Christine Blasey Ford, Brett Kavanaugh set for high-stakes Senate showdown
Senate Republicans retreated from plans to have Judge Brett Kavanaugh sitting on the Supreme Court by Oct. 1, and instead said they’ll call him back to Congress to testify next week about allegations of a decades-old attempted sexual assault.
Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor who has now made her allegations public, will also appear — setting up an incredibly high-stakes showdown between Judge Kavanaugh and his accuser, with the Supreme Court vacancy on the line.
“Anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has done deserves to be heard,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said.
He canceled a committee vote that had been slated for Thursday, and instead set the hearing with both Judge Kavanaugh and Ms. Ford for next Monday.
That upsets the GOP’s plans to hold a confirmation vote on the Senate floor early next week, in time to have the judge on the high court in time for the start of the new session the first Monday in October.
President Trump, though, had signaled his willingness to accept a postponement, telling reporters earlier in the day that he wanted everyone to be happy with the process.
“If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay,” Mr. Trump said.
Judge Kavanaugh issued a new denial of the allegations in a statement from the White House Monday. Later in the day a White House spokesman said he’s ready to testify.
“Judge Kavanaugh looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation. He stands ready to testify tomorrow if the Senate is ready to hear him,” said White House spokesman Raj Shah.
The timing of the public release of the allegations — a top Democrat had them since July, but only revealed them last week — has enraged Republicans who say it all seemed fishy. They question whether Democrats themselves dismissed the allegations at first, and wondered why they were coming forward with them now, when other attempts to derail the nomination failed.
Ms. Ford told The Washington Post this weekend that she was accosted at a small party while in high school in the 1980s by someone who attempted to strip her clothes off, and who put his hand over her mouth to silence her. She managed to get away, and didn’t speak about it to anyone until 2012, when it came up in couples therapy with her husband.
She has identified Judge Kavanaugh as the attacker.
The judge, though, said in a statement that he has “never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone.”
“Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday,” he said.
And a senator who spoke with the judge Monday said he denied even being at such a party as Ms. Ford describes.
“If I recall him correctly, he wasn’t even there,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch. “I believe him. He’s a person of immense integrity. I’ve known him for a long time — he’s always been straightforward, honest, truthful, and a very, very decent man.”
The retreat on timing is a victory for Democrats, who are desperate to defeat the nomination and who see delays as an end to that goal. They hope to push the debate into November, where they hope voters turn out against Mr. Trump, delivering control of the Senate to Democrats, who might then squelch the nomination altogether next year.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat and a 2020 presidential hopeful, sent out a fundraising appeal touting Ms. Ford’s allegations as a reason to donate.
Several other Democrats, meanwhile, said next week’s hearing is just a beginning, not an end, to the process of sussing out what happened some three decades ago.
“I want Dr. Ford to have her day in front of the judiciary committee — she should be allowed to tell her story. But I think this does not negate the need for an FBI investigation into really what happened as well,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Democrat.
Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer also called for an FBI probe, saying they have “the resources, the information and the legal tools” to do it.
The Justice Department flatly rejected that, saying there is no federal crime alleged and no implication for national security, so an investigation is beyond the FBI’s purview here.
Police in Montgomery County, Maryland, where Ms. Ford says the incident took place, said Monday they have not heard from any alleged victim and so they aren’t investigating.
Monday’s hearing drew comparisons to one of the low points in Supreme Court confirmation battles — the 1991 circus involving Justice Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, a former employee who claimed harassment by Justice Thomas during their time working at a federal agency.
Nearly three decades later that hearing remains a deep wound for those on both sides of the fight.
At that time, the entire Judiciary Committee was male. Now, there are four women, all Democrats, including the top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
She’s under fire for having received a letter from Ms. Ford in July detailing the allegation, yet having sat on it until last week when, under pressure from fellow Democrats, she finally forwarded it to the FBI and publicly acknowledged it. She says her hands were tied by Ms. Ford’s request for confidentiality.
GOP leaders, in delaying action, were bowing to political reality. Several Republican senators said they would not have been able to move ahead with a vote before hearing from the accuser, and giving the judge a chance to defend himself.
Initially Republicans had floated having committee staff conduct telephone interviews with each of the two, then making that information available to senators. But those plans were ditched after it became clear nothing short of public testimony would satisfy many.
Judge Kavanaugh has already sat for two lengthy days of questions, including a closed-door session where matters like this are usually raised. But nobody asked about it.
Republicans said they were resigned to the delay a new hearing will cause.
“What you’re looking for is truth, justice,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican. “I think they had to go back and hold the hearing — the process ought to work.”
Mr. Trump also said Ms. Ford deserves to be heard, but was positive Judge Kavanaugh is still headed for confirmation.
“Oh I think he’s on track. I think he’s very much on track,” he said. “If they delay a little bit just to make sure everybody’s happy — they want to be happy.”
The president brushed aside one reporter who asked if Judge Kavanaugh would withdraw: “What a ridiculous question.”
• Jeff Mordock and Gabrielle Munoz contributed to this article.
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