Kavanaugh accuser set to testify where and when remains a big question
WASHINGTON (AP) — Brett Kavanaugh and the woman accusing him of a decades-old sexual assault both indicated Monday they would be willing to testify to a Senate panel as the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee shifted from seemingly painless to problematic.
However, top Republicans seemed to be trying to limit any new testimony by Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, to telephone interviews. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said he was trying to arrange to hear Ford in “an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner.”
Kavanaugh was seen arriving at the White House, with no immediate reason given, while all 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote to Grassley asking him to postpone a scheduled Thursday vote on the nominee to give the FBI more time to investigate.
Democrats and some Republican senators have expressed concern over Ford’s private-turned-public accusation that a drunken Kavanaugh groped her and tried to take off her clothes at a party when both were teenagers at high schools in suburban Maryland.
Kavanaugh released a new statement calling the allegation “completely false” and saying he “had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself” on Sunday to The Washington Post.
“I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity,” Kavanaugh said.
Debra S. Katz, the attorney for the accuser, said Ford was willing to tell her story publicly to the Judiciary panel but no lawmakers had yet contacted her. Katz denied that Ford, a Democrat, was politically motivated.
“She believes that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped,” Katz told NBC’s “Today.” Explaining Ford’s initial reluctance to come forward, Katz said, “No one in their right mind regardless of their motives would want to inject themselves into this process and face the kind of violation that she will be subjected to by those who want this nominee to go though.”
Currently a judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, widely viewed as the nation’s second most powerful court, Kavanaugh seemed to be on a smooth confirmation track until the new allegation emerged.
Kavanaugh, 53, “categorically and unequivocally” denied the allegation when it came out anonymously last week.
“This has not changed,” said White House spokesman Kerri Kupec on Monday. “Judge Kavanaugh and the White House both stand by that statement.”
Still, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said of Ford: “She should not be insulted. She should not be ignored. She should testify under oath, and she should do it on Capitol Hill.”
Conway, who said she had discussed the situation with Trump, said both Ford and Kavanaugh should testify, but made clear it was up to the Judiciary Committee. She said Sen. Lindsey Graham had told her it could happen as soon as Tuesday and the White House will “respect the process.”
Stressing that Kavanaugh had already testified and undergone FBI background checks, Conway said: “I think you have to weigh this testimonial evidence from Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh along with the considerable body of evidence that is already there about the judge’s temperament and qualifications and character.”
Initially the sexual misconduct allegation was conveyed in a private letter, without revealing Ford’s name. With a name and disturbing details, the accusation raised the prospect of congressional Republicans defending Trump’s nominee ahead of midterm elections featuring an unprecedented number of female candidates and informed in part by the #MeToo movement.
Ford said Kavanaugh and a friend — both “stumbling drunk,” she says — corralled her in a bedroom at a Maryland party in the early 1980s when she was around 15 and Kavanaugh was around 17. She says Kavanaugh groped her over her clothes, grinded his body against hers and tried to take off her one-piece swimsuit and the outfit she wore over it. Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand when she tried to scream, she says, and she escaped when the friend, Mark Judge, jumped on them.
Kavanaugh attended a private school for boys in Maryland while Ford attended a nearby school.
A split over the nomination seemed to be emerging among the GOP.
Two committee Republicans — all on the GOP side are men — Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said they wanted to hear more from Ford. Flake went as far as to say he was “not comfortable” voting for Kavanaugh for the time being.
A potential “no” vote from Flake would complicate the judge’s prospects because Republicans control the committee by just 11-10.
A Republican not on the committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, said the vote should be postponed until the committee heard from Ford. GOP Maine Sen. Susan Collins tweeted that she wanted Kavanaugh and Ford to both testify under oath to the committee, but when she was contacted Sunday by CNN she wouldn’t say if the vote should be postponed.
Grassley said that so far, the Judiciary committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, has refused to help schedule telephone interviews. A committee spokesman had said Sunday that Grassley was trying to arrange those phone calls but only for aides to Grassley and Feinstein before Thursday’s scheduled vote.
The allegation against Kavanaugh first came to light late last week in the form of a letter that had been for some time in the possession of Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee and one of its four female members. On Sunday, the Post published an interview with Ford.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” said Ford, 51, a clinical psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”
In the interview, Ford says she didn’t reveal what had happened until 2012, when she and her husband sought couples therapy. Ford’s husband, Russell Ford, said he recalled his wife using Kavanaugh’s last name and expressing concern that Kavanaugh — then a federal judge — might someday be nominated to the Supreme Court.
Grassley could invite Ford to testify, likely in closed session before Thursday. Kavanaugh would also probably be asked to appear before senators. The panel would also likely seek testimony from Judge, Kavanaugh’s friend and classmate who Ford says jumped on top of her. Judge has denied that the incident happened.
With Republicans narrowly controlling the Senate 51-49, the views of Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska would be key.
Both are under enormous pressure from outside groups who want them to oppose Kavanaugh on grounds that as a justice he could vote to undercut the Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion.