Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) speaks at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Sept. 3, 2003. (Robert A. Reeder/The Washington Post)

The California lawmaker who first heard Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh said Wednesday that she became convinced of Ford’s credibility during a lengthy in-person meeting in July and that Ford seemed “terrified” that she might be exposed as an accuser.

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) met July 20 for roughly 90 minutes with Ford, who lives in her Bay Area district and is a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University, after Ford contacted Eshoo’s office about Kavanaugh.

“It was more than obvious to me that she bore the scars of what she had been subjected to,” Eshoo said in an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday. “She doesn’t have a political bone in her body. And she obviously was really terrified about what could become of her and her family."

“At the end of the meeting, I told her that I believed her,” she added. “In telling her story, you know, there were details to it, and I believed her.”

Eshoo’s role in bringing Ford’s allegations to light makes her a minor player in a riveting Washington drama whose climax is still to come. Republicans have sharply questioned why it took weeks for Democrats to raise the accusation — airing it only after Kavanaugh underwent weeks of vetting and sat for days of hearings — with some accusing Democrats of staging an ambush.

Eshoo said her actions were dictated by Ford’s desire for complete confidentiality about her allegations as she worked through whether and how to bring them to the attention of those vetting Kavanaugh and, potentially, the public.

“I think it’s difficult for people to understand if you haven’t dealt with people that have been subjected to something like this,” she said. “They keep it to themselves. They feel guilty. They bury it. They tell themselves to move on. And so there wasn’t any kind of political process in her mind whatsoever.”

While Ford, in Eshoo’s estimation, has no political motive for her allegations, Ford is a registered Democrat and has given small amounts over the years to Democratic organizations, including the Democratic National Committee and the Senate campaign of Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

Eshoo said she had never met Ford or knew of her before their meeting. She spoke with media outlets this week after remaining silent for days as reports swirled that she has played a role in forwarding allegations against Kavanaugh to Senate Democrats. Since Ford came forward to The Post on Sunday, Kavanaugh has flatly denied her claims of a sexual assault during a high school party in the early 1980s, and Republicans have called her to the Senate to testify as soon as next week.

Ford’s request for discretion was observed to the point, Eshoo said, that in her office, only she and one senior aide were fully aware of Ford’s claims. When Eshoo and Ford mutually decided to take the matter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), ranking Democrat of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ford’s letter laying out her account was hand-delivered to a Feinstein aide in Washington, Eshoo said: “In other words, you don’t drop it off at the receptionist’s desk."

Eshoo also defended Feinstein, who has come under criticism for her own role in the revelations, saying she had honored Ford’s wishes for confidentiality as well.

”I don’t think it’s up to me to question and comment and whatever, because I don’t know what took place in the intervening weeks,” she said. “But I can say that I think that once there was a leak, that my constituent’s fears were being confirmed. And it is an enormous act of courage understanding the risks that would come her way, she decided to tell her story and not have others mischaracterize it.”

After Ford came forward Sunday, Eshoo had an aide send Ford a copy of her statement. “She acknowledged it and thanked me,” she said, calling it their only interaction since delivering the letter to Feinstein.

The high drama now surrounds whether Ford will testify Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as Senate Republicans have requested, or whether she will refrain from commenting publicly pending an FBI investigation that neither President Trump nor his congressional allies say is warranted. Eshoo joined Ford and Democratic leaders Wednesday in supporting an FBI probe.

“This should not be treated as a he-said, she-said,” Eshoo said. “I’ve dealt with the FBI when I served on the House Intelligence Committee for almost a decade. They are perfectly capable of conducting an investigation which then becomes foundational for the hearing."

“That’s what they do; they conduct investigations,” she added. “And what I’m struck by is that there seems to be such a rush to judgment rather than taking the time for justice. There is no question in my mind that the Judge Kavanaugh, from the outside looking in, has excellent credentials. He has served on the bench. He’s served in an administration. But character matters.”