Conflicting, Emotional Testimony Rivets Senate and Nation Alike

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WASHINGTON—Back-to-back appearances by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused him of sexual assault, riveted the Capitol Thursday in a day of angry, often personal exchanges, one-sided prosecution and emotional testimony.

Judge Kavanaugh, who appeared after Dr. Ford, swerved between teary references to his family and fiery lambasting of Democrats for demanding an investigation into the late-surfacing allegations against him in a nearly hourlong opening defense. He maintained his defiant tone during questioning, on occasion interrupting senators to turn their questions back on them.

Dr. Ford alleges that when they were teenagers in the early 1980s, Mr. Kavanaugh and a friend, Mark Judge, pulled her into a room where Mr. Kavanaugh groped her and tried to remove her clothes. Mr. Kavanaugh denies the allegations and Mr. Judge has said he has no recollection of the party.

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups,” Mr. Kavanaugh said.

He choked up several times during his remarks, as had Dr. Ford when she spoke earlier. A psychology professor, Dr. Ford used a mix of clinical and emotional terms to describe the effect the alleged assault had on her life.

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two and their having fun at my expense,” Dr. Ford said, referring to her account of Messrs. Kavanaugh and Judge jumping on her and pinning her to the bed.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexual assault, Thursday testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Here are some key moments. Photo: Getty Images.

Dr. Ford said she first divulged details of the alleged assault to her husband in couples therapy in 2012, after they disagreed over whether to build a second front door to their home. She insisted on it, she said, because the incident as a teenager left her so anxious and claustrophobic.

“Our house does not look aesthetically pleasing from the curb,” she noted dryly.

Dr. Ford also fleshed out another alleged encounter, describing Mr. Judge’s reaction when she bumped into him at a grocery store six to eight weeks after the alleged assault. “I said hello to him, and his face was white and very uncomfortable saying hello back,” she said.

The hearing’s asymmetrical structure contributed to its extraordinary nature. Republicans, eager to avoid the spectacle of 11 GOP men interrogating Dr. Ford, hired an outside counsel, Rachel Mitchell, a sex-crimes prosecutor from Arizona, to question her. Democratic senators questioned her themselves.

As the two sides alternated questions, Ms. Mitchell’s calm, methodical questions were interspersed with Democrats’ broader, more impassioned political remarks.

Lawmakers on both sides acknowledged the cumbersomeness of the arrangement. “That is a little awkward—I wish we’d figured out something else,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas).

Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) praised Ms. Mitchell’s professional approach but agreed the structure wasn’t ideal. “It does lead to the odd visual of a whole group of senators sitting in silence while someone they’ve hired to question for them is questioning,” Mr. Coons said.

Once Judge Kavanaugh took the stand, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) gave a speech angrily attacking his Democratic colleagues, and other Republicans began questioning the nominee themselves.

His comments were striking in a chamber that has long valued decorum and collegiality. “What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold his seat open, and hope you win in 2020,” Sen. Graham said.

That accusation of an intentional delay echoed the frustration many Democrats voiced at the fate of Judge Merrick Garland, whom Senate Republicans refused to consider after President Barack Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court in March 2016. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), Democrats say, improperly held the seat open until a Republican won the White House in November of that year.

As many questions focused on Judge Kavanaugh’s high-school behavior, the subjects veered from alcohol to virginity to flatulence. Several senators pressed the nominee on how much he drank and whether he ever blacked out.

“Sometimes I had too many beers. I liked beer. I still like beer,” Mr. Kavanaugh said. “But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone.” Judge Kavanaugh did say he had at times fallen asleep after drinking.

When Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) pressed him on whether he had ever blacked out or had a drinking problem, he said no, before flipping the question back on her and asking if she had done so. When the panel reconvened after a break, he apologized.

“I’m sorry I did that—tough process,” he said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) took Judge Kavanaugh through several entries from his high-school yearbook, including one the judge, who admitted some of his entries made him cringe, said referred to flatulence. “We were 16,” he said. “If you want to talk about flatulence at age 16 in a yearbook, I’m game.”

At least one viewer, President Trump, who watched the hearing from the White House residence, was pleased by the nominee’s performance. “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting,” Mr. Trump tweeted Thursday night.

GOP Senators held a closed-doors meeting Thursday night, where Mr. Grassley received a standing ovation from fellow Republicans and Mr. Graham got applause, senators said.

A group of Justice Department and White House officials watched the hearing from a “war room” in the Senate’s Dirksen Office Building. A few teared up when Judge Kavanaugh wept and struggled to keep his composure, the official said.

“I knew he would be more fired up. I didn’t expect this,” the official said.

The official described Judge Kavanaugh’s performance as a “game-changer.” Reasonable people could find both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh sincere, he said, but she failed to produce any corroboration.

During Thursday’s Senate hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) speaks out to defend Brett Kavanaugh. Photo: Getty

The emotion inside the hearing room was matched by that outside, as hundreds of people poured into Senate office buildings to support Dr. Ford, while a smaller number came to demonstrate on Judge Kavanaugh’s behalf. Capitol Police arrested 57 people who blocked traffic in front of the Supreme Court.

Capitol Police tightly restricted access to the floor where the hearing room took place, sending people to an overflow room on another level and allowing only a small number of ticketed guests into the room. Threats leveled against Dr. Ford, Judge Kavanaugh, and members of the Judiciary Committee had prompted the committee to move the hearing into a smaller room.

Among those inside was Kate Chlopak, a senior at Holton Arms, the Maryland all-girls school that Dr. Ford was attending when she alleges Kavanaugh assaulted her. “It was not like anything I’ve ever done before,” said Ms. Chlopak, 17. “When Dr. Ford walked in the whole room just kind of got quiet and it was just amazing to be there.”

At a rally on behalf of Judge Kavanaugh before the hearing, several people decried the confirmation process. “What we’re seeing right now is just a circus,” said Jenny Beth Martin, the co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. “Anonymous allegations with no return address, with no way to even verify it, are popping up and making the news.”

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com and Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com

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