Updated 7:29 p.m.
The public airing of a decades-old sexual assault accusation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has roiled the confirmation proceedings, putting new pressure on Senate Republicans and the White House as a scheduled vote approaches and the new term is set to begin in October.
Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist at Palo Alto University, revealed in a Washington Post article on Sunday that she was the author of a confidential letter raising the allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her during a party in suburban Washington in 1982 when they were in high school. She was 15 at the time and Kavanaugh would have been 17.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford told the Post. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”
She claimed Kavanaugh and a friend, both “stumbling drunk,” locked her in a bedroom in a home in Montgomery Country during the party. Kavanaugh allegedly pushed Ford onto a bed, pinning her with his weight and tried to undo her clothes. Ford also claimed Kavanaugh also covered her mouth with his hand to prevent her from screaming, according to the Post report. She subsequently escaped and went home.
When the accusation first surfaced last week, Ford’s identity was not revealed in media reports. Kavanaugh last week denied the accusation, saying in a statement: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
Ford’s stepping forward places Senate Republicans under new pressure as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote Thursday on Kavanaugh’s nomination, the next step in sending the nomination to the full Senate.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who had received Ford’s letter weeks ago and kept it confidential, reportedly at Ford’s request, said Sunday the FBI should conduct an investigation “before the Senate moves forward on this nominee.”
“For any women, sharing an experience involving sexual assault—particularly when it involves a politically connected man with influence, authority and power—is extraordinarily difficult,” Feinstein said in the statement. She continued: “From the outset, I have believed these allegations were extremely serious and bear heavily on Judge Kavanaugh’s character.”
A spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee said in a statement Sunday: “It’s disturbing that these uncorroborated allegations from more than 35 years ago, during high school, would surface on the eve of a committee vote after Democrats sat on them since July. If Ranking Member Feinstein and other Committee Democrats took this claim seriously, they should have brought it to the full committee’s attention much earlier.”
The spokesman, Taylor Foy, added: “It raises a lot of questions about Democrats’ tactics and motives to bring this to the rest of the committee’s attention only now rather than during these many steps along the way.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, saying in a statement that he shared the Republican leadership’s concerns about the “substance and process” of Ford’s claims, would “gladly listen to what she has to say and compare that against all other information we have received about Judge Kavanaugh.” He added: “If the committee is to hear from Ms. Ford, it should be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled.”
Ford now more directly enters the potential political maelstrom of the confirmation process, one reminiscent of Anita Hill’s experience when she accused then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment shortly after his confirmation hearings had ended. Thomas went on to be confirmed by one of the narrowest margins in modern times.
Ford is being represented by prominent civil rights attorney Debra Katz of Washington’s Katz, Marshall & Banks. Katz advised Ford to take a polygraph test, according to The Washington Post. The test was performed by a former FBI agent and the results showed Ford was being truthful, the Post reported.
“Victims must have the right to decide whether to come forward, especially in a political environment that is as ruthless as this one,” Katz told the Post. “She will now face vicious attacks by those who support this nominee.”
After news broke of Ford’s identity and details of her accusation, supporters and opponents of Kavanaugh were quick to react on Sunday afternoon.
Fatima Gross Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, which opposes the nomination, said in a statement: “[T]he Senate is obligated to take these allegations seriously and give them the careful consideration they deserve—while protecting the private citizen who many will now target for personal destruction because she has named her experience. The Senate has an opportunity to get it right this time and not repeat the wrongs that were done to Anita Hill in 1991.”
Kavanaugh’s supporters released a collection of letters—published in recent weeks—that praised his character and integrity. Those letters were from, among others, his former female law clerks, women who worked with him during his time in the George W. Bush White House, former female college classmates, and parents of girls he coached in basketball.
The nominee’s backers also re-released a letter, generated last week when the accusation first surfaced, from 65 women who said they knew Kavanaugh during his high school years at the elite Georgetown Preparatory.
“Throughout the more than 35 years we have known him, Brett has stood out for his friendship, character, and integrity,” the women’s letter said. “In particular, he has always treated women with decency and respect. That was true when he was in high school, and it has remained true to this day.”
Ford told The Washington Post that she did not reveal the incident in detail until 2012 when she and her husband were in couples therapy. She shared with the newspaper some of her therapist’s notes of a session. The notes did not mention Kavanaugh’s name but did say she revealed being attacked by students from an “elitist boys’ school” who later became high-ranking members of D.C. society.
This post was updated with additional comments about the public revelations against Kavanaugh.