Christine Blasey Ford at Kavanaugh hearing: 'Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes'

WASHINGTON – After the death threats, the speculation about her motives and the rallies both for and against her, Christine Blasey Ford spoke for herself Thursday.

With a breaking voice, Ford described to the Senate Judiciary Committee what happened to her at a house party in 1982 with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh – “the boy who sexually assaulted me.”

“Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes,” an emotional Ford told senators – and millions of viewers watching on television. 

She told senators she was pinned to a bed as Kavanaugh tried to stop her from screaming by covering her mouth with his hand, making it hard for her to breath. 

Ford believed he was going to rape her and thought he might accidentally kill her.

At the time, she was 15 – the same age as one of her two sons.

Her voice breaking, Ford said her strongest memory of the incident is the “uproarious laughter” of Kavanaugh and his friend who was also in the room.

“They were having fun at my expense,” she said. “I was underneath one of them while the two laughed.”

Ford described herself as a reluctant witness who came forward out of her civic duty.

“I am here today not because I want to be,” she said, her voice breaking. “I am terrified.”

The 51-year-old psychology professor had entered the walnut-paneled Senate committee room mid-morning – the culmination of what she’s called the hardest weeks of her life.

“After I read my opening statement, I anticipate needing some caffeine,” she said.

Wearing a navy blue suit and glasses, Ford had turned and waved to supporters sitting behind her after taking her seat at the witness table. 

The mother of two, who later told the semi-circle of senators that she’s “no one’s pawn,” stoically faced Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley as he opened the hearing.

“I want to apologize to you both for the way you’ve been treated and I intend hopefully for today’s hearing to be safe comfortable and dignified for both of our witnesses,” Grassley, R-Iowa, said to both Ford and the absent Kavanaugh.

The dozens of photographers that typically would have been jockeying to capture Ford’s first seconds in the spotlight had been limited to eight. The video cameras were unobtrusively placed throughout the room. 

The nearly 50 reporters squeezed into tables on the room’s outer edges where they furiously typed her words into their laptops had also been reduced in numbers to fit into a space smaller than the one usually used for such blockbuster hearings.

More: Here are the five allegations made against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

More: Brett Kavanaugh: Senate Judiciary Committee members to watch

More: How to watch and what to expect in today’s hearing with Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Ford

More: Brett Kavanaugh: How sex assault hearing could inspire more women to vote and seek elected office

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Kavanaugh, who has categorically denied the allegations, was scheduled to testify after Ford. He planned to tell senators that he’s not questioning whether Ford “may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time.”

“But I have never done that to her or to anyone,” he stated in prepared remarks provided to the committee in advance.

Kavanaugh got a dry run when he sat for an interview with Fox News on Monday.

But Thursday was the first time the public could hear directly from Ford.

As Ford detailed the threats she’s received since going public, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., looks down at the table. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., clasped his hands in front of his face and stared straight ahead.

As Rachel Mitchell, the attorney Senate Republicans tasked with probing Ford on their behalf, began her questions, she tried to make Ford feel comfortable.

“The first thing that struck me from your statement this morning is that you’re terrified,” Mitchell said. “I’m very sorry. That’s not right.”

Among those sitting in the six rows of chairs behind the witness table was Actress Alyssa Milano,  an outspoken advocate of the Me Too movement. Milano had been invited by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. 

“I felt like I needed to be here and show solidarity in my support for Dr. Ford for this day that will surely be incredibly difficult for her,” Milano said.

She was seated next to Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List which has been pushing senators to support Kavanaugh’s nomination.

In order to avoid protesters the entire floor where the hearing was set to take place was restricted to just staff, press and invited guests with high police presence.

The first two rows of seats behind the witness table were Ford’s invited guests. The third row was for Kavanaugh’s guests — that will swap when Kavanaugh testifies. But as of 10 a.m. the third row was empty.

The remaining three rows are invited guests and members of Congress. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Jackie Speier of California – lawmakers who have all been vocal about sexual harassment – were in the audience.

Contributing: Eliza Collins, USA TODAY.

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