What changed after Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh hearing?

CNN Opinion asked a group of expert commentators to weigh in with their reactions to the appearance of Chris...

Posted: Sep 28, 2018 11:07 AM
Updated: Sep 28, 2018 11:08 AM

CNN Opinion asked a group of expert commentators to weigh in with their reactions to the appearance of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee, made to address Ford's sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh. The views expressed here are solely those of the authors. View more opinion articles on CNN.

Jen Psaki: The real reason we were riveted

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For the last few weeks, Washington has been consumed by how Christine Blasey Ford's letter was made public, whether or not she would testify, whether she should have been interviewed in a public or private setting, when the committee should have been informed. To date, the process questions have unfortunately been an effective crutch for those Republicans in Congress who would rather jam through a Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual assault than take the time to explore, through an FBI investigation and additional testimony of individuals like Mark Judge (who Ford says was in the room when Kavanaugh allegedly attacked her) whether an individual being nominated for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land has the character to serve.

None of the process debates should have mattered last week, but they certainly should not matter now.

Ford was everything Republicans in Congress and supporters of Brett Kavanaugh callously feared she would be: credible and compelling. Brett Kavanaugh was everything President Donald Trump and his wing of the party wanted him to be: angry, aggressive and declarative about his innocence.

It may or may not have any impact on the November elections. That question can be debated many ways and it will be over the next few weeks.

But as women and men across the country sat riveted, watching the hearing on Thursday, most were not calculating what this would mean for voters in swing districts, or whether Sen. Dianne Feinstein followed proper committee protocol or what it would mean for Democrats' chances in the Senate. Most were riveted because of the prevalence of sexual assault across the country. Because whether they know it or not most everyone has a friend, a co-worker, a family member who has experienced versions of what was described by Ford, who was doubted, who was ridiculed.

The question for Republicans in Congress is simple. Should an individual credibly accused of sexual assault be confirmed for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court? Period.

Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is vice president of communications and strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow her at @jrpsaki.

Paul Callan: If we were in court, Kavanaugh would be found not guilty

Many Americans will ultimately come away from Thursday's hearing feeling disgusted not over the character of Judge Brett Kavanaugh but that of those Democratic senators who attempted, on the weakest of evidence, to portray the judge as an attempted rapist. Their strongest documentary evidence appeared to be inscriptions about beer drinking in his high school yearbook.

America's founding fathers wisely designated courts of law as the place where claims of criminal conduct such as sexual assault are resolved. They knew that such serious claims can only be thoroughly investigated and finally resolved by a judge or jury at a fair trial. Hundreds of years of experience has demonstrated that the truthfulness of witnesses can best be tested in the crucible of cross-examination. Christine Blasey Ford faced no such test before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. She made a very good initial impression but failed to fill in the troubling gaps in her story.

Though friends accompanied her to the party and probably drove her home, not a single person corroborates her claims against Kavanaugh, first articulated more than 20 years after the alleged incident

In contrast, Sen. Chuck Grassley noted in his opening statement that committee staff interviewed and obtained "felony penalty" statements from three witnesses -- Mark Judge's lawyer, from Patrick J. Smyth, and Leland Ingham Keyser -- that Ford had named as present in 1982 at the infamous party, but who said they knew nothing of a sexual attack on Ford.

Ford first detailed these claims in a couples counseling session in 2012. She failed to explain how she could forget the location and time of such a life-changing traumatic event she says happened in her home community. Effective cross-examination of a critical witness cannot be conducted in five-minute segments interrupted by senators giving speeches praising the honesty and courage of the witness. This was not a serious examination of the truthfulness of Ford or Kavanaugh but a staged spectacle.

Had this been a court proceeding, the charges against Kavanaugh would likely have been dismissed or a verdict of "not guilty" rendered. On the evidence adduced at the Kavanaugh hearings, the verdict of the Senate should be that his nomination is confirmed.

Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst, a former New York homicide prosecutor and of counsel to the New York law firm of Edelman & Edelman PC, focusing on wrongful conviction and civil rights cases. Follow him on Twitter @paulcallan.

David Gergen: GOP, don't rush to this divisive vote

America appears to be on the verge of one of the most divisive votes in modern Congressional history. After a dramatic day of testimony by Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, much of the country is even more sharply divided on who is telling the truth.

Ford's details about needing a second door to the front of her house and her misery as she remembered the uproarious laughter of her assailants inspired scores of women to call into C-SPAN to share their stories of assault, a fact that underscores how much this hearing did and will resonate in the public conscience. As effective as Judge Kavanaugh was in garnering conservative support with his counter arguments, he and his allies were still unable to dispel the cloud over his head. If anything, that cloud seems even darker now.

Yet Republican leaders seem intent on moving on rather than seeing if a healing compromise can be found. As of late Thursday night, it appears that the Judiciary Committee will likely vote in favor of Kavanaugh Friday morning and the full Senate will be pressed into a final vote by early next week.

If the Senate "plows ahead," as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged it will, and confirms the Kavanaugh without first seeking a compromise solution with Democrats, anger could seize the country, especially among women who have come to see Ford as a heroine. Republicans will have won the generational Supreme Court majority they've long sought, but at great expense to the reputation of the Court, to the cohesion of our democracy and especially to the perceived well being of millions of women.

From my perspective, Republican senators would be wise to proceed with much more caution and a serious effort to find some common ground with Democrats before moving to a final vote.

In particular, GOP senators could take two relatively easy steps that would address Democrats' deep and legitimate concerns: pause the process for a week -- no longer -- to have the FBI conduct a background investigation and call a key witness, Mark Judge, to testify before the Judiciary Committee within that same week. (If the GOP wished to be truly fair, it would also take a more serious look at allegations coming from two other women, but that is probably too much to expect.).

This few day pause would also allow senators to hear the public's voice. In refusing to move forward with the nomination of Merrick Garland during President Obama's final year in office, GOP leaders argued that it was essential to hear from the public in upcoming elections before moving on the candidacy. Why does not the same logic apply now, especially since a pause would last only a week?

In recent days, polls have shown Donald Trump's approval rating with women -- even Republican women -- plummeting. Kavanaugh's approval is worse than any nominee since Robert Bork. Support for his nomination is especially low among women.

Judge Kavanaugh has much to be angry about as a result of some of the Democrats' comments about him and for the way his family has been treated. But so do Ford and millions of women across America. Indeed, much of the country is now deeply angry and is increasingly dispirited by the way this nomination process has played itself out. If Judge Kavanaugh is soon to take the bench, why not do it in a way that begins to heal us rather than spreading this rancor into the highest court in the land?

David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been a White House adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. Follow him on Twitter: @david_gergen.

Karine Jean-Pierre: Ford learned that little has changed since Anita Hill

I knew I'd feel angry on Thursday, but I also thought I would have something new to say. I have nothing new to say. My one feeling: excruciating sadness.

Because Christine Blasey Ford was not given a choice. Not when, she says, she was forced into a bedroom at a party in high school, not when -- she alleges -- Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her nor when she tried to scream: She says he put his hand over mouth. Kavanaugh vigorously denies all this.

In my view, she was not given a choice in 1982 — and she was not given a choice before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Ford did not have a choice. Women everywhere do not have a choice. We are eviscerated when we speak up and disparaged when we don't. We have no options, no choices.

But Ford came forward. She knew full well that what happened to Anita Hill in 1991 would likely happen to her. Ford was 100% credible before the Judiciary Committee; Anita Hill was 100% credible 27 years ago. Yet, as a country, we've learned nothing. Ford knew what speaking up would mean. I cannot think of any word to describe her decision but sacrifice.

And still, she came forward.

Because she believed it was her civic duty to tell the world about this man who is interviewing for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. A man who would decide what decisions the rest of us get to make: whether women have autonomy over their own bodies or whether people with disabilities can make decisions for themselves. A man who would get to say who has the right to make choices and who does not.

What is our civic duty when our system of civics is broken? When our politics are so partisan that we put our political gains over peoples' humanity? When we put political motivation over morals? What is our duty to a system of civics that no longer serves our people, but severs them from justice?

Ford's experience shows us once and for all that our political system no longer works. And with that, I am heartbroken.

Karine Jean-Pierre is the senior adviser and national spokeswoman for MoveOn. She is also a lecturer in international and public affairs at Columbia University.

Scott Jennings: Where's the corroborating evidence?

A friend texted me as the hearing ended: "Today, we saw an interesting thing. Two normal people behaved like two normal people in an entirely abnormal and inhuman setting. They showed how twisted life in the spotlight has become."

I couldn't agree more. I believe both Ford and Kavanaugh believe they are telling the absolute truth. I don't think either is willfully lying to the committee. The stakes of lying are so high that I cannot fathom either -- both with impeccable personal and professional credentials -- would do it.

In the wake of two credible people giving what they believe to be the absolute truth under oath and given that there is no corroborating evidence or witnesses to support the allegation, the basic presumption of innocence on which our justice system is based must be used to move Kavanaugh's confirmation forward. Giving up on this presumption would have ripple effects throughout American civic life that would be detrimental in ways we cannot begin to imagine.

The timing of all this is what still bothers me. Democrats seemingly sitting on it, waiting until the end to spring their trap in the hopes of delaying the nomination, have Republicans across the country convinced that Ford was dragged unwittingly into a dirty political trick.

The truth remains: Democrats' entire strategy, as stated by anti-Kavanaugh operative Brian Fallon in The New York Times, is "block Kavanaugh, then fight like hell to win back the Senate." They intend to hold the Kennedy seat open for two years as revenge for Republicans blocking Merrick Garland. At least Fallon has the integrity to admit it, even as Senate Democrats pretend disingenuously that politics couldn't be further from their minds.

Ford deserves credit for showing up and standing strong in a setting not fit for a story like hers. Kavanaugh deserves credit for fighting like hell to defend his honor, his reputation and the family name carried by his wife and daughters. I think both appeared as honorable, honest people.

I'd vote to confirm Kavanaugh, and I'd encourage the senators to do the same. And after they do, I pray for a return of the US Senate to its glory as the world's most deliberative body.

Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.

Frida Ghitis: Republicans indicted themselves

Every one of the 11 Republican senators on the committee is a white man. They didn't trust themselves not to appear hostile to Ford. They were right to worry. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley barely spoke to Ford. He opened the hearing with a brief attempt to seem fair, followed by a partisan screed that confirmed he had no intention of getting at the truth.

Their hired hand, Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona prosecutor, was dismally ineffective. But then, she had the impossible task of undercutting Ford's credibility. And few, if any, who saw her tell her story doubted for a second that she was telling the truth.

Ford had to choke back tears describing Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge trapping her in a room, Kavanaugh pinning her to a bed, grinding on top of her and putting his hand over her mouth when she tried to cry for help, leaving her with lifelong claustrophobia, anxiety and other symptoms.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a former prosecutor, declared "I believe you," noting how, in what is characteristic of truthful witnesses, she acknowledged not remembering some of the details. When asked what she remembers most, she winced, "The uproarious laughter." Kavanaugh and Judge "were having fun at my expense."

When Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked how Ford is sure it was Kavanaugh, Ford replied, "The same way I know I'm talking to you."

Grassley became defensive, irritable, knowing the hearing was a disaster. It will energize women like nothing since Trump's "grab them by the p---y" and his subsequent election. The hearing didn't just hurt Kavanaugh -- it inflicted and immediately infected a wound in what was once an honorable party. Read more...

Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN and The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review.

Carol Costello: Christine Blasey Ford signals end of he-said-who-cares-what-she-said era

I teared up when Ford described her strongest memory of escaping her alleged attackers. "The uproarious laughter between the two and having fun at my expense," she said. "I was underneath one of them, while the two laughed. Two friends having a really good time with one another."

It did not cause tears for many of the Republican senators who were so afraid to address an alleged sexual assault victim that they hired a "female assistant" to "ask these questions in a respectful and professional way."

Perhaps that was wise in light of how Sen. Orrin Hatch described Ford's testimony. He said she was an "attractive, good witness," who was not "uncredible." He added that he had not learned anything new, "at least I can't think of anything."

I am tempted to conclude, in light of Hatch's remarks, and the curious lack of interest in involving the FBI, that I was right to be terrified for Ford. Right to think that nothing had changed, even in this era of #MeToo. But, that -- and I say this with a sense of wonder -- would be an erroneous conclusion.

Despite the disbelief, the politicization of this process, no lawmaker is calling Ford "delusional" or "unstable." Most are not even calling her a liar. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said he felt "ambushed" by a "politicized" committee hearing, says he believes "something happened" to Ford back in the 1980s. He just isn't sure Judge Brett Kavanaugh was the perpetrator.

Is it good enough? No. But, then again, a Senate committee hearing is not a trial. It's a job interview. Read more...

Carol Costello is the host of "Across America With Carol Costello" on HLN.

Alice Stewart: This hearing was hell

It was a high-stakes, high court battle of emotion versus fact in the open Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Ford came across as believable and compelling in her account of being sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh in high school. Kavanaugh was indignant and tearful in his effort to clear his name and secure his nomination to the United States Supreme Court. In the end, this will boil down to the sincere credibility of someone with nothing to gain versus the sincere credibility of someone with everything to lose.

Ford testified that she was 100% confident that Brett Kavanaugh was the man who assaulted her. In turn, Kavanaugh was 100% certain of his innocence. So, after a nine-hour day of testimony with no evidence, we ended the day with no evidence or corroboration to support Dr. Ford's account. Yet witnesses who all say they don't recall such an event occurring seem to support Kavanaugh's denial of the allegation against him.

I believe Ford experienced a traumatic sexual assault in high school; that she's still haunted by memories of the "uproarious laughter" of her assaulter; that she has endured the lasting effects of this trauma. But I don't believe Judge Kavanaugh was the perpetrator.

I agree with Senator Lindsey Graham that this was "an unethical sham" by the Democrats to derail President Trump's nomination to the Supreme Court. Furthermore, what we witnessed in this hearing was hell and will destroy the ability of good people to come forward with their allegations in the name of "civic duty" in the future.

Let me be clear, all victims of sexual assault should be heard. They should feel safe in telling their story. At the same time, no one's good name and reputation should be ruined for the sake of political gain. But, unfortunately, that happened today.

Alice Stewart is a CNN Political Commentator and former Communications Director for Ted Cruz for President.

Deborah Tuerkheimer: If Ford isn't believed, it's hard to imagine an accuser who would be

Today's extraordinary Senate Judiciary committee hearing featured two witnesses, each claiming 100% certainty in their testimony. Christine Blasey Ford described, in excruciating detail, what she remembers as a sexual assault perpetrated by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who vehemently denied the allegation.

Because the FBI was not asked to investigate and several key witnesses -- including the alleged eyewitness -- were not subpoenaed to testify, Ford and Kavanaugh's credibility must be judged without the benefit of corroborating evidence. It is worth noting that many "he said, she said" disputes can be resolved by further investigation, but it remains to be seen whether the Senate Republicans will slow the confirmation process to allow more evidence to be gathered.

Ford, who testified in the morning, was clearly nervous -- "terrified" by her own account. She was also composed, dignified, and careful not to overstate her ability to recall details. She asked for clarification when she did not understand a question. She was confident about the facts that matter. And she was relatable. More than anything else, she came across as a woman who reluctantly upended her life because she felt it was her "civic duty" to provide relevant information on a matter of national significance. She was, in short, entirely credible.

Kavanaugh's demeanor was almost the exact opposite of Ford's. Where she was controlled, he was enraged. Where she seemed objective, he seemed partisan. Where she was helpful, he was nonresponsive and unwilling to answer straightforward questions. On several occasions, he was belligerent.

Too often, women alleging abuse are treated with unwarranted skepticism -- a problem I call "credibility discounting." But here, the commonplace justifications for dismissing reports of sexual violence are not available. She has no motive to lie. She was not intoxicated during the alleged incident. Her story is completely plausible. If her testimony is not believed, it is difficult to imagine an accuser whose would be.

Deborah Tuerkheimer, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, is the Class of 1940 Research Professor of Law at Northwestern University.

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