On Thursday morning the Senate Judiciary Committee began its interrogation of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, one of four women who have accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Kavanaugh, who denies these claims, will testify after Ford.
Each member had five minutes to question Ford. The all-male GOP, however, chose to hire a woman to do their interrogating of Ford. They selected for the job prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, who has for years handled sex crime cases in Arizona’s Maricopa County (where Joe Arpaio was sheriff).
Here are, so far, the most important takeaways from this hearing. If you want to know who’s winning, though, it’s Dr. Ford. Decisively. The GOP looks like a bunch of ornery conspiracy theorists, and if you have trouble envisioning that, I don’t blame you. It’s that weird.
1. “I thought he was going to rape me”: Dr. Ford is certain
Dr. Ford told Senator Dick Durbin she is, quote, “100%” certain Kavanaugh assaulted her. She’d said previously there is “zero chance” she’s wrong about her accusation, but now she’s under oath. Kavanaugh categorically denied Dr. Ford’s accusation: “The truth is that I have never sexually assaulted anyone – not in high school, not in college, not ever.”
Dr. Ford gave a moving opening statement, however, about her experience of that evening and its subsequent effects on her psyche. She began by saying, her voice shaking, “I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.” Ford also said unequivocally she believed Kavanaugh “was going to rape me.”
These were statements of fact from a confident, intelligent, and articulate woman, who happens to be an expert in this very field.
Which leads to number two:
2. Even Trump admits Dr. Ford is credible
She has a PhD in psychology of all things, and has specialized for years in trauma therapy. She has said she pursued this career in large part because of the trauma she herself endured when Kavanaugh attacked her. How CONVENIENT. Those crafty Democrats found an expert who teaches psychological trauma at the college level and would seem to have unimpeachable authority on the very subject she’s been asked to testify about.
The attack has literally defined her life. And on the stand she has demonstrated intelligence, honesty, and transparency, and has made requests for specific types of information that might help her pin down the date and time. Conspiracy theorists who see this as evidence she’s lying should note that Dr. Ford also knows this is important information, but now she has access to Kavanaugh’s calendars, so if she wanted to make up a plausible date she could easily do that.
Senator Christopher Coons also gave Ford a chance to demonstrate the depth of her expertise.
When Coons asked Ford about her take on the excuse that “boys will be boys,” Ford explained in academic terms how the incident affected her: “The younger you are when these things happen, it can possibly have worse impact than when your brain is fully developed and you have better coping skills that you have developed.”
Ford referred to the general psychological response to these scenarios as going into “fight or flight” mode. “I was definitely experiencing the surge of adrenaline and cortisol and norepinephrine, and credit that a little bit for my ability to get out of the situation.”
She also has an excellent memory. Here she details a subsequent encounter in a grocery store with Mark Judge, who she says took part in the attack:
“I was with my mother, and I was teenager, so I wanted her to go in one door and me go in the other. So, I chose the wrong door, because the door I chose was the one where Mark Judge was. [He was] arranging the shopping carts, and I said hello to him. And his face was white and very uncomfortable saying hello back.
We had always been friendly with one another. He was just nervous and not wanting to speak with me. He looked a little bit ill.
And hell, we can even go to Donald Trump on the matter:
Perhaps the most ridiculous of Trump's reactions is his fury with the person he's found to blame this on:
And what about Republican octogenarian Senator Orrin Hatch?
3. Dr. Ford is sympathetic
She’s been exceedingly polite to all her interrogators, including the prosecutor, whom she has frequently smiled at. Dr. Ford also seems on the verge of tears the whole time, and at one point did indeed cry. One of the most moving moments was in a detail she remembered from the night of the attack.
When Senator Christopher Coons asked Ford about the consequences of the trauma, or as Ford put it, the “sequelae” (a recondite medical term common to her field), we saw a heartbreaking exchange:
FORD: Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two and their having fun at my expense.
SEN. LEAHY: You’ve never forgotten that laughter?
Everyone knows this feeling. It is the worst. She is undoubtedly a sympathetic witness, which the GOP for some stupid reason didn’t anticipate.
4. The GOP asks dumb questions: Doppelgänger Double-Down
On Wednesday night the GOP released a statement saying two new witnesses — who have been interviewed by GOP investigators in recent days — believe Ford might have been mistaken that Kavanaugh was the real attacker. The investigators said they had interviewed “a man who believes he, not Judge Kavanaugh, had the encounter with Dr. Ford in 1982 that is the basis of his [sic] complaint.” Investigators said they also had a phone call with another man who made the same claim.
GOP senators have alluded — via Mitchell — to this doppelgänger theory throughout the hearing. Dr. Ford, however, is certain they’re wrong. The theory gained traction last week when a batshit Twitter thread from conservative operative Ed Whelan went viral. The GOP went so far as to ask Ford about the man that Whelan implied could have been the “real” attacker. Ford actually dated this guy, and says, obviously, it wasn’t him.
To be clear, it’s completely mental for the GOP to double down on this theory without calling their witnesses forward to do as Dr. Ford is doing and testify under oath — including Mark Judge, who Dr. Ford places in the room and claims played a part in the attack. The inconsistent variables alone would merit outside investigation, but also, there’s no statute of limitations on sex crimes in Montgomery County. If they admit guilt, they face criminal proceedings, which will also allow Dr. Ford to make her case against Kavanaugh.
Dr. Ford also fended off a bizarre and irrelevant barrage of questions about her fear of flying.
So the GOP looks truly dumb. They also look particularly cruel.
5. GOP’s strategy backfired
All the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are white men. Most of them are old, contumacious NIMBY sourpusses. The optics of these guys trying to discredit woman about her claims of sexual assault are obviously atrocious. But their solution — to use a surrogate female prosecutor — has perhaps been even worse. First of all, they look like cowards, and their silence is particularly damning compared to the bravery of Dr. Ford’s willingness to speak to them.
Senator Richard Blumenthal took a brilliant shot at Senator Lindsey Graham, quoting some of Graham’s own statements from his time as a prosecutor in which he praised the courage of women who come forward to discuss sexual assault. The camera then cut from Ford to Graham, who sat expressionless and unmoved.
It’s not just about image, either. The tactics here have also blown up in their face. Each Senator has five minutes to go through their questions, and asking them indirectly through a third party comes off as disorienting. They also never finish their questions, and on top of that they don’t get to make any statements themselves, when on the other end the Democrats all get a shot to make what amounts to a closing statement with every line of questioning. They also get to express their sympathy towards Dr. Ford. The GOP, comparatively, seem like a bunch of spiteful and selfish homunculi.
6. The GOP are leaning on (incompatible) conspiracy theories
The line of questioning has been ridiculous. First, we have the doppelgänger theory. Then the fear of flying, which the GOP believed was some sort of delay tactic. They’ve also pressed her on the validity of her polygraph test, which she took in August and passed. The test was administered by a former FBI agent, and Ford attorney Michael Bromwich said he offered to call the former agent administrator available to testify before the committee. Senator Grassley, however, rejected the idea in favor for a report from him.
Ford admits she didn’t pay for the test, so GOP Senators pressed her on who paid and how and where the money has gone. The implication being, of course, that there are shadowy forces at work behind the scenes. This has no bearing on the truth of Ford’s claims, just as the fear of flying line of questioning: Even if this is an orchestrated smear (it’s not), it doesn’t matter as long as she’s telling the truth.
7. THIS ISN’T A TRIAL
The GOP have done all they can to create the appearance that this is not a confirmation hearing, but a trial in a court of law. The prosecutor is part of this theater, of course, but we’ve seen a lot of complaints about lack of “due process” and circumstantial evidence etc etc. Ford is, of course, making criminal accusations, and if she wanted she could take them to Montgomery County police to open a criminal investigation. But this isn’t a criminal investigation, and even more ironically, the GOP is blocking a criminal investigation that might lead to an actual trial.
But due process isn’t an issue. Innocent until proven guilty isn’t an issue. Laws governing evidence don’t matter. This is not a court of law, and those rules don’t apply here. The only thing on trial is the character of Brett Kavanaugh, his fitness to serve in a position of the highest moral authority in the country. He is not, and on that point he’s guilty.