which Ford provided to the Post, do not mention Kavanaugh by name but say Ford reported being attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.”
Kavanaugh attended a private school for boys in Maryland while Ford attended a nearby school.
Ford’s husband, Russell Ford, also told the newspaper that his wife described during therapy being trapped in a room with two drunken boys and that one of them had pinned her to a bed, molested her and tried to prevent from screaming. He said he recalled his wife using Kavanaugh’s last name and expressing concern that Kavanaugh—then a federal judge—might someday be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The therapist’s notes say four boys were involved, but Ford says that was an error by the therapist. Ford says four boys were at the party, but only two boys were in the room at the time.
Ford had contacted the Post through a tip line in early July after it had become clear that Kavanaugh was on Trump’s shortlist to fill a vacancy but before the Republican president nominated him, the newspaper said.
A registered Democrat, Ford contacted her representative in Congress, Democrat Anna Eshoo, around the same time. In late July, Ford sent a letter through Eshoo’s office to Feinstein. Feinstein said she notified federal investigators about the letter, and the FBI confirmed it has included the information in the letter in Kavanaugh’s background file, which all senators can read.
Sixty-five women who knew Kavanagh in high school defended him in another letter, circulated by Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, as someone who “always treated women with decency and respect.”
Both Eshoo and Feinstein said Sunday that they supported Ford’s decision to come forward.
Ford told the Post she changed her mind about coming forward after watching portions of her story come out without her permission. She said if anyone was going to tell her story, she wanted to be the one to tell it.