In a day like few others in Senate history, California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford quietly recounted her “100 percent” certainty Thursday that President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. Later, Brett Kavanaugh defiantly testified he was “100 percent certain” he did no such thing.
That left senators to decide whether the long day of testimony tipped their confirmation votes for or against Trump’s nominee in a deeply partisan fight with the future of the high court and possibly control of Congress in the balance.
Showing their own certainty, Republicans quickly scheduled a recommendation vote for this morning in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they hold an 11-10 majority. They’re hoping for a final Senate roll call next week, seating Kavanaugh on the court shortly after the Oct. 1 start of its new term.
In the committee’s packed hearing room for hour upon hour Thursday, both Kavanaugh and Ford said the alleged assault and the storm of controversy that has erupted 36 years later had altered their lives forever and for the worse—perhaps the only thing they agreed on during their separate testimony marked by a stark contrast of tone and substance.
Ford recounted for the senators and a nationwide TV audience her long-held secret of the alleged assault in a room at a gathering of friends when she was just 15. The memory—and Kavanaugh’s laughter during the act—was “locked” in her brain, she said. Ford delivered her testimony with deliberate certitude, though admitting gaps in her memory as she choked back tears at some points and said she “believed he was going to rape me.”
Hours later, Kavanaugh entered the hearing room fuming. He angrily denied her allegation, alternating a loud, defiant tone with near tears of his own, particularly when discussing his family. He decried his confirmation opposition as a “national disgrace.” He interrupted senators and dismissed some questions with a flippant “whatever.”
“You have replaced ‘advice and consent’ with ‘search and destroy,’” he said, referring to the Constitution’s charge to senators’ duties in confirming high officials.
Democrats pressed the judge to call for an FBI investigation into the claims, but he would say only, “I welcome whatever the committee wants to do.”
Republicans are concerned, among other reasons, that further investigations could push a vote past the November elections that could switch Senate control back to the Democrats and make consideration of any Trump nominee more difficult.
Trump made his feelings newly clear that he was sticking by his choice.
“His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting,” the president tweeted. “The Senate must vote!”
Trump nominated the conservative jurist in what was supposed to be an election year capstone to the GOP agenda, locking in the court’s majority for years to come. Instead Kavanaugh has seemed in peril and faced Thursday’s Senate hearing amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct at the top of powerful institutions.
The day opened with Ford, now a 51-year-old college professor in California, raising her right hand to swear under oath about the allegations she said she never expected to share publicly until they leaked in the media two weeks ago and reporters started staking out her home and workplace.
As Anita Hill did 27 years ago when she alleged sexual misconduct by Clarence Thomas, the mom of two testified before a committee with only male senators on the Republican side of the dais.
The psychology professor described what she says was a harrowing assault in the summer of 1982: How an inebriated Kavanaugh and another teen, Mark Judge, locked her in a room at a house party as Kavanaugh was grinding and groping her. She said he put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams. Judge has said he does not recall the incident.
When the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, asked Ford how she could be sure that Kavanaugh was the attacker, Ford said, “The same way I’m sure I’m talking to you right now.” Later, she said her certainty was “100 percent.”
Her strongest memory of the alleged incident, Ford said, was the two boys’ laughter.
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” said Ford, who is a research psychologist, “the uproarious laughter between the two.”
Republican strategists were privately hand-wringing after Ford’s testimony. The GOP special counsel Rachel Mitchell, a Phoenix sex crimes prosecutor, who Republicans had hired to avoid the optics of their all-male lineup questioning Ford, left Republicans disappointed.
Mitchell’s attempt to draw out a counter-narrative—mainly that Ford was coordinating with Democrats—was disrupted by the panel’s decision to allow alternating five-minute rounds of questions from Democratic senators.
During a lunch break, even typically talkative GOP senators on the panel were without words.
John Kennedy of Louisiana said he had no comment. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said he was “just listening.”
Then Kavanaugh strode into the committee room, arranged his nameplate, and with anger on his face started to testify with a statement he said he had shown only one other person.
“My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed,” he said.
He lashed out over the time it took the committee to convene the hearing after Ford’s allegations emerged, singling out the Democrats for “unleashing” forces against him. He mocked Ford’s allegations—and several others since—that have accused him of sexual impropriety.
Even if senators vote down his confirmation, he said, “you’ll never get me to quit.”
Kavanaugh, who has two daughters, said one of his girls said they should “pray for the woman” making the allegations against him, referring to Ford. “That’s a lot of wisdom from a 10-year-old,” he said choking up. “We mean no ill will.”
The judge repeatedly refused to answer senators’ questions about the hard-party atmosphere that has been described from his peer group at Georgetown Prep and Yale, treating them dismissively.
“Sometimes I had too many beers,” he acknowledged. “I liked beer. I still like beer. But I never drank beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone.”
When Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., pressed if he ever drank so much he blacked out, he replied, “Have you?” After a break in the proceedings, he came back and apologized to Klobuchar. She said her father was an alcoholic.
Behind him in the audience as he testified, his wife, Ashley, sat looking stricken.
Republicans who had been scheduled to vote as soon as today at the committee—and early next week in the full Senate—alternated between their own anger and frustration at the allegations and the process.
“You’re right to be angry,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, his voice rising in anger, called the hearing the “most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.”
TOWN OF BELOIT
Construction on Alliant Energy’s new natural-gas-fueled power plant has reached the halfway mark, and the plant is expected to save consumers money when it becomes fully operational in 2020.
Bob Newell, the plant’s project manager, said during a press event Thursday morning that construction on the West Riverside Energy Center is “right on schedule.”
The 730-megawatt natural-gas-fueled plant will sprawl across a 315-acre parcel in the town of Beloit. It will be part of Alliant’s Rock River Energy Campus that includes the Rock River Generating Station and Beloit South Area Operations Center.
Alliant plans to have its natural gas facility operating commercially by the end of 2019, Newell said. The company will construct a four- to five-megawatt solar garden next to the facility by summer 2020.
By burning natural gas instead of coal, the plant will emit half the amount of carbon dioxide, Newell said. It will emit about two-thirds less nitrogen and almost eliminate sulfur and mercury emissions, he said.
Energy produced by the solar garden will offset auxiliary power to the natural gas facility, meaning most of the power generated will go to consumers, Newell said.
Alliant originally planned for a one- to two-megawatt solar garden, but it was able to increase that because costs for solar energy equipment have decreased, Newell said.
The company will invest $10 million of the project’s $700 million price tag into solar energy, he said.
In a 2016 story in The Gazette, Alliant representatives estimated the plant would serve 535,000 homes and employ 20 full-time workers.
Newell said Thursday the plant will serve 550,000 homes and employ 25 people full time.
Alliant Energy customers likely will save money with the new plant because the price of natural gas is lower than the price of coal, and production will be twice as efficient, Newell said.
The company in May announced a rate freeze for Wisconsin customers that will last through 2020, when the plant is expected to be finished, according to a news release.
The plant will generate $3 million annually in utility shared revenue for the town and Rock County, according to the release.
Under the sharing agreement, the county receives two-thirds of the revenue from Alliant’s existing plant and the town receives one-third.
If the state’s Incorporation Review Board and voters approve a petition to allow the town to incorporate as the village of Riverside, the revenue sharing arrangement would flip, with two-thirds going to the village and one-third to the county, The Gazette has reported.
Shared revenue has been a contentious talking point, and the Rock County Board and city of Beloit have both opposed the town’s potential incorporation.
Alliant representatives said Thursday that they will not get involved in the debate over shared revenue.
Albert Wesley Astin
Joan M. Demrow
Karen L. Lackey
Donna K. Louison
Kathleen F. Oium
The case against a Janesville teenager accused of sexual assaulting a girl—an assault he and another teen are accused of recording and posting on social media—has been dropped.
The case can’t go forward because the girl has died, Assistant District Attorney Gwanny Tjoa told Judge Karl Hanson in Rock County Court on Thursday.
“Without her testimony, we don’t have much of a case,” Tjoa said.
“I’m certainly very sorry to hear that,” Hanson replied.
“I was surprised and sorry, too, judge,” Tjoa said.
The girl’s death remains under investigation. Police said there was no indication of anything suspicious, but they can’t say what the cause was before receiving final autopsy results, which could take many weeks.
Accused in the case was Jwan J. Lamon, 17, of 2225 Garden Drive, Janesville.
As part of a plea agreement, Lamon pleaded guilty Thursday to party to theft of a firearm and three bail-jumping charges, all felonies.
Dismissed were related charges of possession of a firearm by an adjudicated delinquent, obstructing an officer and disorderly conduct with a weapon.
The theft occurred April 6, in the same incident from which the charge of sexual assault of a child under the age of 16 arose.
Lamon ordered the girl to engage in the acts with him and another boy, and he threatened to kill her and her family if she didn’t do it, according to a search warrant affidavit.
The teens were visiting the girl at her home the morning of April 6 when the assaults took place and when they took the guns, according to court documents.
Lamon and a juvenile accomplice were seen running through yards on the city’s east side with two long guns, which led to a lockdown of Craig High School.
Also dismissed were domestic violence charges of strangulation/suffocation and disorderly conduct from an incident Aug. 13 and six bail-jumping charges from bond violations in various cases.
Tjoa said he would have had difficulty proving the domestic abuse charges because the victim had threatened Lamon with a knife and pepper spray.
Hanson went along with the plea agreement, sentencing Lamon to five years of probation.
Tjoa said the sentence protects the public and noted these are Lamon’s first adult convictions.
Lamon has a juvenile record and served time at the state juvenile prison at Lincoln Hills, Tjoa said.
On probation, a corrections agent will watch him closely, and Lamon would likely go to prison if he violates the rules of probation, Tjoa said.
Defense attorney Josh Klaff noted Lamon turned 17 in May.
“I think of when I was 17, how much of the actions I wasn’t proud of, how much of that (was due to) just a lack of maturity,” Klaff said.
Lamon has spent 95 days in jail, missed the birth of his child and as a result has shown signs of maturing, Klaff said.
Lamon has great incentive to change his life because he faces 12 years in prison if his probation is revoked, Klaff said.
“We’re hopeful he leaves probation at the age of 23 being much more mature and law-abiding and a good father and hopefully either in school or a successful start to a career,” Klaff said.
Hanson ordered that Lamon get a high school diploma, and he noted Lamon’s anger problems.
“If you don’t get a handle on these issues, this life of wearing orange, this is likely the path you’re going down,” Hanson said.
“As an incredibly young man, you have a family starting, and that should be your positive motivation,” Hanson said. “You need to do your best to provide for your family, and you need to do your best to be there for your family. That’s part of what being a man is.”