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California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies on the first day of his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on Sept. 4 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery / TNS)

Earlier this summer, Christine Blasey Ford wrote a confidential letter to a senior Democratic lawmaker alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago, when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. Since Wednesday, she has watched as that bare-bones version of her story became public without her name or her consent, drawing a blanket denial from Kavanaugh and roiling a nomination that just days ago seemed all but certain to succeed.

Now, Ford has decided that if her story is going to be told, she wants to be the one to tell it.

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Speaking publicly for the first time, Ford said that one summer in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and a friend — both "stumbling drunk," Ford alleges — corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County.

While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.

"I thought he might inadvertently kill me," said Ford, now a 51-year-old research psychologist in Northern California. "He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing."

Ford said she was able to escape when Kavanaugh's friend and classmate at Georgetown Preparatory School, Mark Judge, jumped on top of them, sending all three tumbling. She said she ran from the room, briefly locked herself in a bathroom and then fled the house.

Ford said she told no one of the incident in any detail until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband. The therapist's notes, portions of which were provided by Ford and reviewed by the Washington Post, do not mention Kavanaugh's name but say she reported that she was attacked by students "from an elitist boys' school" who went on to become "highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington." The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist's part. Ford said there were four boys at the party but only two in the room.

Notes from an individual therapy session the following year, when she was being treated for what she says have been long-term effects of the incident, show Ford described a "rape attempt" in her late teens.

In an interview, her husband, Russell Ford, said that in the 2012 sessions, she recounted being trapped in a room with two drunken boys, one of whom pinned her to a bed, molested her and prevented her from screaming. He said he recalled that his wife used Kavanaugh's last name and voiced concern that Kavanaugh — then a federal judge — might one day be nominated to the Supreme Court.

On Sunday, the White House sent the Post a statement Kavanaugh issued last week, when the outlines of Ford's account first became public: "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time."

Through a White House spokesman, Kavanaugh declined to comment further on Ford's allegation and did not respond to questions about whether he knew her during high school. The White House had no additional comment.

Reached by email Sunday, Judge declined to comment. In an interview Friday with the Weekly Standard, before Ford's name was known, he denied that any such incident occurred. "It's just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way," Judge said. He told the New York Times that Kavanaugh was a "brilliant student" who loved sports and was not "into anything crazy or illegal."

Christine Ford is a professor at Palo Alto University who teaches in a consortium with Stanford University, training graduate students in clinical psychology. Her work has been widely published in academic journals.

She contacted the Post through a tip line in early July, when it had become clear that Kavanaugh was on the shortlist of possible nominees to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy but before Trump announced his name publicly. A registered Democrat who has made small contributions to political organizations, she contacted her congresswoman, Democrat Anna G. Eshoo, around the same time. In late July, she sent a letter via Eshoo's office to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

In the letter, which was read to the Post, Ford described the incident and said she expected her story to be kept confidential. She signed the letter as Christine Blasey, the name she uses professionally.

For weeks, Ford declined to speak to the Post on the record as she grappled with concerns about what going public would mean for her and her family — and what she said was her duty as a citizen to tell the story.

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She engaged Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer known for her work on sexual harassment cases. On the advice of Katz, who believed Ford would be attacked as a liar if she came forward, Ford took a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent in early August. The results, which Katz provided to the Post, concluded that Ford was being truthful when she said a statement summarizing her allegations was accurate.

By late August, Ford had decided not to come forward, calculating that doing so would upend her life and probably would not affect Kavanaugh's confirmation. "Why suffer through the annihilation if it's not going to matter?" she said.

Her story leaked anyway. On Wednesday, the Intercept reported that Feinstein had a letter describing an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman while they were in high school, and that Feinstein was refusing to share it with her Democratic colleagues.

Feinstein soon released a statement: "I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court," she wrote. "That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities."

The FBI received a version of the letter with Ford's name redacted, according to a Republican official with knowledge of the letter, and then sent it to the White House to be included in Kavanaugh's background file. The White House sent it to the Senate Judiciary Committee, making it available to all senators.

As pressure grew, the New York Times reported that the incident involved "possible sexual misconduct."

By then, Ford had begun to fear she would be exposed, particularly after a BuzzFeed reporter visited her at her home and tried to speak to her as she was leaving a classroom where she teaches graduate students. Another reporter called her colleagues to ask about her.

On Friday, the New Yorker reported the letter's contents but did not reveal Ford's identity. Soon after, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, released a letter from 65 women who say they knew Kavanaugh when he attended high school from 1979 to 1983 at Georgetown Prep, an all-boys school in North Bethesda.

"Through the more than 35 years we have known him, Brett has stood out for his friendship, character, and integrity," the women wrote. "In particular, he has always treated women with decency and respect. That was true when he was in high school, and it has remained true to this day."

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As the story snowballed, Ford said, she heard people repeating inaccuracies about her and, with the visits from reporters, felt her privacy being chipped away. Her calculation changed.

"These are all the ills that I was trying to avoid," she said, explaining her decision to come forward. "Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation."

Katz said she believes Feinstein honored Ford's request to keep her allegation confidential, but "regrettably others did not."

"Victims must have the right to decide whether to come forward, especially in a political environment that is as ruthless as this one," Katz said. "She will now face vicious attacks by those who support this nominee."

After so many years, Ford said she does not remember some key details of the incident. She said she believes it occurred in the summer of 1982, when she was 15, around the end of her sophomore year at the all-girls Holton-Arms School in Bethesda. Kavanaugh would have been 17 at the end of his junior year at Georgetown Prep.

At the time, Ford said, she knew Kavanaugh and Judge as "friendly acquaintances" in the private-school social circles of suburban Maryland. Her Holton-Arms friends mostly hung out with boys from the Landon School, she said, but for a period of several months socialized regularly with students from Georgetown Prep.

Ford said she does not remember how the gathering came together the night of the incident. She said she often spent time in the summer at the Columbia Country Club pool in Chevy Chase, where in those pre-cellphone days, teenagers learned about gatherings via word of mouth. She also doesn't recall who owned the house or how she got there.

Ford said she remembers that it was in Montgomery County, not far from the country club, and that no parents were home at the time. Ford named two other teenagers who she said were at the party. Those individuals did not respond to messages on Sunday morning.

She said she recalls a small family room where she and a handful of others drank beer together that night. She said that each person had one beer but that Kavanaugh and Judge had started drinking earlier and were heavily intoxicated.

In his senior-class yearbook entry at Georgetown Prep, Kavanaugh made several references to drinking, claiming membership to the "Beach Week Ralph Club" and "Keg City Club." He and Judge are pictured together at the beach in a photo in the yearbook.

Judge is a filmmaker and author who has written for the Daily Caller, the Weekly Standard and the Washington Post. He chronicled his recovery from alcoholism in "Wasted: Tales of a Gen-X Drunk," which described his own blackout drinking and a culture of partying among students at his high school, renamed in the book "Loyola Prep." Kavanaugh is not mentioned in the book, but a passage about partying at the beach one summer makes glancing reference to a "Bart O'Kavanaugh," who "puked in someone's car the other night" and "passed out on his way back from a party."

Through the White House, Kavanaugh did not respond to a question about whether the name was a pseudonym for him.

Ford said she left the family room to use the bathroom, which was at the top of a narrow stairway. She doesn't remember whether Kavanaugh and Judge were behind her or already upstairs, but she remembers being pushed into a bedroom and then onto a bed. Rock 'n' roll music was playing with the volume turned up high, she said.

She alleges that Kavanaugh — who played football and basketball at Georgetown Prep — held her down with the weight of his body and fumbled with her clothes, seemingly hindered by his intoxication. Judge stood across the room, she said, and both boys were laughing "maniacally." She said she yelled, hoping that someone downstairs would hear her over the music, and Kavanaugh clapped his hand over her mouth to silence her.

At one point, she said, Judge jumped on top of them, and she tried unsuccessfully to wriggle free. Then Judge jumped on them again, toppling them, and she broke away, she said.

She said she locked herself in the bathroom and listened until she heard the boys "going down the stairs, hitting the walls." She said that after five or 10 minutes, she unlocked the door and made her way through the living room and outside. She isn't sure how she got home.

Ford said she has not spoken with Kavanaugh since that night. And she told no one at the time what had happened to her. She was terrified, she said, that she would be in trouble if her parents realized she had been at a party where teenagers were drinking, and she worried they might figure it out even if she did not tell them.

"My biggest fear was, do I look like someone just attacked me?" she said. She said she recalled thinking: "I'm not ever telling anyone this. This is nothing, it didn't happen, and he didn't rape me."

Years later, after going through psychotherapy, Ford said, she came to understand the incident as a trauma with lasting impact on her life.

"I think it derailed me substantially for four or five years," she said. She said she struggled academically and socially and was unable to have healthy relationships with men. "I was very ill-equipped to forge those kinds of relationships."

She also said she believes that in the longer term, it contributed to anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms with which she has struggled.

She married her husband in 2002. Early in their relationship, she told him she had been a victim of physical abuse, he said. A decade later, he learned the details of that alleged abuse when the therapist asked her to tell the story, he said.

He said he expects that some people, upon hearing his wife's account, will believe that Kavanaugh's high school behavior has no bearing upon his fitness for the nation's high court. He disagrees.

"I think you look to judges to be the arbiters of right and wrong," Russell Ford said. "If they don't have a moral code of their own to determine right from wrong, then that's a problem. So I think it's relevant. Supreme Court nominees should be held to a higher standard."

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