President Donald Trumps Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will face a Senate grilling after Christine Blasey Ford, who accuses Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school, testifies at a live hearing on Thursday.
The hearing serves as a culmination of a wild, ugly, and very public trial in the court of public opinion that has even Trump unsure of who did what.
Ford is one of a growing number of accusers who have requested FBI investigations into their claims against Kavanaugh. Regardless, the Senate still plans to vote on confirming Kavanaugh just one day after the hearing.
Going into this hearing, where only one accuser will be heard, Democrats have a roster of accusers willing to risk perjury.
Meanwhile, Republicans have a greater number of senators and time on their side. The only thing clear is that anything can happen.
Trump, at a wild press conference on Wednesday, vacillated between casting doubt on Fords accusations, testifying to Kavanaughs sterling reputation and intellect, blasting Democrats as con artists, and finally saying he could be convinced Ford was telling the truth during the hearing.
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Brett Kavanaugh in the White House in July 2018. Alex Brandon/AP
While additional accusers have piled on to Kavanaugh, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley released documents on Wednesday that indicate the Senate Judiciary Committee interviewed not one, but two men who reportedly took responsibility Fords alleged 1982 sexual assault.
ImageName plates of Senate Judiciary Committee members being set up on the evening before Thursdays hearing on Judge Brett Kavanaughs nomination.CreditCreditBrendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThere is a reason Thursdays Senate Judiciary Committee hearing will be short and feature only two witnesses, the Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford. Republicans have designed the hearing to end in a he said, she said stalemate. No matter how credible Dr. Blasey is, isolating her as a lone accuser is the most effective political strategy for confirming Judge Kavanaugh.
Last week, legal scholar Ed Whelan posited that a Kavanaugh look-alike could have assaulted Ford, though he later apologized for making the claim.
Democrats criticized lawyer and activist Michael Avenattis handling of additional Kavanaugh accusers as being a publicity stunt, but have now begun an earnest investigation into their claims.
Kavanaugh himself wrote the Senate Judiciary Committee a letter pleading his innocence and dismissing the charges against him.
In an interview with Fox News, Kavanaugh, with his wife by his side, detailed his sexual history and claimed to have not had sex, or anything close to it, until years after college.
But despite the unrelenting firestorm in the media thats brought forward grueling accounts from sexual assault survivors, Republicans in public and private remain confident that they can still confirm Kavanaugh.
However, with just months until the 2018 midterm elections — which appear increasingly make-or-break for Democrats trying to reverse the trend of Trump dominating politics — the Kavanaugh hearings have become even bigger than a simple confirmation vote.
Dr. Blasey is not a lone accuser. Since her account was first published by The Washington Post on Sept. 16, considerable corroborating evidence has emerged, but none of it will be properly examined at Thursdays hearing. Besides Julie Swetnick, Deborah Ramirez has accused Judge Kavanaugh of exposing himself and touching her while they were both students at Yale.
Polling shows public support for Kavanaugh, and Trump, have plummeted over the last several weeks. Ford, Kavanaugh, and others connected to the vote have received death threats and had to take security measures as the hearing becomes vitriolic on all sides.
In testimony released in advance of a key Senate hearing on Thursday, the 51-year-old said she was appearing only because she felt it was her duty, was frankly "terrified" and has been the target of vile harassment and even death threats.
In addition to Ms Fords evidence, the Senate Judiciary Committee – 11 Republicans, all men, and 10 Democrats – will also hear from Judge Kavanaugh, who is facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. The federal appeals court judge has strongly denied all the allegations.
Much is riding on the testimony of both individuals, with the public Senate hearing expected to determine whether Republicans can salvage Judge Kavanaughs nomination and enshrine a high court conservative majority.
The President, who has strongly defended his Supreme Court pick, will be among those watching proceedings closely.
"I want to watch, I want to see," Mr Trump said at a news conference in New York on Wednesday, adding that he was "open to changing my mind".
The hearing will be the first time the world sees and hears from Ms Ford beyond the grainy photo that has appeared in the media in the 10 days since she came forward with her claims.
"It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court," Ms Ford, a California psychology professor, is to tell the senators. "My responsibility is to tell the truth."
Ms Ford will testify first at the hearing, which starts at 10am (3pm UK time) and at her request is being held in a small hearing room that seats only a few dozen spectators.
She plans to tell the committee that, one night in the summer of 1982, an inebriated Kavanaugh forced her down on a bed, "groped me and tried to take off my clothes," then clamped his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream before she was able to escape.
"It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me," she said, adding that he was laughing during the alleged attack.
Ms Ford also released sworn statements from people who said she had told them about the assault in later years.
Judge Kavanaugh is being challenged on multiple fronts by his accusers, former classmates and college friends. They say the good-guy image he projects in public bears little relation to the hard-partying behaviour they witnessed when he was young.
In his prepared testimony, the 53-year-old judge acknowledges drinking in high school with his friends, but says hes never done anything "remotely resembling" what Ms Ford describes. He said he has never had a "sexual or physical encounter of any kind" with her.
He also provided the committee with detailed calendar pages listing in green-and-white squares the activities that filled his summer of 1982 when he was 17 years old – exams, movies, sports and plenty of parties. Thats the year when Ms Ford says she believes the assault occurred.
"But I was not perfect in those days, just as I am not perfect today," he is expected to add. "I drank beer with my friends, usually on weekends. Sometimes I had too many. In retrospect, I said and did things in high school that make me cringe now. But thats not why we are here today. What Ive been accused of is far more serious than juvenile misbehaviour. I never did anything remotely resembling what Dr Ford describes."
Republican Judiciary committee staffers are trying to interview another woman, Julie Swetnick, who became the third woman to accuse Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, she said she attended more than 10 house parties in the Washington area from 1981 to 1983 where Judge Kavanaugh was present. She described gang rapes she said occurred in which boys would line up to rape incapacitated girls.
"In approximately 1982, I became the victim of one of these gang or train rapes where Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh were present," she said, mentioning the name of a close friend of Judge Kavanaugh. She did not identify her attackers and did not accuse Judge Kavanaugh or Mark Judge of taking part.
Judge Kavanaugh said in a statement: "This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone. I dont know who this is and this never happened." Mark Judge has also denied the accusations.
Another woman, Deborah Ramirez, has accused Judge Kavanaugh of exposing himself during a drunken dormitory party during the 1983-84 academic year when both attended Yale University. Judge Kavanaugh has denied that allegation as well.
Republican staffers on the committee also asked Judge Kavanaugh about two other incidents involving alcohol and sexual behaviour, according to a transcript of an interview released on Wednesday. Judge Kavanaugh told staffers they did not take place, and nobody has come forward to speak publicly about them.