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Ford testimony adds to pressure on Kavanaugh

Christine Blasey Ford emphatically stood by her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school during a blockbuster hearing on Thursday where an outside counsel hired by Republicans sought to poke holes in her story.

Ford offered a gripping account of the alleged assault from the 1980s that left an audience in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room rapt, appearing to hold back tears at times as she recounted an event from her high school years.

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In a key moment, Ford said she had a clear memory of Kavanaugh putting his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams during a high school party and strongly denied that she might be confusing someone else for him, saying at one point she was “100 percent” certain it had been Kavanaugh.

Reviews of Ford’s testimony were generally positive, with many commentators on Fox News arguing that she was a compelling, believable and sympathetic witness.

They argued it would put more pressure on Kavanaugh to turn in a strong performance when he appears before the panel later on Thursday. Kavanaugh has emphatically denied the allegations of Ford and two other women who have raised charges of sexual misconduct.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation could be in the balance. A handful of Republican senators are undecided on his nomination, and have suggested today’s hearing could go a long way toward their decision.

Fox News’s Chris Wallace pronounced the hearings a “disaster” for Republicans after the first half hour, while New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman reported on Twitter that sources close to Trump were “saying they think it was a mistake” to have a sex crimes prosecutor ask questions of Ford instead of GOP lawmakers or another outside counsel.

“Democrats are scoring points, and so far Rachel Mitchell hasn't laid a glove on her,” Wallace said, referring to the counsel hired by Republicans.  

Most Republicans on the committee declined to comment on the proceedings during a lunch break.
 
Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyDisasters become big chunk of U.S. deficit Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks Florida politics play into disaster relief debate MORE (R-Ala.), who is not a member of the Judiciary panel, called Ford “credible” but declined to speculate how this might impact Kavanaugh’s nomination.
 
“I thought she looked credible,” he said of Ford. 
 
“I thought the prosecutor looked like she knew what she was doing,” he added. “I don’t know how it plays out. I said let’s see how the process works.”
 
 
“You got an emotional allegation, you got an emotion defense so you got to figure out what’s credible,” he said.  

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyDems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October American Bar Association dropping Kavanaugh review Clinton's security clearance withdrawn at her request MORE (R-Iowa) came under some outside criticism during the first hours of the hearing for a series of exchanges with Democrats on the panel and Ford that some said pointed to a defensiveness on his part.

Grassley repeatedly defended his committee’s handling of the Kavanaugh confirmation, and criticized Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Pollsters: White college-educated women to decide if Dems capture House Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees American Bar Association dropping Kavanaugh review MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the panel, for not telling Republicans immediately of Ford’s letter to her making allegations against the nominee.

He also offered a sharp retort to Feinstein when she faulted him for not “properly” introducing Ford and when she brought up a statement by Kavanaugh’s college roommate that the nominee was “frequently and incoherently drunk” at school.

Grassley also appeared to lose patience at times when Democrats interrupted him to complain about process and ignored a request by Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisFox contributor: Warren's ancestors 'rounded up Cherokees for the Trail of Tears' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Pollsters: White college-educated women to decide if Dems capture House Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees MORE (D-Calif.) that copies of maps showing the distance between Ford’s adolescent home and the neighborhood where she alleged Kavanaugh’s attempted assault took place.

Mitchell, who Senate Republicans brought in from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to handle questioning, was not able to trip up Ford in any serious way during the first two hours of her testimony — though the witness did concede some gaps in her memory in a first round of testimony.

Ford admitted not remembering how she got home from the party, which was more than eight miles away from the Columbia Country Club, near where she remembers the party taking place.

Mitchell also questioned Ford about how she had traveled to Washington, seemingly trying to show that she was a frequent air traveler even though she had said she did not want to fly to Washington initially to take part in a Judiciary hearing. Ford said it had been an “unrealistic” request.

The format created an unusual dynamic, with Democrats asking Ford direct questions but Republicans largely silent — aside from Grassley.

Mitchell appeared surprised when Grassley cut off her first round of questions to give Democrats equal time to speak.

Democrats appeared confident with how things were going.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandAffordable housing set for spotlight of next presidential campaign Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Senators seek US intel on journalist's disappearance | Army discharged over 500 immigrant recruits in one year | Watchdog knocks admiral over handling of sexual harassment case Pentagon watchdog knocks top admiral for handling of sexual harassment case MORE (D-N.Y.), who is not on the Judiciary panel but was present in the room for Ford’s testimony, said, “I don't know how any Republican watching this testimony could possibly vote for Brett Kavanaugh after what she said.

“Not only her honesty, her integrity, her truth. It's obvious."

Graham said he thinks something happened to Ford somewhere in her life, but he's not sure it happened somewhere in Maryland maybe in the summer of 1982. 

"And I think it’ll be very clear here in a few minutes that the people named don’t corroborate it," he said. 

Lydia Wheeler, Jordain Carney and Emily Birnbaum contributed.  

This story was updated at 1:38 p.m.