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Christine Blasey Ford Begins Testifying Before Senate Judiciary Panel


CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: (Reading) 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.


Christine Blasey Ford has begun her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying it is not her job to decide if Brett Kavanaugh deserves a seat on the United States Supreme Court but that she feels it is her responsibility to tell the truth. She is discussing her allegation that Kavanaugh, decades ago, sexually assaulted her at a party when both were in high school. Kavanaugh, who has denied every detail of this story, is set to speak a little bit later on today. NPR's Kelsey Snell has been watching the testimony with us. Hi there, Kelsey.


INSKEEP: So some parts of her testimony so far address some serious questions about this - one of them being what record, what corroboration could there be of this allegation that you're making 36 years later. And she addresses that, in effect, in her opening statement by saying there have been occasions over the years when I did address this. What's one of them that comes to mind?

SNELL: She talks about how she discussed it with her therapist and that it came up when - her discussion with her husband when they were remodeling their home.

INSKEEP: This is a remarkable story that she tells. Let's just listen to this anecdote from 2012. This is 30 years after the alleged incident.


FORD: (Reading) I had never told the details to anyone - the specific details - until May 2012 during a couples counseling session. The reason this came up in counseling is that my husband and I had completed a very extensive, very long remodel of our home. And I insisted on a second front door, an idea that he and others disagreed with and could not understand. In explaining why I wanted a second front door, I began to describe the assault in detail.

SNELL: She also goes on later in her testimony to say that she's coping with panic, claustrophobia and PTSD symptoms. And she described later that the additional front door was a part of her way of coping with the claustrophobia.

INSKEEP: And when asked for clarity later by Dianne Feinstein, she did say, if you look at the house today, the door is there.

SNELL: She said it's not aesthetically pleasing from the curb.

INSKEEP: And indicated - didn't seem to have said the name of her alleged attacker at that time but said the boy who attacked me could someday be on the United States Supreme Court.

SNELL: Yes, and she says that she did end up discussing his name with friends later.

INSKEEP: She was also asked, why, after all these years, did you decide to come forward exactly when you did? And she has gone through in her testimony something of a timeline. It was last summer when she first began speaking with reporters and sending messages to lawmakers. It was, of course, sometime afterward when she was willing to speak publicly. And that question of when she said what came up. Let's listen to some of that.


DIANNE 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 that she was a reporter.

INSKEEP: And we end up hearing that there are reporters outside of her house. She tells an anecdote about the reporters trying to calm her dog at the window.

SNELL: Yeah. To be clear, she says that she filed something or she sent something to a secure email address for The Washington Post first. And she reached out to her congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, and didn't hear back from her congresswoman until Kavanaugh's name was ultimately chosen for the nominee. And since then, there have been - there's been a back and forth between her and her congresswoman and with Dianne Feinstein, the senator from California.

INSKEEP: This is a bit of an unusual proceeding in that Republicans have given their questioning so far over to a woman named Rachel Mitchell.

SNELL: Right.

INSKEEP: She is an experienced sex crimes prosecutor. The Democrats who've questioned her so far have been asking bottom-line questions. That's what we've been hearing. Mitchell has been very carefully working through questions of fact - of exactly what words she sent in text messages and trying to establish a fact record, it seems.

SNELL: Yeah, that's right. The very first question she asked was - she asked Ford to review text messages that were sent over the program WhatsApp and to go through each word and make sure that they were all correct. And then, she had her read the letter that Ford sent to Feinstein, clarify when it was written and that it was all in fact. She's establishing something for future questions.

INSKEEP: And it's an unusual proceeding in that Republicans get five minutes. Democrats get five minutes.

SNELL: Very unusual.

INSKEEP: A bit confusing - so you have a prosecutor methodically working through, then a senator doing bottom-line questions, then back to the prosecutor methodically working through.

SNELL: Yeah, and it was also - it was jarring in that first exchange because Senator Grassley had to interrupt the woman asking the questions - the prosecutor - to allow Dianne Feinstein to begin her questioning. And it was in the middle of a whole arc. And it's - I think we can be prepared for this to continue to be a little bit of an awkward exchange.

INSKEEP: Although, we also hear some rather dramatic testimony already, and some of it also came in this initial questioning from Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat, who asked a bottom-line question that is expected to be central to this entire hearing.

SNELL: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: And let's listen to that question.


FEINSTEIN: How are you so sure that it was he?

FORD: The same way that I'm sure that I'm talking to you right now. It's just 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. And so the trauma-related experience then is kind of locked there whereas other details kind of drift.

FEINSTEIN: So what you are telling us is this could not be a case of mistaken identity.

FORD: Absolutely not.

INSKEEP: Why is that such a central question, Kelsey Snell?

SNELL: Well, because the - part of what Republicans have said is that perhaps she's confused. Maybe she mistook Kavanaugh for somebody else. And that has been a central part of the messaging, particularly from senators like Orrin Hatch of Utah, who's repeatedly said, maybe she's just mixed up.

INSKEEP: Isn't there also now some information from the Judiciary Committee staff? They released some information, and they say that there are a couple of other men who said maybe it was me who attacked her. Is this correct?

SNELL: That was part of a large number of documents that were released late last night. But those, so far, have been unverified. We don't have names, and it's very difficult to determine the veracity of those claims.

INSKEEP: OK. So it looks like perhaps a matter of hours for Christine Blasey Ford. And then Brett Kavanaugh gets his chance this afternoon. Is that right?

SNELL: Yeah, he will be up separately. Part of the agreement was that he would not be in the room when she testifies.

INSKEEP: We'll continue following this throughout the day. And we'll have updates this afternoon on All Things Considered. NPR's Kelsey Snell, thanks very much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.