An angry, defiant and openly emotional Brett Kavanaugh, facing the job interview of a lifetime, complained bitterly Thursday that his name and family "have been totally and permanently destroyed" by allegations of sexual assault that imperil his nomination to the Supreme Court.
After hearing Christine Blasey Ford say his alleged actions "have damaged my life," Kavanaugh professed his innocence to the Senate Judiciary Committee in a tense session playing out before a watchful president and a nation sitting in judgment.
“I will not be intimidated from withdrawing from this process," he said in defiant tones. "You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never.”
“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” Kavanaugh railed. "You have replaced advise and consent with search and destroy."
“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit” in response to President Donald Trump's election in 2016, he said. He called it "revenge on behalf of the Clintons," a reference to his work investigating President Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment.
"This is a circus!" he shouted, calling it a "grotesque, coordinated character assassination." He warned that "the consequences will extend long past my nomination."
Kavanaugh may have been aware that Trump, who nominated him 2½ months ago for the seat vacated by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, was watching on Air Force One as he returned from the United Nations. At any time, Trump can choose to withdraw the nomination and start over.
"I am here this morning to answer these allegations and to tell the truth," Kavanaugh said in prepared testimony. "And the truth is that I have never sexually assaulted anyone – not in high school, not in college, not ever."
Kavanaugh came to the hearing having survived six FBI background investigations and more than 34 hours of previous sworn testimony. He submitted 17,000 pages of judicial opinions, speeches and writings and answered more than 1,200 written questions. Nearly 300,000 pages of documents from his White House years were reviewed. And in recent days, he was interviewed three times by the committee's staff.
None of that compared to the onslaught that was to come Thursday afternoon.
From the Democratic side of the panel, five former prosecutors and five other opponents of his nomination stared down, having just heard Ford – a "terrified" California college professor – say she was "100%" certain that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a suburban Maryland home in the summer of 1982.
Neither that accusation nor two others since made by other women were mentioned during the four-day hearing Kavanaugh endured earlier this month, at which he repeatedly referred to his battered copy of the Constitution.
From the law to sex, booze
The 53-year-old federal appeals court judge had survived Democrats' attacks about his views on presidential power, abortion, gun control and other issues by citing Supreme Court precedent, refusing to answer hypothetical questions, and steering clear of politics.
Instead, he answered the questions he wanted to hear rather than the ones actually asked, prompting the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to remark, "You're learning to filibuster."
He would not get that chance Thursday as senators prepared five-minute rounds of questions on topics including the judge's sex life and drinking habits. In prepared testimony, he acknowledged sometimes drinking "too many" beers during high school and doing things "that make me cringe now."
But that stopped short of sexual assault, Kavanaugh insisted.
"I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation against me by Dr. Ford," he said in his prepared remarks. "I never had any sexual or physical encounter of any kind with Dr. Ford.
"I am not questioning that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time. But I have never done that to her or to anyone. I am innocent of this charge."
Democrats were not convinced. Feinstein said the allegations against Kavanaugh have raised “a real question of character for someone who is asking for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.”
That character came into question earlier in the day, when Ford was asked what she remembered most about the alleged attack.
Rather than what she called an attempted rape or the fear that Kavanaugh's hand over her mouth could accidentally kill her, she cited "the laughter" on the part of Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, "and their having fun at my expense."
Kavanaugh had been on the verge of confirmation to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court when Ford's accusation came to light nearly two weeks ago. Since then, Deborah Ramirez accused him of exposing himself during a Yale University drinking game when they were both freshmen, and Julie Swetnick said he regularly engaged "in abusive behavior" toward girls in high school.
Kavanaugh sought to address all the accusations in his prepared testimony.
"Over the past few days, other false and uncorroborated accusations have been aired," he said. "There has been a frenzy to come up with something – anything, no matter how far-fetched or odious – that will block a vote on my nomination. These are last-minute smears, pure and simple."
For a high court that does not allow cameras and prides itself on remaining above the political fray, the Kavanaugh nomination is a public relations disaster.
As the remaining eight justices privately granted five more cases Thursday for the term that begins next Monday, the potential ninth justice was on national TV addressing deeply personal issues. Earlier in the week, he had touted his high school virginity and showcased his summer 1982 calendar featuring "BEACH WEEK" and ballgames.
Kavanaugh almost broke down in talking about that calendar, a habit he said he picked up from his father. He listed only a few weekend nights when he was in the Washington area and said they were all spoken for.
“Let me emphasize this point: If the party described by Dr Ford happened in the summer of 1982 on a weekend night, my calendar shows almost definitively that I was not there.”
After nominating Kavanaugh, with his wife and two young daughters at his side, in the East Room of the White House on July 9, Trump has stood steadfastly behind him. That continued Wednesday during an 80-minute news conference at the United Nations, where the president said he would be watching Thursday's hearing.
But he left himself an escape route. Kavanaugh's accusers "are going to have a big shot at making their case, and you know what? I could be persuaded also," Trump said. "Hopefully, I won't have to pick a replacement."
The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a meeting Friday to take up Kavanaugh's nomination but that could be postponed if senators are not prepared to vote. If they go forward, Republican leaders have said they may bring Kavanaugh's nomination to a vote in the full Senate by early next week.