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A riveting, high-stakes exchange of she-said, he-said played out in full view of the world Thursday as Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford traded vastly different versions of their high school days in the summer of 1982, with control of the highest court in the land hanging in the balance.
Under a searing public spotlight, a "terrified" Blasey Ford put a face and a voice to her name as she told her harrowing story of an alleged high-school sexual assault she said she is "100 per cent" certain was committed by Kavanaugh, Donald Trump's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Later in the day, Kavanaugh himself — defiant, at times visibly enraged, other times struggling to hold back tears — refuted Blasey Ford's claims before the Senate Judiciary Committee, excoriating its Democratic members as being complicit in what he called a "national disgrace."
"My family has been destroyed by this," said Kavanaugh, insisting he was not at the gathering at a suburban Maryland home in the summer of 1982 where Blasey Ford has alleged she was forced into a bedroom and sexually assaulted by a man she has "no doubt" was the nominee.
Earlier, without him in the room, 51-year-old Blasey Ford described fearing for her life when Kavanaugh allegedly covered her mouth to stifle her cries for help.
"He began running his hands over my body and grinding into me," she recounted, describing in detail how her drunken assailant struggled to undress her.
"I believed he was going to rape me," she said.
"I tried to yell for help; when I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. This is what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life: it was hard for me to breathe, and I thought Brett was accidentally going to kill me."
And she denied being part of any political conspiracy: "I am an independent person and I am no one's pawn."
Blasey Ford spent the morning detailing her story and ably fielding questions — alternatively from Democrats and from Rachel Mitchell, the Arizona sex-crimes prosecutor tapped by Republicans to query witnesses on their behalf.
Where Blasey Ford was muted and self-effacing, Kavanaugh was by turns defiant and defensive.
"This is a circus," he declared, gesticulating at the Democratic side of the dais as he all but accused them of masterminding a "calculated and orchestrated political hit" — an echo of the sentiments expressed all week by the man who nominated him.
"This confirmation process has become a national disgrace," and the allegations have "totally and permanently destroyed" his family and good name, he added.
"You may defeat me in the final vote, but you'll never get me to quit. Never."
During the morning session, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked Blasey Ford how certain she was that Kavanaugh was her attacker. Without hesitation, she replied: "100 per cent."
Then, when asked about the incident's most indelible moment: the laughter, she said, her voice clear but close to breaking.
"The uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense."
Even GOP-friendly Fox News Channel host Chris Wallace had to acknowledge Blasey Ford's testimony had been "a disaster" for Republicans.
And despite Kavanaugh's fiery opening statement, things didn't get much better when Democrats began pressing him on two issues central to the political battle: whether he would support suspending the hearing to allow an FBI investigation, and whether friend Mark Judge, purportedly a witness to the alleged assault, should have been called to testify.
Kavanaugh refused to answer the latter question directly, and grew frustrated with Leahy's questions about his high school yearbook and its apparent references to excessive drinking and "sexual exploits." Leahy eventually gave up, saying, "We had a filibuster, but not a single answer."
Durbin appeared to corner Kavanaugh on whether he'd support an FBI investigation, leading to an awkward exchange of silence between the two — "I'm telling the truth," the judge shouted repeatedly; "I'm innocent" — before South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham came to his rescue.
Democrats are simply trying to keep the Supreme Court seat open in hopes of winning the White House in two years' time, and don't care if they "destroy" Kavanaugh's life in the process, Graham said.
"This is the most unethical thing I've seen since I've been in politics, and if you really wanted to know the truth, you wouldn't have done what you did to this guy."
Then, to Kavanaugh: "If you're looking for a fair process, you came to the wrong town at the wrong time."
Supreme Court nominations are often hotly contested given the consequences: Kavanaugh's presence there would ensure conservative control of the high court for a generation, and give Trump and Republicans a badly needed win going into the November midterms.
Those elections could also end the narrow Republican majority in the Senate, which would make getting a conservative justice confirmed even more difficult.
The president took to Twitter moments after the hearings ended, backing Kavanaugh and demanding a confirmation vote in the Senate.
"Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats' search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!"
Then there is the question of two other accusers.
Deborah Ramirez alleges the nominee waved his penis in her face at a drunken dorm party during his first year at Yale. And Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Julie Swetnick, has accused Kavanaugh and Judge of spiking drinks at parties where there were "gang rapes" of intoxicated women.