GOP advances Kavanaugh after Flake calls for FBI probe
By LISA MASCARO, ALAN FRAM and MARY CLARE JALONICK
Friday, September 28
WASHINGTON (AP) — After a flurry of last-minute negotiations, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court after agreeing to a late call from Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona for a one week investigation into sexual assault allegations against the high court nominee.
However, it’s unclear if Republican leaders — or President Donald Trump — will support Flake’s call for the investigation or might instead press forward with a full Senate vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
The dramatic scene unfolded a day after Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified in an emotional, hours-long hearing. Kavanaugh angrily denied the allegations that he assaulted Ford while they were both in high school, while she said she was “100 percent” certain he was her attacker.
Flake, a key moderate Republican, was at the center of the drama and uncertainty. On Friday morning, he announced that he would support Kavanaugh’s nomination. Shortly after, he was confronted in an elevator by two women who, through tears, implored him to change his mind.
After huddling privately with his colleagues, Flake announced that he would vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate only if the FBI were to investigate the allegations against the judge. Democrats have been calling for such an investigation, though Republicans and the White House have insisted it’s unnecessary.
‘Look at me:’ Women confront Flake on Kavanaugh support
By COLLEEN LONG and LAURIE KELLMAN
Friday, September 28
WASHINGTON (AP) — Moments after Jeff Flake announced his support for Brett Kavanaugh, he was confronted with one of the consequences.
Two women cornered him as he got on an elevator Friday, pleading for him to reconsider his support for the Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual assault. The raw, emotional moment was caught on television, capturing the charged atmosphere in the Capitol as senators prepare to vote.
“Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me,” said 23-year-old Maria Gallagher.
A day earlier, the senators heard hours of testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor who told them Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers. Kavanaugh strongly denied the allegation in hours of bombastic testimony.
Flake had lobbied Republican leaders to give Ford the chance to speak. He was viewed as a possible no vote, until the announcement Friday morning.
The senator was on his way to the Senate Judiciary Committee as the two women, who are both affiliated with advocacy groups, told him they were sexual assault survivors.
“On Monday, I stood in front of your office,” Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the nonprofit Center for Popular Democracy Action, told Flake. “I told the story of my sexual assault. I told it because I recognized in Dr. Ford’s story that she is telling the truth. What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court.”
Archila, 39, appeared to block the Arizona senator from closing the elevator door.
Then Gallagher said: “I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me. I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them you are going to ignore them.”
“That’s what happened to me, and that’s what you are telling all women in America, that they don’t matter,” she said through tears.
She begged Flake to look her in the eye. She said: “Don’t look away from me.”
Flake, cornered in the elevator, shifted between looking at them and looking down. He said, “Thank you,” but didn’t response to questions on whether he believed Ford’s testimony.
When a reporter asked whether he wanted to respond to the women’s questions, he said no.
“I need to go to the hearing. I just issued a statement. I’ll be saying more as well,” he said.
The elevator doors closed. A committee vote was set for 1:30 p.m. on whether to recommend Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the full Senate.
The women do not identify themselves in the video, but Archila’s group sent a press release following the confrontation confirming it was Archila speaking on camera. Gallagher confirmed via phone to the AP it was her, and she consented to the use of her name.
The AP does not usually name people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly about the allegations, as these women have done.
Speaking to AP by phone after the confrontation, Gallagher said she didn’t intend to tell Flake about her assault — she had never told anyone before. “But I saw him, and I got really angry,” she said.
She was in town as a volunteer with the liberal activist group Make the Road New York. She said she was on her way to talk with her family, because she worried they were seeing what happened to her in the news.
Archila said in an interview with AP that she was sexually assaulted when she was 5 years old by a teenager when she and her family lived in Colombia. She said she didn’t tell anyone before this week, as she protested Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“I had planned to just talk to him nicely, but once when I saw that he was voting for Kavanaugh my niceties went out the window,” she said. “What are you doing to our country? You are sending the wrong message you’re saying that all of us who put our pain to the world to confront don’t matter.”
Angry Kavanaugh denies Ford accusation, sees ‘disgrace’
By LISA MASCARO, ALAN FRAM and LAURIE KELLMAN
Thursday, September 27
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a defiant and emotional bid to rescue his Supreme Court nomination, Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday denied allegations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when both were high school students and angrily told Congress that Democrats were engaged in “a calculated and orchestrated political hit.”
“You have replaced ‘advice and consent’ with ‘search and destroy,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee, referring to the Constitution’s charge to senators’ duties in confirming high officials.
He vowed to continue his effort to join the high court, to which President Donald Trump nominated him in July. Now a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh seemed assured of confirmation until Ford and several other accusers emerged in recent weeks. He has denied all the accusations, but it remained unclear how the day’s dramatic testimony by Ford and Kavanaugh would affect his prospects.
“You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit, never,” he said.
In a daylong, extraordinary Senate airing of long-ago and painfully personal memories, Ford told the senators earlier that she was “100 percent” certain a drunken young Kavanaugh had pinned her to a bed, tried to remove her clothes and clapped a hand over her mouth as she tried to yell for help. A Kavanaugh friend stood by and they both laughed uproariously during the incident, which occurred in a locked bedroom at a gathering of high school friends, she testified.
In her three hours of testimony, Ford’s tone was polite but firm as she detailed her accusations but offered no major new revelations. Rachel Mitchell, a veteran sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona who asked all questions for the committee’s all-male GOP senators, seemed to elicit no significant inconsistencies in her testimony.
But as deferential and hushed as Ford’s delivery was, Kavanaugh’s was incensed and combative. He repeatedly interrupted Democratic senators’ questions, including on whether he’d support their bid for testimony by Mark Judge, the friend who Ford has claimed participated in Kavanaugh’s attack on her.
When Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., pressed him to request an FBI probe, Kavanaugh said he’d do whatever the committee wished and repeatedly refused to change that position. Trump and Republicans have refused to bring the FBI into the matter.
“I want to know what you want to do,” Durbin said.
“I’m telling the truth,” said Kavanaugh.
“I want to know what you want to do, judge!” Durbin repeated.
“I’m innocent. I’m innocent of this charge,” Kavanaugh said.
The emotional tone continued as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Kavanaugh’s strongest backers, lashed out at Democrats.
“What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold his seat open and hope you win in 2020,” he said, referring to that year’s presidential election.
Both Kavanaugh and Ford testified under sworn oath, leaving senators who will decide his fate and millions of Americans watching television to parse whose version to believe.
A White House official not authorized to speak publicly described Kavanaugh’s opening statement as “game changing,” saying the vigorous display would give GOP senators what they need to vote “yes.” The official said aides understood that Trump was reacting positively to the performance.
Kavanaugh, 53, struggled to hold back tears, particularly when he referred to his own family.
Asked about drinking in high school, he said he had, sometimes to excess. “I like beer,” he said, but he also said he’d never passed out and never attacked Ford. “I have never done this to her or to anyone,” he said.
During Kavanaugh’s 45-minute opening statement, senators watched intently, the only sound the clicking of cameras. In the front row, family and friends quietly cried including his wife, Ashley, whose lips were trembling.
Among the television viewers on Thursday was Trump, who has mocked the credibility of Kavanaugh’s accusers. The president watched aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington from the United Nations, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
After Ford’s testimony, some Republicans gave no indications of wavering.
“You need more than an accusation for evidence. You need corroboration. That’s what’s missing here,” said No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas.
But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of Ford, “She’s a good witness. She’s articulate, an attractive person.”
During her testimony, Ford, now 51, said of Kavanaugh, “I believed he was going to rape me.”
Asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont for her strongest memory of the alleged incident, Ford mentioned the two boys’ “laughter — the uproarious laughter between the two and they’re having fun at my expense.”
When the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, asked how she could be sure that Kavanaugh was the attacker, Ford said, “The same way I’m sure I’m talking to you right now.” Later, she told Durbin her certainty was “100 percent.”
The California psychology professor spoke carefully and deliberately during the hearing, using scientific terminology at one point to describe how a brain might remember details of events decades later. The boys’ laughter was “indelible in the hippocampus,” she said, using her scientific expertise to describe how memories are stored in the brain and adding, “It’s locked in there.”
The Judiciary panel’s 11 Republicans — all men — let Rachel Mitchell, a Phoenix prosecutor, ask most questions. She began by expressing sympathy for Ford, who’d said she was “terrified” to testify. Said Mitchell, “I just wanted to let you know, I’m very sorry. That’s not right.”
Mitchell led Ford through a detailed recollection of the events she says occurred on the day of the alleged incident. But under the committee’s procedures, the career prosecutor was limited to five minutes at a time, interspersed between Democrats’ questions, creating a choppy effect as she tried piecing together the story.
Mitchell’s questions steered clear of the details of the alleged assault and focused at times on whether Ford was coordinating with Kavanaugh opponents. Mitchell asked who was financing her legal and security expenses. Ford responded that she had gotten help from well-to-do people back home and was aware of public contributions at the website GoFundMe.com but also said she’d not focused on such matters amid her family’s recent moves due to threats.
Kavanaugh’s teetering grasp on winning confirmation was evident when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, expressed concern, in a private meeting with senators Wednesday, about a new, third accuser, according to a person with knowledge of the gathering. Republicans control the Senate 51-49 and can lose only one vote. Collins is among the few senators who’ve not made clear how they’ll vote.
Collins walked into that meeting carrying a copy of Julie Swetnick’s signed declaration, which included fresh accusations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh and his high school friend Judge.
Republicans are pushing to seat Kavanaugh before the November midterms, when Senate control could fall to the Democrats and a replacement Trump nominee could have even greater difficulty.
In a sworn statement, Swetnick said she witnessed Kavanaugh “consistently engage in excessive drinking and inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with women in the early 1980s.” Her attorney, Michael Avenatti, who also represents a porn actress who is suing Trump, provided her sworn declaration to the Judiciary panel.
Meanwhile, the lawyer for Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they attended Yale University, raised her profile in a round of television interviews.
Kavanaugh referred repeatedly Thursday to detailed calendar pages he had provided from the summer of 1982 when he was 17 years old — exams, movies, sports and plenty of parties. That’s the year when Ford says she believes the assault occurred.
Nothing on the calendar appears to refer to her.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick, Padmananda Rama, Matthew Daly, Julie Pace and AP photographers J. Scott Applewhite and Carolyn Kaster contributed to this report.
Kavanaugh testimony: http://apne.ws/xkhv2Yv
Ford testimony: http://apne.ws/Wpklfy3
Kavanaugh testimony from Sept. 17: http://apne.ws/fmGaR3x
Kavanaugh testimony from Sept. 25: http://apne.ws/PBbVJpg
For more coverage of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, visit https://apnews.com
‘Tough job’ for veteran prosecutor who questioned Ford
By MARK SHERMAN
Thursday, September 27
WASHINGTON (AP) — Arizona sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell was a long way from the familiarity of a Phoenix courtroom when she questioned Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday in a televised hearing that could determine the fate of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Mitchell typically tries to put people accused of sex crimes in prison, but on Thursday she was in the unusual and difficult position of trying to chip away at the credibility of a woman who claims she was a victim of sexual assault by Kavanaugh when they were teenagers.
And she was doing it on behalf of the 11 Republican men on the Senate Judiciary Committee who preferred not to question Ford themselves, and in the glare of television lights and with a strict five-minute time limit that seemed to get in her way repeatedly.
As her time for questioning Ford was coming to an end, Mitchell herself seemed to give voice to her exasperation with her task when she rhetorically asked Ford about the best way to question victims of sex crimes.
“Would you believe me that no study says that this setting in five-minute increments is the way to do that?” Mitchell asked.
With Ford done for the day and Kavanaugh in the witness chair, at least some Republicans took matters in their own hands. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas sidelined Mitchell and asked their own questions.
One Democratic senator, a former prosecutor who is not on the committee, said Mitchell had a “tough job.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said, “I can’t imagine doing either a direct examination or a cross-examination in five-minute increments. And she’s not used to cross-examining people who are telling the truth.”
In her very first exchange with Ford, Mitchell began by expressing sympathy for Ford, who said she was “terrified” to testify, saying, “I just wanted to let you know, I’m very sorry. That’s not right.” But then she turned to her task, asking a series of small questions about the accuracy of statements Ford made.
In a trial, the answers to those questions can help lawyers paint a picture of a witness as unreliable. But in the Senate hearing room, Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley cut in to say her time was up and it was now the Democrats’ turn to ask questions. The questioning moved on to Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
The scene repeated itself throughout the day. An experienced prosecutor, Mitchell does not operate under time constraints when she questions witnesses in a courtroom.
The tenor of the questions suggested that Mitchell was trying, if gently, to question the reliability of Ford’s recollections and portray Ford as a pawn of Democrats who are out to stop Kavanaugh at any cost.
In one example, Mitchell pointed out that Ford did not mention Kavanaugh’s name as her attacker between 1982, when the event allegedly took place, and 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband. Mitchell also asked Ford why she only contacted Democratic lawmakers about her allegation.
Ford replied that she contacted her representative in Congress, Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Democrat, and that Eshoo recommended contacting Feinstein, a California senator and the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
Later, Mitchell pressed Ford repeatedly to reveal who paid for a polygraph exam that Ford took in the late summer. One of her lawyers, Debra Katz, interjected, “Let me put an end to the mystery. Her lawyers paid for the polygraph.”
The questions about the polygraph also illustrated that Mitchell had little time and no prior access to Ford, which might have allowed her to avoid asking questions where the answers hardly undermined Ford as a witness.
When Mitchell asked why the polygraph was done near a Washington-area airport, Ford replied that it was to accommodate her as she headed to her grandmother’s funeral.
Mechanics of memory: Experts say Ford mostly got it right
By MALCOLM RITTER
AP Science Writer
Thursday, September 27
NEW YORK (AP) — In her testimony to a Senate committee, the woman who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers dipped briefly into the mechanics of memory. Experts say she got it pretty much right.
When asked Thursday how she could be sure it was Kavanaugh who put a hand over her mouth to keep her quiet, psychologist Christine Blasey Ford cited levels of chemical messengers called norepinephrine and epinephrine in her brain at the time of the alleged attack.
She said those chemicals helped encode memories in a brain region called the hippocampus, so that the main memory was “locked there” while other details “kind of drift.”
Later, she said a memory of Kavanaugh and another teen laughing during the assault was “indelible in the hippocampus.”
Memories are not highly detailed recordings of events retrieved with perfect accuracy. They are shaped by beliefs and expectations. For that reason, experts told The Associated Press last week that both Ford and Kavanaugh, who denies that any assault happened, may both firmly believe what they say.
Which one believes his or her version more strongly is no tipoff to what really happened, experts say.
“Confidence is not a good guide to whether or not someone is telling the truth,” said Nora Newcombe, a psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. “If they think they’re telling the truth, they could plausibly both be confident about it.”
In a situation where a woman fears being raped by a man, her memories might be shaped by that fear into a recollection that overestimates the threat, whereas the man might consider it “just playing around” and forget it, said David Rubin, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.
And both people could be completely honest about their recollections, he said.
Rubin noted the obvious fact that people can forget things they did while drunk. But he said the man in that scenario could forget about the event even if he had been sober.
Experts in memory and the brain said Ford’s quick tour of memory machinery was generally correct. Levels of the brain substances she cited go up when a person is alarmed, and they help memories become laid down more strongly in the hippocampus, said Elizabeth Phelps, a Harvard University psychologist.
That helps people vividly recall central parts of an emotional experience, while details are typically lost, said Lila Davachi of Columbia University.
While it’s clear the hippocampus is key to the initial laying down of memory, there’s some debate about its role in long-term memory, Phelps said. Various pieces of an experience — sounds, sights and thoughts — are perceived in different parts of the brain. And initially the hippocampus serves as sort of the center of a web that holds those perceptions together as a memory, she said.
After years pass and the memory becomes consolidated, it’s not clear whether the hippocampus continues to play that central role, or whether the various parts of a memory are connected by other means, she said.
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
‘They were laughing’: Ford says her attacker was Kavanaugh
By LAURIE KELLMAN
Thursday, September 27
WASHINGTON (AP) — Indelible.
That’s the way Christine Blasey Ford described the details of what she says was a sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, on a summer evening three decades ago. Asked for the most vivid memory from that night, she did not name a physical violation. Rather, it was a specific sound she heard Kavanaugh and the other boy she says was in the room, Mark Judge.
“Laughter — the uproarious laughter between the two,” Ford, her voice wavering, told the Senate Judiciary Committee at Thursday’s extraordinary hearing. “They were laughing with each other. … I was underneath one of them while the two laughed.”
The moment crystallized the national debate over gender, power and whom to believe in the #Metoo era under President Donald Trump. Thursday’s hearing in many ways turned on Ford’s credibility as a victim of and a witness to an event that Kavanaugh staunchly denies. Central to the proceedings was the quality of Ford’s memory and whether her account was believable, an unknown when she took her seat at the cramped witness table before the 21-member Senate Judiciary Committee.
With the hearing well under way, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked her what she remembered.
“What is the strongest memory you have, the strongest memory of the incident, something you cannot forget?” Leahy asked as Ford took a sip of coffee. “Take whatever time you need.”
Ford, a 51-year-old psychology professor, looked down and took a breath.
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” said Ford, referring to the area of the brain where traumatic memories are stored. “The uproarious laughter between the two and they’re having fun at my expense,” she said, her voice quaking. She looked down again.
“You’ve never forgotten that laughter, you never forgotten them laughing at you?” Leahy asked.
“They were laughing with each other,” Ford replied.
“And you were the object of the laughter?” Leahy pressed.
“I was, you know, underneath one of them while the two laughed,” she said.
The spectacle riveted Washington and much of the nation. The U.S. Capitol was hushed, as senators and aides huddled in offices, watching. The hearing, played on televisions, rang through the West Wing of the White House as Trump flew back from New York — with the televisions on Air Force One tuned to the proceedings. Back in Washington, the president cancelled a meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and was expected to continue watching, aides said.
Kavanaugh himself has explicitly said he is not questioning whether Ford had been attacked “by someone, at some point.” But he says he’s not the one who attacked her. He told at least one senator that it may have been a case of mistaken identity. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee released a document detailing their investigative work that showed they had interviewed two separate men who said they believed that they, not Judge Kavanaugh, assaulted Ford.
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah told CNN, “Somebody’s mixed up.”
But with an eager-to-please demeanor and zero show of anger during the questioning, Ford stuck by her account. It was true, she said, that there were gaps in her memory of that night in the early 1980s — she could not recall which boy pushed her into the room, or how she got home.
But the laughter, and the identity of her attacker, Ford said, remained crystal clear.
“Absolutely,” Ford said, later adding, “100 percent.”
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