WASHINGTON — Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school, will testify for the first time publicly about her experience before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday — followed by testimony from Kavanaugh himself.
The high-stakes hearing comes a day before the committee is expected to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, as scheduled by Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Senate Republican leaders are aiming to hold a full Senate floor vote on the nomination by early next week, with the hopes that he would be confirmed and sworn in as a justice soon after the high court's new term opens on Monday.
Here’s what you need to know about Thursday’s hearing:
What time does the Kavanaugh hearing start?
The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. ET on Thursday.
Where is the Kavanaugh hearing happening?
The hearing, which will be held in an open session, will take place on Capitol Hill in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Who is testifying?
Christine Blasey Ford will be the first witness to testify Thursday about the experience she described in a letter to Democratic lawmakers in July and in a recent interview with The Washington Post. Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University, alleges that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party in the Maryland suburbs during the early 1980s. She attended the Holton-Arms School at the time.
Kavanaugh, 53, nominated by President Donald Trump in July to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice Anthony Kennedy, will respond to Ford’s claims in follow-up testimony before the Judiciary Committee. He attended Georgetown Preparatory School at the time of the alleged assault. Kavanaugh testified for two consecutive days in early September during a series of traditional confirmation hearings and Ford's allegations were not raised then. He previously served as staff secretary in the George W. Bush White House and worked for independent counsel Ken Starr, who investigated President Bill Clinton.
Democrats wanted the hearing to include testimony from others, including individuals Ford had identified as witnesses to the alleged assault, such as Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh's who declined to testify or offer any additional information.
This week, two other women have publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Deborah Ramirez alleged in an article published by The New Yorker on Sunday that while she and Kavanaugh both attended Yale University in the early 1980s, he pulled down his pants and exposed himself to her. And lawyer Michael Avenatti revealed he was representing Julie Swetnick, a third accuser, on Wednesday. Kavanaugh has released statements denying both accusations.
In addition, NBC News reported Wednesday that the Senate has made inquiries about at least one additional allegation of misconduct against Kavanaugh, an incident that allegedly occurred in 1998.
Which senators are attending the hearing?
The Senate Judiciary Committee is chaired by Grassley. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is the top Democrat on the panel.
The other Republican senators on the committee include Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana.
The other Democratic senators are Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Chris Coons of Delaware, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California.
Will senators be asking questions of the witnesses?
Republicans on the committee have hired Rachel Mitchell, an experienced sex crimes prosecutor in Maricopa County, Arizona, to serve as nomination investigation counsel and ask questions on their behalf, but GOP senators could still raise their own questions, too.
Republicans, who don’t have any female members on the committee, announced Mitchell's hiring on Tuesday.
Democratic senators are planning to ask their own questions and have not hired an outside counsel.
How will the hearing work?
The hearing will begin with opening statements from the leaders of the committee, which won’t have an imposed time limit. Ford will then follow with her own opening statement, which won’t have a time limit either. Her prepared testimony was released Wednesday evening.
After that, there will be one round of questions from senators, with five minutes allotted per person, alternating from Republicans and Democrats in order of seniority, and senators can give their time to another senator or outside counsel. There may be several breaks.
After Ford leaves, Kavanaugh will then deliver his opening statement, not subject to a time limit. The questioning round will follow the same format that senators will follow during the round with Ford.
How long will the hearing run?
There is no set end time for the hearing and it’s difficult to predict its duration because some of the portions are not subject to time limits. Kavanaugh’s testimony from his initial confirmation hearings lasted more than 12 hours each day, though the rounds of questions then were as long as 20 minutes per senator.
What is Christiney Blasey Ford’s story?
Ford initially sent a letter to Feinstein and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., in late July about the alleged assault.
“Brett Kavanaugh physically and sexually assaulted me during High School in the early 1980’s. He conducted these acts with the assistance of his close friend, Mark G. Judge. Both were 1-2 years older than me and students at a local private school. The assault occurred in a suburban Maryland area home at a gathering that included me and 4 others,” Ford wrote in the letter released by Grassley last week.
The New Yorker first broke the story this month about the details of the letter, though her identity remained anonymous until she spoke to The Washington Post, which published a follow-up story about her experience.
Ford said that she believes the alleged assault occurred during the summer of 1982 and Kavanaugh and Mark Judge corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County, Maryland. She told the Post that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and groped her over her clothes and tried to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothes she wore over it. She said she tried to scream but she said that Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth. She said she was able to escape when Judge jumped on top of them.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford told the Post about Kavanaugh. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”
Ford first spoke about the experience during a therapy session with her husband in 2012, though she didn't name Kavanaugh then, the Post's report said. Her team has submitted affidavits from others who say she had told them over the past two years that she had been assaulted when she was young by someone who was now a federal judge, later naming Kavanaugh. She has also taken a polygraph test conducted by a former FBI agent in early August and it concluded that she was truthful.
What has Kavanaugh already said about Ford's allegation?
Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the accusation and has said he won’t be “intimidated” into withdrawing. He spoke on camera for the first time about them during an interview on Fox News Monday night.
"The truth is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone, in high school or otherwise," Kavanaugh said in an interview with Fox News, with his wife, Ashley, by his side.
Kavanaugh also said in the interview that he was a virgin "in high school or for many years thereafter." None of the allegations have alleged unwanted sex.
"I never sexually assaulted anyone," he said. "I did not have sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter. The girls from the schools I went to and I were friends."
“I was never at any such party," Kavanaugh told Fox. "The other people who alleged to be present have said they do not remember any such party. A woman who was present, another woman who was present who was Dr. Ford’s lifelong friend has said she doesn’t know me and never remembers being at a party with me at any time in her life."
What have Democrats had to say?
Democrats have blasted Republicans for not delaying Kavanaugh’s confirmation process and not pushing for a formal FBI investigation into the allegations, which would have to be ordered by Trump.
They are also criticizing Republicans for scheduling a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination ahead of the hearing Thursday, suggesting that it was too premature.
What have Trump and Republicans had to say?
The president and the Republicans commenting publicly on the controversy have largely stuck by Kavanaugh and have raised questions about Ford’s account.
Trump has called the way the allegations have been aired a "con job" and "con game" perpetrated by Democrats, who he predicted would suffer in the midterms for attacks on Kavanaugh. "This is a fine man, and we certainly hope he’s going to be confirmed, and quickly. … His family has suffered," Trump said in New York Monday while attending the United Nations General Assembly. "What's going on is not something that should happen."
Trump also said during a press conference Wednesday that allegations of sexual misconduct against himself have shaded how he views the allegations against Kavanaugh. "They made false statements about me, knowing they were false," Trump said of his accusers.
Will this have any effect on Kavanaugh's nomination?
A few Republicans have notably hung back as much of the party has come to Kavanaugh's defense — and the nominee's ability to deliver testimony that resonates with them Thursday could be crucial.
Senators like Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, two potential swing votes, have expressed concerns about some of the allegations, and said they called for further investigation. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., was critical Wednesday of colleagues who had made up their mind about the validity o f the allegation before hearing from Kavanaugh and Ford at Thursday's hearing.
Republicans need at least 50 of their members to support Kavanaugh's nomination. Republicans currently have 51 senators compared to Democrats' 49.
Trump himself told NBC's Hallie Jackson at Wednesday's press conference he could consider withdrawing Kavanaugh’s nomination if he “thought he was guilty of something like this" — but stressed that he believed all three public accusers had brought forward “false accusations.”