WASHINGTON >> Indelible.
That’s the way Christine Blasey Ford described the details of what she says was a sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, on a summer evening three decades ago. Asked for the most vivid memory from that night, she did not name a physical violation. Rather, it was a specific sound she heard Kavanaugh and the other boy she says was in the room, Mark Judge.
“Laughter — the uproarious laughter between the two,” Ford, her voice wavering, told the Senate Judiciary Committee at today’s extraordinary hearing. “They were laughing with each other. … I was underneath one of them while the two laughed.”
The moment crystallized the national debate over gender, power and whom to believe in the #Metoo era under President Donald Trump. Today’s hearing in many ways turned on Ford’s credibility as a victim of and a witness to an event that Kavanaugh staunchly denies. Central to the proceedings was the quality of Ford’s memory and whether her account was believable, an unknown when she took her seat at the cramped witness table before the 21-member Senate Judiciary Committee.
With the hearing well under way, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked her what she remembered.
“What is the strongest memory you have, the strongest memory of the incident, something you cannot forget?” Leahy asked as Ford took a sip of coffee. “Take whatever time you need.”
Ford, a 51-year-old psychology professor, looked down and took a breath.
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” said Ford, referring to the area of the brain where traumatic memories are stored. “The uproarious laughter between the two and they’re having fun at my expense,” she said, her voice quaking. She looked down again.
“You’ve never forgotten that laughter, you never forgotten them laughing at you?” Leahy asked.
“They were laughing with each other,” Ford replied.
“And you were the object of the laughter?” Leahy pressed.
“I was, you know, underneath one of them while the two laughed,” she said.
The spectacle riveted Washington and much of the nation. The U.S. Capitol was hushed, as senators and aides huddled in offices, watching. The hearing, played on televisions, rang through the West Wing of the White House as Trump flew back from New York — with the televisions on Air Force One tuned to the proceedings. Back in Washington, the president cancelled a meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and was expected to continue watching, aides said.
Kavanaugh himself has explicitly said he is not questioning whether Ford had been attacked “by someone, at some point.” But he says he’s not the one who attacked her. He told at least one senator that it may have been a case of mistaken identity. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee released a document detailing their investigative work that showed they had interviewed two separate men who said they believed that they, not Judge Kavanaugh, assaulted Ford.
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah told CNN, “Somebody’s mixed up.”
But with an eager-to-please demeanor and zero show of anger during the questioning, Ford stuck by her account. It was true, she said, that there were gaps in her memory of that night in the early 1980s — she could not recall which boy pushed her into the room, or how she got home.
But the laughter, and the identity of her attacker, Ford said, remained crystal clear.
“Absolutely,” Ford said, later adding, “100 percent.”