Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats from Illinois, accepted a letter signed by more than 1,400 men and women in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on Wednesday, one day before she was slated to testify about her allegation of sexual assault that she brought against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Ford, a 51-year-old clinical psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, came forward on Sept. 17 to accuse Kavanaugh of assault at a Maryland party when they were in high school in the 1980s. She told The Washington Post that he pinned her to a bed, tried to remove her clothing and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream - claims that he denied several times, including in an interview on Fox News.
Ford's allegation sparked controversy amid the nomination process, with a contentious back-and-forth on scheduling testimony and protesters filling the Capitol in an attempt to influence senators' votes. Ford called for the FBI to investigate her claims, a request that Republican lawmakers have so far refused.
In a news conference Wednesday, Durbin and Duckworth accepted the letter, which was signed by more than 1,400 alumni, students and members of D.C.-area schools, including Kavanaugh and Ford's alma maters, to show support and solidarity for Ford.
"We are women and men who grew up in the same world as both you and Brett Kavanaugh - in Chevy Chase, Bethesda, and Northwest DC. We attended the same elite private schools, country clubs, and churches. And we believe you," the letter to Ford reads.
"Each one of us heard your story and not one of us was surprised. These are the stories of our lives and our friends’ lives. We know the terrible impact of sexual assault, coercive behavior, and harassment that pervaded the culture of our youth and continues today. And we understand why girls and women often do not report their attackers because of the fear of being disbelieved, shamed, and ostracized."
"Nor will we be surprised by the ugliness that will likely come next as your character and your memories are attacked and belittled," it continues, ending with, "We stand with you. We are humbled by your bravery. We will not allow you to be silenced."
"Dr. Blasey Ford had every reason to stay silent to avoid harassment and death threats. And she has shown that she has nothing to hide by calling for a nonpartisan, FBI investigation and sworn testimony from other witnesses," Durbin said in a statement.
"On the other hand, Judge Kavanaugh, in his Fox News interview, repeated time and time again that he wants a ‘fair process.' But Republicans have blocked an FBI investigation and refuse to call other witnesses. As Senator McConnell promised, they’re trying to ‘plow right through’ to confirm President Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court," he continued, adding, “Today, we’re hearing another perspective – women and men who grew up in Dr. Blasey Ford’s community, who believe her, and who are asking us to listen to her and respect her. I hope and pray that the United States Senate will heed their words."
Since Ford publicly shared her allegations, two other women came forward with similar claims: Yale University classmate Deborah Ramirez, who on Sunday told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while the two were in college, and Julie Swetnick, who said in a written statement Wednesday that she was the victim of a "gang rape" attack at a party in high school.
NBC News has not independently verified the accusations, which Kavanaugh has repeatedly forcefully denied.
"This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone," Kavanaugh said in a statement about Swetnick's allegations. "I don't know who this is and this never happened."
He and Ford were slated to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, with Kavanaugh's prepared testimony calling the allegations "last-minute smears" amid a "frenzy to come up with something - anything, no matter how far-fetched or odious - that will block a vote on my nomination."
All 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote to President Donald Trump that Kavanaugh should withdraw from consideration or be withdrawn in light of the accusation. Duckworth was among those calling for an investigation by the FBI.
“Courage. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick and their decisions to come forward,” Duckworth said in a statment.
“In the military, we learned that many survivors of sexual trauma did not come forward for decades because they were afraid of retaliation – and they did not come forward until the Pentagon instituted an anonymous reporting process. These survivors deserve our respect and for the FBI to immediately look into their accusations," she added.
"They didn’t ask for this burden. They didn’t want this spotlight—or the death threats and fear that have come right along with it. But they’ve spoken out anyway, knowing full well that some would vilify them for doing so or try to bully them into silence – including many Senate Republicans and the President of the United States."