A confirmation that appeared virtually guaranteed barely a week and a half ago has been brought to the brink of an embarrassing political defeat for President Trump now that a total of five women (three using their names, two under the guise of anonymity) have accused Federal Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who is Trump's pick to fill the seat of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, of sexual improprieties ranging from harassment to rape.
And while the credibility of all three of the named accusers has been brought into question (evidence of political bias, domestic instability and other discrediting factors have surfaced in media reports), initial accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford will appear on Thursday to "confront" Kavanaugh, who she says pinned her to a bed, covered her mouth and attempted to remove her clothes during a high school party in the early 1980s. Though all of the people whom Ford has said were also in attendance at the party have either said they weren't there or that the incident that Ford is alleging never happened, Dems have continued to push for an FBI investigation. Meanwhile, GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have hired Arizona sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to handle most of the questioning. Questions for Senators will be capped at 5 minutes during the hearing, which is set to begin around 10 am ET. In order to avoid the media circus that characterized Kavanaugh's initial hearings, the committee has moved Thursday's hearing to the Dirksen Senate Office Building room 226, a smaller, more intimate venue.
Ahead of what's expected to be one of the most closely watched political events of the year (a year that also includes a mid-term election), USA Today and the Hill have published primers outlining everything readers need to know about the hearing, including their best guesses about what Senators might ask, as well as what's next for Kavanaugh's nomination should he retain President Trump's favor following the hearing. Notably, after a less-than-stellar performance during Kavanaugh's interview with Fox News earlier this week, Trump has raised the possibility that he might withdraw his support, saying he'd like to "see what's said" during Thursday's hearing.
Who Are The Other Accusers?
Five women have now accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
On Wednesday, Julie Swetnick, a client of attorney Michael Avenatti, alleged in a signed affidavit hat she witnessed Kavanaugh and high school classmate Mark Judge intentionally try to make girls "inebriated and disoriented" so the two boys, and a squad of their high school friends, could "gang rape" the women at high school parties. Deborah Ramirez, who attended Yale at the same time as Kavanaugh, described an incident where Kavanaugh allegedly pulled down his pants and shoved his penis in her face. That incident, like the others, allegedly ocurred when Kavanaugh was very drunk.
Two additional accusations were made public Wednesday night after it was revealed that Kavanaugh had been questioned about anonymous allegations of assault from two women.
They have declined to come forward, but one woman claimed that she was raped on a boat by Kavanaugh, and another claims that her daughter witnessed Kavanaugh push another woman against a wall and tried to force himself on her while he was drunk. Kavanaugh was also questioned about an anonymous allegation that he raped a woman on a boat in Rhode Island back in 1985.
Senators from both parties say the hearing will be a crucial test of Kavanaugh's and Ford's credibility.
"Juries smell truthfulness," said a Democratic senator. "Juries look for who is the most comfortable and nine times out of 10, that’s the one telling the truth."
Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), a centrist Democrat who is undecided on how to vote, says he will "read body language and listen to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it" to assess the credibility of the witnesses.
What Happened During The Attack?
All four of the people whom Ford says were at the party say they have no recollection of the attack. Ford has also acknowledged crucial gaps in her memory.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Judiciary panel, said he is looking for "more context about the allegation and more specific" information.
What Will Democrats Ask?
Several Democrats have said they will ask "very detailed questions" about Kavanaugh's drinking habits and his sexual relationships beginning in high school. Their questions have one goal: To make Kavanaugh appear evasive. Because, as Axios explains, if Kavanaugh appears "awkward, stiff and evasive..." he's toast.
Democrats will likely reference a book written by Kavanaugh's high school friend, Mark Judge, entitled "Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk," in which Kavanaugh is believed to be the inspiration for a character named Bart O’Kavanaugh.
"One of the more obvious things to go after is the tension between the image of Judge Kavanaugh’s choir boy or frat boy. Bluntly, you can find both in his own writings and speeches,” said committee member Sen. Christopher Coons.
Another Dem said "nobody believes" that Kavanaugh was a virgin for many years after high school.
What Will Be Outside Counsel's Role?
Republicans plan to defer to Mitchell, who has led her county's sex crimes unit as its head prosecutor.
"My plan for right now is to defer to our new staff member," said committee member Sen. John Kennedy. "I reserve the right, if I have any time left, to ask questions, but I’m not planning on it."
When Will The Senate Vote?
Grassley has scheduled a Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh's nomination for Friday, but he left open the possibility that the vote could be delayed. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to "plow right through" with Kavanaugh's nomination and has hinted that he could break with precedent and schedule a floor vote on Kavanaugh without a recommendation from the committee.
* * *
Meanwhile, both Kavanaugh and Ford have published their opening testimony. Read a highlighted version of Kavanaugh's remarks produced by the Washington Post here.
And one for Ford's here.