Much has been said about the back-to-back testimonies of Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh. Hers was “devastating,” as she asserted without question that Kavanaugh was the boy who sexually assaulted her 36 years ago, The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus wrote. His was “volcanic,” as he not only unequivocally denied the allegations, but also decried an “orchestrated political hit” to ruin his reputation.
For Ford’s family members, her testimony Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee was moving, bringing them to tears. His only confused them, Ford’s sisters-in-law, Deborah Peters and Sandra Mendler, told CNN on Friday.
“I can feel her pain, really. I just was impressed by her bravery. I just felt like I was right there with her, with her pain, as I think a lot of people probably felt,” Peters said. On Kavanaugh, she said: “I had a hard time understanding his emotions . . . I felt like he was extremely defensive, even to the point of being belligerent earlier … .”
Listening to Kavanaugh was just as difficult as listening to Ford, Mendler said, but the experiences of hearing the two speak, at times in tears and with their voices shaking, was very different.
“One was offering to share everything she could recall, and the other was evasive and very different tone. … It was interesting to hear commentaries that they were both so similar in their emotional impact,” Mendler said.
Peters and Mendler have been spokeswomen of sorts for Ford’s family, many of whom have largely kept quiet as Ford’s sexual assault allegation disrupted Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. President Trump on Friday ordered the FBI to reopen the investigation on Kavanaugh’s background, after Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent Trump critic, called for a renewed inquiry into Ford’s allegation.
The stunning development presented yet another hurdle for Kavanaugh, whose confirmation was all but assured until allegations from Ford and two other women emerged. The 53-year-old jurist’s nomination has sharply divided the country and has laid bare the hyperpartisan war over the Supreme Court, as Republicans fight for a chance to shift the judiciary to the right for decades.
Ford, a 51-year-old research psychologist and professor from California, said Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her on a bed, groped her and covered her mouth to stifle her screams as he tried to take off her clothes during a house party in Maryland in the 1980s, when the two were in high school. Ford told The Post’s Emma Brown that she escaped after Kavanaugh’s classmate and friend, Mark Judge, jumped on top of them, sending all three tumbling.
In his opening statement Thursday, Kavanaugh said he’s not questioning that Ford “may have been sexually assaulted” but that he was not the one who had done it. Two of Kavanaugh’s classmates, Judge and P.J. Smyth, who Ford said was at the party, provided statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying they don’t have knowledge or memory of any such incident. Judge said he never saw Kavanaugh act the way Ford had described. Smyth described Kavanaugh as a “person of integrity.”
Kavanaugh has also forcefully denied allegations from two other women: Deborah Ramirez, who accused him of exposing himself to her when they were first-year students at Yale University; and Julie Swetnick, who said she had witnessed Kavanaugh and other boys lining up to rape inebriated girls at house parties during high school.
The Post reported on Sunday that the FBI has reached out to Ramirez, though it’s unclear if investigators have talked to her.
On CNN, Peters and Mendler were asked about a chilling moment at the hearing when Ford was asked what her most vivid memory was of the incident. “The uproarious laughter” between Kavanaugh and Judge, she responded. “They were laughing with each other . . . I was underneath one of them while the two laughed,” Ford added.
“I can tell you I had tears running down my cheeks. It was so difficult to listen to, and I know a lot of people around the country felt the same way,” Mendler said. “She was speaking from the heart, and it was a really raw and difficult moment.”
They were also asked about a part of Kavanaugh’s opening statement in which he said he harbors no “ill will” against Ford, and as his voice trembled, talked about his 10-year-old daughter, who prayed for her father’s accuser.
“I had a hard time understanding his emotions. I think it sounds nice that he has no ill will, but it seemed kind of out of place,” Peters said. “I didn’t really feel like he was relating to her as a person most of the time.”
Mendler acknowledged the emotional toll of being confronted with experiences from one’s younger years. But she hinted that she would’ve preferred if Kavanaugh had been more open to an investigation into the allegations.
“What would’ve been more persuasive to me was to hear him being open to exploring and open to having point of views and open to having a greater conversations with more people involved,” she said.
When pressed during the hearing why he was not asking for an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations, Kavanaugh did not definitively answer and, instead, repeatedly deferred to the committee’s wishes.