Legally Speaking: Here’s what happened at Kavanaugh hearing

Sep 27, 2018, 5:27 PM | Updated: Sep 28, 2018, 9:39 am
Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hi...

Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)

(Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)

The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh continued Thursday with the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh and here is a recap, #LegallySpeaking.

The hearing lasted for more than nine hours with some short breaks. Arizona’s own, Maricopa County Deputy County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, took center stage and asked questions of Ford and Kavanaugh for the GOP. There were a lot of comments, a lot of hot air and a lot of emotions.

How did it play out #LegallySpeaking? Not great. Let me explain.

This hearing centered on events that allegedly occurred back in the early 1980s when Kavanaugh was in high school. Those events included drinking, blacking out, sexual assault and yearbook entries. There were only two recognized witnesses: Ford and Kavanaugh. I say “recognized” because many senators found ways to get documents into the record without any witnesses to explain them.

The procedure of the hearing was different than what you might expect. Each witness was able to give an opening statement and then each senator (there were 21 of them) was given five minutes to do with what they want. It alternated between Democrats and Republicans and went from most senior to junior.

First up was Ford, who read her written statement almost word for word. This was the first time America was able to put a face, voice and body with what had been reported and released in the media. After she finished, the senators started using their allotted time. Each one of the Republican senators gave their time to Mitchell, who then asked various questions.

Each of the Democratic senators used their time to apologize to and/or praise Ford for her bravery. Most if not all of them then criticized the committee and the GOP for failing to request an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations. There were some questions sprinkled in here and there but they were softball questions.

During the GOP allotted time, Mitchell asked Ford questions about that night: Who was present, had she been drinking, and how did she get home? She also asked her about why she brought those allegations now and who was paying for her legal representation. Although it was a rough and slow start, mostly because Mitchell only had five minutes at a time, the questions became more pointed.

Was career sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell effective? Absolutely. She was hired to ask questions about a highly sensitive and traumatic event of a female sexual assault victim. She was hired so the older, white, non-sex-crimes-prosecutor men would not say the wrong thing or be seen as insensitive or unfair. She was hired to get answers and to try to poke holes or find gaps in Ford’s version of the truth. Mitchell was able to do as much as she could, and she did it with professionalism.

Looking at Ford as a witness in a legal proceeding, which is what this is, she came across as credible, authentic and sincere. She was certain, calm and clear. She gave the details she remembered and answered all questions without argument. In fact, she reiterated several times that she is 100 percent certain Kavanaugh was the one that sexually assaulted her. Many senators said this hearing was about credibility, and I doubt anyone can say that Ford was not credible.

Next up was Kavanaugh. He started with an opening statement, and boy, oh boy, was he fired up! He took roughly 45 minutes: to rail against the Democrats, the process and the current process of selection of judges; to profess his innocence; and to explain the impact of the process on his family. He called the process despicable and a circus. He came across very angry and then very emotional, crying and getting choked up several times. Not very “judge-like” but very human. And that was just his opening.

His questioning followed the same pattern as Ford except that Mitchell was quickly retired as each Republican senator chose to use their time to do just what the Dems did with Ford. They apologized to and praised Kavanaugh and railed against the Dems. The one exception to this was Arizona’s own, Sen. Jeff Flake. Flake’s comments were very neutral and short.

The Dems focused their questions on Kavanaugh’s behavior in high school regarding women and beer and criticized him for not asking for an FBI investigation. Kavanaugh’s answers were, at times, combative and evasive. Sometimes he turned the questions around and was the one questioning the senators. He repeated that he doesn’t doubt that Ford was sexually assaulted in her life but that it was not him. He unwaveringly professed his innocence and he did so with passion and conviction.

Mac, Gaydos, Bruce, Pamela and I all had the discussion whether you can believe both or you must pick one. Let me give you something to think about — both could be correct. First, no doubt in my mind that Ford was credible and believes what she testified to. Second, Kavanaugh might absolutely believe what he is saying because he has no recollection of the party, her or the night. This could be because of the beer or the length of time that has transpired.

None of us were there that night. There is no video. There are no pictures. There are apparently no other witnesses that remember the night. As such, we will never know with 100 percent certainty if Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Ford.

Here is the crux: The senators have to vote. They have to decide whether Kavanaugh should be our next justice on the highest court of the land. They will need to decide if they believe Ford over Kavanaugh and, if they do, is what Kavanaugh is alleged to have done — sexual assault in high school — a good enough reason to keep him off the Supreme Court. We will see.

Monica Lindstrom

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Legally Speaking: Here’s what happened at Kavanaugh hearing