The 17 Most Striking Moments From the Kavanaugh Hearing

In a historic hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Christine Blasey Ford about her sexual-assault allegation against the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Chris Wattie / Reuters / The Atlantic

During Thursday’s highly-anticipated hearing on sexual-misconduct allegations against the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while the two were in high school, told lawmakers that she decided to testify because she felt it was her “civic duty.” In an emotional testimony, Ford recalled the night she says she was sexually assaulted in detail. “Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life,” she said. Kavanaugh denied the allegations in his follow-up testimony.

The proceedings began at 10 a.m. Ford testified first and was questioned by Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona sex-crimes prosecutor. Kavanaugh followed and delivered a defiant statement before the panel. Senators on the Judiciary Committee were each provided five minutes for questioning.

“This is not a trial of Dr. Ford; it’s a job interview for Judge Kavanaugh,” said Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein at the start of the hearing.

Below is a breakdown of the hearing.

1. Chuck Grassley Kicks Off the Hearing by Expressing Frustrations With the Process

Grassley: These allegations could have been investigated in a way that maintained the confidentiality that Dr. Ford requested. Before his hearing, Judge Kavanaugh met privately with 65 senators, including the ranking member [Senator Feinstein]. But the ranking member didn’t ask Judge Kavanaugh about the allegations when she met with him privately in August. The Senate Judiciary Committee held its four-day public hearing from September 4 to September 7. Judge Kavanaugh testified for more than 32 hours in public. We held a closed session for members to ask sensitive questions on the last evening, which the ranking member did not attend. Judge Kavanaugh answered nearly 1,300 written questions submitted by senators after the hearing, more than all prior Supreme Court nominees.

Throughout this period, we did not know about the ranking member’s secret evidence. Then, only at an 11th hour, on the eve of Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote, did the ranking member refer the allegations to the FBI. And then, sadly, the allegations were leaked to the press. That’s where Dr. Ford was mistreated.


Contrary to what the public has been led to believe, the FBI doesn’t perform any credibility assessments or verify the truth of any events in these background investigations. I’ll quote then-Chairman Joe Biden during Justice Thomas’s confirmation hearing. This is what Senator Biden said: “The next person who refers to an FBI report as being worth anything obviously doesn’t understand anything. The FBI explicitly does not, in this or any other case, reach a conclusion, period. They say he said, she said, they said, period. So when people wave an FBI report before you, understand they do not, they do not, they do not reach conclusions. They do not make recommendations.” End of Senator Biden’s quote.

The FBI provided us with the allegations. Now it’s up to the Senate to assess their credibility, which brings us to this very time.

2. Feinstein Defends Her Decision to Keep Allegations Confidential

Feinstein: I’ll make just a brief comment on your references to me. Yes, I did receive a letter from Dr. Ford. It was conveyed to me by a member of Congress, Anna Eshoo. The next day, I called Dr. Ford. We spoke on the phone. She reiterated she wanted this held confidential, and I held it confidential, up to a point where the witness was willing to come forward. And I think as I make my remarks, perhaps you’ll see why. Because how women are treated in the United States, with this kind of concern, is really wanting a lot of reform.

3. Ford Explains Why She Decided to Come Forward

Feinstein: When we spoke and it became very clear how deeply you felt about this and the need that you wanted to remain confidential, can you talk a little bit about that?

Ford: Yes. So I was watching carefully throughout the summer—well, my original intent, I want to remind, was to communicate with everyone when there was still a list of candidates who all seemed to be, just from my perspective, from what I could read, equally qualified. And I was in a hurry to try to get the information forward but didn’t quite know how to do that. However, once he was selected and it seemed like he was popular and that it wasn’t a sure vote, I was calculating daily the risk benefit for me of coming forward and wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed, to where it was headed anyway, and that I would just be personally annihilated.

Feinstein: How did you decide to come forward?

Ford: Ultimately, because reporters were sitting outside of my home trying to talk to my dog through the window, to calm the dog down. And a reporter appeared in my graduate classroom, and I mistook her for a student. And she came up to ask me a question, and I thought that she was a student, and it turned out she was a reporter. So at that point, I felt like enough was enough. People were calling my colleagues at Stanford and leaving messages on their voicemails and on their emails saying that they knew my name. Clearly people knew my address because they were out in front of my house, and it just—the mounting pressure seemed like it was time to just say what I needed to say.

4. Ford Rejects the Mistaken-Identity Theory

Feinstein: I’m sorry. I want to ask you one question about the attack itself. You are very clear about the attack, being pushed into the room. You say you don’t know quite by whom, but that it was Brett Kavanaugh that covered your mouth to prevent you from screaming. And then you escaped. How are you so sure that it was he?

Ford: The same way I’m sure I’m talking to you right now. Basic memory functions. And also just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that sort of, as you know, encodes that neurotransmitter encodes memories into the hippocampus, so the trauma-related experience is locked there whereas other details kind of drift.

Feinstein: So what you’re telling us is this could not be a case of mistaken identity.

Ford: Absolutely not.

5. The Most Vivid Memory of the Incident

Patrick Leahy: What is the strongest memory you have?

Ford: The strongest memory of the incident?

Leahy: Something that you cannot forget. Take whatever time you need.

Ford: Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two. And their having fun at my expense.

Leahy: You have never forgotten that laughter. You’ve never forgotten them laughing at you.

Ford: They were laughing with each other.

Leahy: And you were the object of the laughter?

Ford: I was, you know, underneath one of them while the two laughed. Two friends having a really good time with one another.

6. Mitchell Questions Ford About Her Fear of Flying

Mitchell: May I ask, Dr. Ford, how did you get to Washington?

Ford: In an airplane.

Mitchell: I ask that because it’s been reported by the press that you would not submit to an interview with the committee because of your fear of flying. Is that true?

Ford: Well, I was willing—I was hoping they would come to me, but I realized that was an unrealistic request.

Mitchell: It would have been a quicker trip for me.

Ford: Yes. So that was certainly what I was hoping to avoid, having to get on an airplane, but I eventually was able to get up the gumption with the help of some friends and get on the plane.

Mitchell: When you were here in the mid-Atlantic area back in August, end of July, August, how did you get here?

Ford: Also by airplane. I come here once a year during the summer to visit my family. I’m sorry, not here, I go to Delaware.

Mitchell: Okay. In fact, you fly fairly frequently for your hobbies and you’ve had to fly for your work, is that true?

Ford: Correct, unfortunately.

Mitchell: You were consulting by a statistician in Australia, is that right?

Ford: I have never been to Australia, but the company is based in Australia and they have an office in San Francisco, California. I don’t think I’ll make it to Australia.

Mitchell: It is long. I also saw on your CV that you list the following interest of travel and you put Hawaii, Costa Rica, South Pacific islands, and French Polynesia. Have you been to those places?

Ford: Correct.

Mitchell: By airplane?

Ford: Yes.

Mitchell: It includes oceanography and Tahitian culture. Did you travel by air?

Ford: Correct. It’s easier when it’s a vacation.

7. Ford Denies There Was a “Political Motivation” For Coming Forward

Mazie Hirono: Dr. Ford, the Republican's prosecutor has asked you all kinds of questions about who you called and when, asking details that would be asked in a cross-examination of a witness in a criminal trial. But this is not a criminal proceeding. This is a confirmation proceeding. I think I know what she’s trying to get at, so I’ll just ask you very plainly: Dr. Ford, is there a political motivation for your coming forward with your account of the assault by Brett Kavanaugh?

Ford: No, and I'd like to reiterate that, again, I was trying to get the information to you while there was still a list of other, what looked like, equally-qualified candidates.

8. Kamala Harris to Ford: “I Believe You”

Harris: Dr. Ford, first of all, just so we can level set, you know you are not on trial. You are not on trial. You are sitting here before members of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee because you had the courage to come forward, because, as you have said, you believe it was your civic duty. I was struck in your testimony by what you indicated as your intention when you first let anyone associated with these hearings know about it, and what you basically said is you reached out to your representative in the United States Congress hoping that person would inform the White House before Judge Kavanaugh had been named. That's extremely persuasive about your motivation for coming forward. And so I want to thank you. I want to thank you for your courage and I want to tell you I believe you. I believe you. And I believe many Americans across this country believe you.

9. Mitchell Acknowledges a Hearing Is Not an Ideal Setting for Questioning  

Mitchell: Senator Harris just questioned you from the Maricopa County Protocol on sexual assault. That's the paper she was holding up. Are you aware that—and, you know, I've been really impressed today because you've talked about norepinephrine and cortisol, what we call in the profession basically the neurobiological effects of trauma. Have you also educated yourself on the best way to get to memory and truth in terms of interviewing victims of trauma?

Ford: For me, interviewing victims of trauma?

Mitchell: No, the best way to do it. The best practices for interviewing victims of trauma.

Ford: No.

Mitchell: Okay. Would you believe me if I told you that there is no study that says that this setting in five-minute increments is the best way to do that?

Attorney: We can stipulate to that.

Mitchell: Thank you, counsel.

Attorney: Agreed.

Mitchell: Did you know the best way to do it is to have a trained interviewer talk to you one on one in a private setting and let you do the talking, just let you do a narrative. Did you know that?

Ford: That makes a lot of sense.

10. Brett Kavanugh Delivers a Fiery Opening Statement

Read it in full here.

11. Kavanaugh Says He Has Never Blacked Out

Mitchell: Dr. Ford has described you as being intoxicated at a party. Did you consume alcohol during your high school years?

Kavanaugh: Yes, we drank beer. My friends and I, the boys and girls, Yes, we drank beer. I liked beer. We drank beer. The drinking age, as I noted, was 18 so the seniors were legal, senior year in high school people were legal to drink, and, yeah, we drank beer and I said sometimes—sometimes probably had too many beers and sometimes other people had team beers. We drink beer. We liked beer.

Mitchell: What do you consider to be too many beers?

Kavanaugh: I don't know. You know, we—whatever the chart says, blood-alcohol chart.

Mitchell: When you talked to Fox News the other night, you said that there were times in high school when people might have had too many beers on occasion. Does that include you?

Kavanaugh: Sure.

Mitchell: Okay. Have you ever passed out from drinking?

Kavanaugh: Passed out would be—no, but I've gone to sleep, but I've never blacked out, that's the allegation and—and that, that's wrong.

12. A Heated Exchange Between Leahy and Kavanaugh

Leahy: Judge, you said before, and again today, that Mark Judge was a good friend of yours in high school. Now, Dr. Ford, as you know, has said that he was in the room when she was attacked. She also says you were, too. Unfortunately, the FBI has never interviewed him. We've not been able to have his attendance here. The chairman refuses to call him. If she's saying Mark Judge was in the room then, then he should be in the room here today. Would you want him called as a witness?

Kavanaugh: Senator, this allegation came into the committee—

Leahy: No, no, no, I'm just asking the question. Would you want him to be here as a witness?

Kavanaugh: He's already provided sworn testimony. This allegation has been hidden by the committee—by members of the committee.

Leahy: No, now, it hasn't been—it has not been investigated by the FBI. The committee has refused to allow it to be.

Kavanaugh: It was dropped out of the—it was sprung.

Leahy: It was not investigated by the FBI and he's not been called where he might be under oath.

Kavanaugh: It should have been handled in the due course, Senator, when it came in.

Leahy: I would disagree with that. I've been on this committee 44 years, both Republicans and Democrats. I've never seen somebody that critical, and not allowed to be here—not called to testify or an FBI background.

Kavanaugh: He's provided sworn testimony and, Senator—Senator, let me finish. He—the allegation came in weeks ago and nothing was done with it by the ranking member, and then it's sprung on me—

Leahy: Judge Kavanaugh, I’ve heard your line and you’ve stated it over and over again, and I have that well in mind. But let me ask you this: He authored a book titled Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk. He references a Bart O’Kavanaugh vomiting in someone’s car during Beach Week and then passing out. Is that you that he’s talking about?

Kavanaugh: Senator, Mark Judge was—

Leahy: To your knowledge is that you that he's talking about?

Kavanaugh: I'll explain if you let me.

Grassley: Proceed, please.

Kavanaugh: Mark Judge was a friend of ours in high school who developed a very serious drinking problem and addiction problem that lasted decades and was very difficult for him to escape from, and—and he nearly died, and then he developed, then he had leukemia as well on top of it. Now, as part of his therapy or part of his coming to grips with sobriety, he wrote a book. That is a fictionalized book and an account. I think he picked out names of friends of ours to throw them in as kind of close to what for characters in the book, so, is you know, we can sit here—

Leahy: You don't know whether that's you or not?

Kavanaugh: We can sit here and you know, like make fun of some guy who has an addiction but I don't think that really makes—

Leahy: Mr. Kavanaugh, I'm trying to get a straight answer from you under oath. Are you Bart Kavanaugh that he's referring to, yes or no?

Kavanaugh: You'd have to ask him.

Leahy: Well, I’d agree with you there, and that's why I wish that the chairman had him here under oath. Now, you've talked about your yearbook. In your yearbook, you talked about drinking and sexual exploits, did you not?

Kavanaugh: Senator, let me—let me take a step back and explain high school. I was number one in the class, fresh—

Leahy: I thought only the Senate could question—

Kavanaugh: No, no, no, no. I'm going to talk about my high school. No, no.

Chuck Grassley: Let him answer.

Kavanaugh: I'm going to talk about my high school record if you're going to sit here and mock me.

Grassley: I think we were all very fair to Dr. Ford. Shouldn't we be just as fair to Judge Kavanaugh?

Kavanaugh: I busted my butt in academics. I always tried to do the best I could. As I recall, I finished one in the class, first freshman and junior year, right up at the top with Steve Clark and Eddie Ayala, we were always kind of in the mix. I played sports. I was captain of the varsity basketball team, I was wide receiver and defensive back on the football team. I ran track in the spring of '82 to try to get faster. I did my service projects at the school which involved going to the soup kitchen downtown. Let me finish, and—and going to tutor intellectually disabled kids at the Rockville library, went to church, and yes, we got together with our friends.

Leahy: Does this reflect what you are? Does this yearbook reflect your focus on academics and your respect for women? It's an easy yes and no. You don't have to filibuster the answer. Does it reflect—

Kavanaugh: I already said the yearbook—

Grassley: Judge, just wait a minute. He's asked the question. I’ll give you time to answer it.

Kavanaugh: The yearbook, as I said in my opening statement where something where the students and editors made a decision to treat some of it as farce and some of as exaggeration, some of the things that were celebrating that were things really the central part of parties, yes. Yes, of course, we went to parties and the yearbook page describes that and kind of makes fun of it and, you know, if we want to sit here and talk about whether a Supreme Court nomination should be based on a high school yearbook page I think that's taking us to a new level of absurdity.

13. Lindsey Graham: “This Is the Most Unethical Sham Since I’ve Been in Politics”

Graham: If you wanted an FBI investigation, you could have come to us! What you want to do is destroy this guy's life, hold this seat hope and hope you win in 2020. You've said that. Not me! You've got nothing to apologize for. When you see Sotomayor and Kagan tell them that Lindsey said it all because I voted for them. I would never do to them what you've done to this guy! This is the most unethical sham since I've been in politics, and if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn't have done what you have done to this guy. Are you a gang rapist?

Kavanaugh: No

Graham: I cannot imagine what you and your family have gone through. Boy, y'all want power. Boy, I hope you never get it. I hope the American people can see through this sham, that you knew about it and you held it. You had no intention of protecting Dr. Ford, none! She's as much of a victim as you are. God, I hate to say it because these have been my friends, but let me tell you when it this, you're looking for a fair process, you came to the wrong town at the wrong time, my friend.

14. Hirono to Kavanaugh: ‘Is Temperament Also an Important Trait for Us to Consider?’

Hirono: My colleagues on the other side are accusing the Democrats of some sort of political conspiracy, but that’s because they want to distract us from what happened here this morning. And what happened here this morning was that we heard from Dr. Christine Ford who spoke to us with quiet, raw, emotional power about what happened to her. She said she was 100 percent certain that it was you who attacked her and she explained how she came forward, how she struggled with her decision, how she wanted the president to know so that he could make a better choice. So when you and my colleagues on the other side accuse us of ambushing you with false charges, I think we all have to remember Dr. Ford’s testimony and her courage.

Let me go back to something you just said in your opening. You said you thought at your first hearing the Democrats were an embarrassment. We asked you a lot of questions in those days. And which of our questions do you think were an embarrassment? I asked you about dissents you had written as a judge, an amicus brief you wrote as a lawyer and your knowledge of sexual abuse and harassment by your close friend and mentor, Alex Kozinski. All valid questions in this setting. They’re valid because this is a job interview for one of the most important positions of trust in this country. And earlier you agreed that this process of advice and consent is really a job interview, certainly not a criminal trial. There is certainly no entitlement for you to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Are credibility, character, and candor of a nominee things for us to consider in your job interview?

Kavanaugh: I think my whole life is subject to consideration.

Hirono: Is that a yes? Credibility, character, and candor are specific traits that would be of interest to us as we consider putting you for life on the highest court in the country—credibility, character, and candor?

Kavanaugh: Of course, as part of my whole life.

Hirono: Is temperament also an important trait for us to consider?

Kavanaugh: For 12 years everyone who’s appeared before me on the D.C. Circuit has praised my judicial temperament. That’s why I have the unanimous well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association and all the people who have appeared before—

Hirono: So you would agree that temperament is also an important factor?

Kavanaugh: Yes. The federal public defender who testified to the committee talked about how I was always open-minded and how I’d ruled in favor of unpopular defendants, how I was fair-minded. I think universally lawyers who have appeared before the D.C.—

Hirono: So the answer is yes. I am running out of time.

15. Cory Booker to Kavanaugh: “Do You Wish She Had Not Come Forward?”

Booker: Sir, you also said that this past two weeks has been a two-week effort calculated and orchestrated as a political hit. Are you saying that Dr. Ford’s efforts to come forward, to prepare for the very difficult testimony she gave today, to travel to Washington, D.C., and tell us about her experience, have all been part of an orchestrated political hit, and are you basically calling her some kind of political operative?

Kavanaugh: I’ve said my family has no ill will toward Dr. Ford. She wanted confidentiality. Her confidentiality was blown by the actions of this committee and it’s caused—it's turned this into a circus.

Booker: So, sir, let’s just be clear. In other words, you have problems with the senators that are up here and how we conducted it, but you’re not saying in any way that she is a political pawn, political operative. You have sympathy for her. She is talking about a sexual assault, is that correct?

Kavanaugh: I said all allegations should be taken seriously. You should listen to both sides. My family has no ill will toward her.

Booker: Thank you, sir. Do you wish that she never came forward?

Kavanaugh: Senator, I did not do this.

Booker: That’s not my question, sir. Could you try to answer my question, sir? Do you wish she never came forward?

Kavanaugh: The witnesses who were there say it didn’t happen.

Booker: Okay, sir. Do you wish she had just remained silent then?

Kavanaugh: I wish—the witnesses who were there say it didn’t happen. All allegations should be taken seriously.

16. Feinstein Says Her Staff “Did Not Leak” Ford’s Story

Feinstein: Mr. Chairman, let me be clear. I did not hide Dr. Ford’s story. She asked me to hold it confidential and I kept it confidential as she asked. She apparently was stalked by the press, felt that what happened, she was forced to come forward and her greatest fear was realized. She’s been harassed, she’s had death threats, and she’s had to flee her home. In addition, the investigation that the Republican majority is heralding is really nothing that I know about other than a partisan practice. Normally all the witnesses would be interviewed. However, that’s not what’s happened. While the majority has reached out to several people, they did not notify me or my staff that they were doing this, and so to argue that we would not participate, but not tell us what they were up to, is somewhat disingenuous. I was given some information by a woman who was very much afraid, who asked that it be held confidential, and I held it confidential until she decided that she would come forward.

17. Kavanaugh Says He Did Not Watch Ford’s Testimony

Harris: I only have a few seconds left and I’ll just ask you a direct question. Did you watch Dr. Ford’s testimony?

Kavanaugh: I did not.

Harris: Thank you.

Kavanaugh: I planned to, but I did not. I was preparing mine.