Christine Blasey Ford confided this summer in two friends that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school. Now, the psychology professor, mother of two, Democrat and surfer has become the focus of a national political drama.
PALO ALTO, Calif. — The fog was just lifting at Capitola Beach one morning in July when Christine Blasey Ford confided in two friends. She had written her congresswoman and anonymously tipped off The Washington Post with her story, claiming Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when both were in high school.
But she was worried that her name would come out. She was bracing for an avalanche of attacks and searching her memory for anyone, anything, that could validate her story.
“I’ve been trying to forget this all my life, and now I’m supposed to remember every little detail,” one of those friends, Jim Gensheimer, recalled Ford’s saying that day while watching her kids participate in a Junior Lifeguard program. “They’re going to be all over me.”
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Now, literally overnight, the 51-year-old Palo Alto University psychology professor, mother of two sons, registered Democrat and avid surfer has become the intense focus of a nation gripped by a political drama over the future of the Supreme Court.
#MeToo survivors and advocates have called her a hero for stepping into the white-hot spotlight and attaching her name, face and reputation to her story. While many Republicans, including President Donald Trump, said Monday they want to hear Ford out, many conservatives on social media attacked her as an anti-Trump liberal activist whose motivations and biases are as suspicious as her Northern California address.
Some of her closest friends on Monday said Ford — whose maiden name is pronounced BLAH-zee — is ready to stand up to her most important inquisitors: the senators who had been on the verge of confirming Kavanaugh just days ago. Republicans said Monday they will bring Ford and Kavanaugh to Capitol Hill next week to testify.
“I can’t really think of anyone better” to endure the grueling questions she is sure to face, said Rebecca White, one of Ford’s neighbors and a good friend. “She’s one of those people who teems with honesty and truth. She’s just that person.”
In an interview Monday, White said that Ford had told her about the alleged assault — without naming Kavanaugh — in late 2017 during the height of the #MeToo movement and long before Kavanaugh was a Supreme Court nominee.
Last year, White had added her own #MeToo story about being raped as a teenager to a Facebook post.
“She reached out to me afterward, supporting me and my story and that she had something happen to her when she was really young and that the guy was a federal judge,” White said. “She said she had been assaulted. She said hers had been violent as well, physically scary, fighting for her life.”
It’s been difficult for Ford over the years, she told White, because the judge’s name would come up as “a super powerful guy and he might be a contender for a Supreme Court position one day.”
Ford was reluctant for months to come forward publicly, but in the past two days has joined the likes of Anita Hill, another professor whose allegations of bad behavior against then-nominee Clarence Thomas transfixed the nation.
After rumors swirled about her allegation for days, Ford revealed her identity and told her story in an exclusive interview posted Sunday by The Washington Post. Ford alleges that at a high-school party more than 30 years ago, Kavanaugh was “stumbling drunk,” pushed her down on a bed, groped her and attempted to assault her. He put his hand over her mouth as she screamed, she says. At the time, she was a 15-year-old student at the all-girls Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland, she says, and Kavanaugh was a 17-year-old at Georgetown Prep. Kavanaugh strongly denies that the incident took place.
Knowing her credibility would be questioned, Ford took and passed a lie-detector test about the incident, her lawyer Debra Katz says. She also retrieved notes from a therapist, with whom she spoke about it during couples therapy in 2012.
On Monday, a group of 15 of Ford’s friends in Palo Alto, many working mothers like herself, formed a texting group to support her coming forward.
“She’s got a strong group of women who are standing by her and would do anything for her,” said Bethany Kay, 44, a CPA for a tech company.
Kirsten Leimroth, whose daughters are also part of the Junior Lifeguard program, was with Ford and Gensheimer that day at the beachside restaurant when Ford worried about her name being revealed. She had told Leimroth well before the July lunch that she had been “almost raped by a high-school acquaintance,” but doesn’t remember exactly when that first conversation happened. The suggestion that Ford would make it up as a political ploy is “preposterous,” Leimroth said.
“There’s absolutely no way it’s made up. She can’t even go home,” Leimroth said in an interview Monday night. “She had to have her kids stay somewhere else. She had to shut down all social media. Why would she do that?”
Ford debated whether to come forward, Leimroth said, worried that because the attack wasn’t an “actual rape it’s not going to do any good. He’s going to go through,” she said referring to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. “Do I want to put myself through this?”
“As far as I know she was up and down about whether she was going to go public with her name, but her husband encouraged her, that he was fine with it, too, and she should do it,” Leimroth said.
Leimroth also took issue with comments from former independent counsel Ken Starr, who suggested to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday evening that the allegations against Kavanaugh — Starr’s former staff member in the Clinton impeachment probe — were so out of character that it might be a case of mistaken identity. “I’m not accusing her of false identification,” Starr said, “Mistaken identification happens every day.”
Leimroth said she is convinced Ford didn’t mistake Kavanaugh. The two families traveled in the same social circles, Leimroth said, and the alleged incident at the party “wasn’t her first time meeting him.”
Ford grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the daughter of “Bush-conservative” parents, said Gensheimer, a former photographer with the Bay Area News Group, who befriended Ford when their kids were training as junior lifeguards.
Her “claim to fame” as a teenager on the local diving team, she told Gensheimer, was escorting diver Greg Louganis to the White House in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter invited Olympians to discuss the boycott of the Moscow Games.
She told Gensheimer that she struggled academically late in high school and early in college before pulling herself together and going on to become a psychology professor at Palo Alto University and the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, a consortium with Stanford University. She earned a psychology undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, master’s degrees at Pepperdine and Stanford and a Ph.D. in educational psychology at the University of Southern California, according to her LinkedIn page.
She and her husband, Russell Ford, an engineer, and their two teenage sons are all surfers.
The family spends a lot of time at a Santa Cruz beach house and owns a one-story Eichler-style home in Palo Alto that Ford’s husband extensively remodeled himself, including raising the roof and adding square footage.
“Her husband is a quiet guy, warm but quiet,” said White, whose son has carpooled to school with the Fords. “She’s outgoing, liberal, kind, chitchats a lot, really supportive of her kids’ sports team, goes to everything, she and her husband. She’s really into her job as an educator.”
The family eats organically, she said, and drive hybrids that they plug into a charging station in their driveway — near the basketball hoop that’s in frequent use by the boys and their friends. They are “modest people,” White said.
Ford participated in a local Women’s March protesting Trump last year, she said. A month later at the March for Science, she wore a pink-yarned “brain hat,” Gensheimer said.
That Ford has aligned herself with liberal causes will add tension to her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, White said. “I worry about that, and I wonder if she does, too,” she added.
On Sunday, Republicans had amassed a list of 65 women who knew Kavanaugh in high school supporting his character. On Monday, fellow alumnae from Ford’s high school Holton-Arms, including actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, circulated a letter supporting her.
Gensheimer said he became friends with Ford about eight years ago.
While the two shared career and family advice over the years, Ford also confided in him twice this summer about whether and how to tell her story, he said.
They were on the beach when she first told him about having sent a letter about the alleged assault to her congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, and that she had left an anonymous tip on a Washington Post hotline. A few days later when they met again with another parent at a Capitola restaurant overlooking the beach, Ford said she worried that, if her name came out, Kavanaugh supporters would try to assassinate her character, and her life would be upended.
“She started having second thoughts,” Gensheimer said, “like, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ ”
He can’t help but think back to a day the two were watching their young lifeguard trainees muster up the courage for a midseason ritual: jumping off the end of the pier into the Pacific Ocean.
“I want to jump off the pier,” she told Gensheimer. “Why can’t we jump off the pier?”
This week, in the turbulent waters of Washington, it looks like she’s taking the plunge.