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Kavanaugh accuser ‘struggled’ with decision to go public, Washington Post reporter says

After having a confidential letter revealed in the press, Christine Blasey Ford came forward this weekend as the woman accusing Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault more than 30 years ago. Kavanaugh has issued a strong denial. Lisa Desjardins reports, then Judy Woodruff talks with Emma Brown from the Washington Post, who was in touch with Ford for months before publishing her account.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    First, though, the questions about Brett Kavanaugh.

    After first being outed in the press, college professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward this weekend as the woman accusing Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault more than 30 years ago.

    Ford alleges that at a high school party Kavanaugh, while inebriated, forced the teenager into a room and attacked her, before she was able to escape.

    As Lisa Desjardins reports, the allegation has drawn swift responses from the White House to Capitol Hill.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Judge Kavanaugh is one of the finest people that I have ever known.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    President Trump defended his nominee today, but said Brett Kavanaugh's accuser should be heard out.

  • President Donald Trump:

    At the same time, we want to go through a process. We want to make sure everything is perfect, everything is just right. They will go through a process and hear everybody out. I think it's important. I believe they think it's important.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Kavanaugh himself issued a strong denial, his second in four days, saying — quote — "I have never done anything like what the accuser describes to her or to anyone," adding he is willing to cooperate with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, detailed the alleged attack in a letter to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein in late July. CNN reported the letter says of Kavanaugh and a friend — quote — "They both laughed as Kavanaugh tried to disrobe me in their highly inebriated state. With Kavanaugh's hand over my mouth, I feared he may inadvertently kill me."

    A lawyer for Ford confirmed to "The Today Show" that she is willing to testify. Democrats were quick to call for a delay in Kavanaugh's confirmation.

    Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.:

    We're talking about a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land of a Supreme Court justice who could be the deciding vote for a generation or more. Is it worth an extra week or two? For goodness' sakes, of course it is.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A handful of Republicans also voiced concern. Senator Jeff Flake, a key Judiciary Committee vote, told Politico Ford should testify before any committee decision on Kavanaugh, saying — quote — "I don't think I'm alone in this."

    Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, another key vote, agreed.

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    There are more questions that need to be asked and answered. And I think it would appropriate to allow for that time.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Maine Senator Susan Collins echoed calls for Kavanaugh and Ford to testify.

  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine:

    Having the opportunity to observe her being questioned is so important. Obviously, if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On this, key senators like Collins and Murkowski, who will decide Kavanaugh's fate, are in the spotlight as much as the judge himself.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for more on how that story came to light, I'm joined now by Emma Brown. She's an investigative reporter at The Washington Post who has been in touch with Ford for months before publishing her account last night.

    Emma Brown, thank you very much for talking with us.

    Tell us how did you first have contact with Professor Ford?

  • Emma Brown:

    She first reached out to The Washington Post through a confidential tip line that we have. And she — she did that in early July.

    That was a point at which Kavanaugh had risen to the short list of Trump's potential Supreme Court nominees, but wasn't yet the nominee. And she reached out and she wanted to speak confidentially. She really wanted to tell somebody what had happened to her, she said, but she wasn't ready to go public.

    She understood that that would come at a great personal price, I think. So we spoke off the record. And I stayed in touch with her throughout the summer. And she really struggled with what to do with the story that she had. She said she felt she had a civic duty to tell what had happened to her, but she also again was trying to balance that against the realities of what it would mean for her if she came forward.

    By late August, she had decided she wouldn't come forward, that it wasn't worth it. She said she would be annihilated and it wouldn't matter for the confirmation vote. And that was a calculation that changed in recent days, as information about this confidential letter she had sent to Senator Feinstein began to leak out.

    So she sent a letter to Feinstein detailing this incident and asking that it be kept private. And she says Feinstein honored that request and that's why it didn't come out sooner.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The timeline of what Professor Ford says happened has become more familiar.

    How confident issue that it was definitely Brett Kavanaugh? Did you question her about that?

  • Emma Brown:

    I mean, this is something that she's never wavered on.

    She said that she knew him from social interactions before, that her friend group and his friend group had intersected for a time. She was clear that most of her high school career she was — her friends were hanging out with other boys, but she has never voiced any doubt that it was Brett Kavanaugh.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the denial from the other boy, now man who was in the room, Mark Judge, you reached out to him, and his reaction has been what?

  • Emma Brown:

    He declined to comment when I reached him yesterday.

    On Friday, before her name became public, when this was still an anonymous allegation, he flatly denied it. He said Judge Kavanaugh had never as a young man or when he was older engaged in any kind of behavior like that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just to be clear, she took no notes or told no one at the time contemporaneously. Is that right?

  • Emma Brown:

    That's correct.

    She didn't tell anybody for a very long time, in fact. She said she didn't tell anyone in any detail until 2012, when she was in couple therapy with her husband, and she — she talked about it then. Her husband recall on the record that conversation and said he even recalled her using Kavanaugh's last name and voicing concern that he might be elevated someday to the Supreme Court.

    Therapist's notes from that session don't name Kavanaugh, but do show that she talked about an assault from boys — by boys at an elitist school, it said, who went on to become high-ranking numbers of Washington society.

    So there — are those notes. There are notes from the following year and individual therapy session where she reported an attempted rape in her late teens. And so those are the pieces of evidence that we're able to present outside of her own recollection and testimony.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Emma Brown, investigative reporter for The Washington Post, thank you.

  • Emma Brown:

    Thanks.

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