Lawyer: Kavanaugh accuser may testify with right terms
Washington – Christine Blasey Ford may testify against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after all, her attorney says, breathing new life into the prospect of a dramatic Senate showdown next week over Ford’s accusation that he assaulted her when they were in high school.
Ford’s preference is to testify next Thursday, and she doesn’t want Kavanaugh in the same room, her attorney told Judiciary Committee staff in a 30-minute call that also touched on security concerns and others issues, according to a Senate aide. That aide wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ford is willing to tell her story to the Judiciary Committee, whose senators will vote on whether to recommend Kavanaugh’s confirmation – but only if agreement can be reached on “terms that are fair and which ensure her safety,” the attorney said in an email Thursday. In the call with committee staff later, she said Ford needs time to make sure her family is secure, prepare her testimony and travel to Washington. No decisions were reached, the aide said.
In addition to security, expected to be provided by Capitol Police, Ford has asked for press coverage of her testimony to be the same as for Kavanaugh. Reporters had assigned seating and were kept separated from the nominee, who was whisked to and from the room.
Ford’s attorney said Ford would like to testify first, but that might be complicated because Kavanaugh has already agreed to Monday’s scheduled hearing.
She also would prefer the committee not use outside counsel to question her because that would make it seem too much like a trial, the attorney told the panel. All of the Republicans on the panel are men, and the committee is known to be concerned about the optics of having questions from the GOP side come only from men.
The discussions have revived the possibility that the panel will hold an electrifying campaign-season hearing at which both Ford and President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee can give their versions of what did or didn’t happen at a party in the 1980s. Kavanaugh, now a judge on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has repeatedly denied Ford’s allegation.
The accusation has jarred the 53-year-old conservative jurist’s prospects for winning confirmation, which until Ford’s emergence last week had seemed all but certain. It has also bloomed into a broader clash over whether women alleging abuse are taken seriously by men and how both political parties address such claims with the advent of the #MeToo movement – a theme that could echo in this November’s elections for control of Congress.
Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has scheduled a hearing for Monday morning, and he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have indicated it would be Ford’s only chance to make her case. Republicans are anxious to move ahead to a vote by the committee, where they hold an 11-10 majority, and then by the full Senate, which they control, 51-49.
Taylor Foy, spokesman for Republicans on the panel, said that Grassley “will consult with his colleagues on the committee. He remains committed to providing a fair forum for both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh.”
Attorney Debra Katz said anew that Ford, 51, a psychology professor in California, has received death threats and for safety reasons has relocated her family.
Katz also has asked the committee to subpoena Mark Judge, who Ford has said was in the room at the time of the alleged incident. Judge has told the committee he does not recall the incident and does not want to speak publicly.
Should Ford testify, especially in public, it would pit the words of two distinguished professionals against each other as television close-ups capture every emotion. Assessing them would be not just the committee’s 21 senators –only four of whom are women, all Democrats – but also millions of viewing voters.
If Ford opts not to participate, Republicans could well dispense with the hearing to avoid giving Democrats a forum for peppering Kavanaugh with embarrassing questions. Kavanaugh, who’s been eager to testify, said he was ready to appear Monday.
“I will be there,” he wrote Grassley in a letter. “I continue to want a hearing as soon as possible, so that I can clear my name.” Kavanaugh was seen at the White House on Thursday.
Trump, who has been careful in recent days not to criticize Ford as he defends his nominee, told Fox News host Sean Hannity Thursday that he feels the nomination has been delayed long enough.
“I think it’s a very sad situation,” he said, asking, “Why didn’t somebody call the FBI 36 years ago? … What’s going on?”
He said Kavanaugh’s accuser should “have her say and let’s see how it all works out, but I don’t think you can delay it any longer. They’ve delayed it a week already.”
At a Las Vegas rally not long after, Trump praised Kavanaugh as “one of the finest human beings you will ever have the privilege of knowing or meeting” and called his reputation “impeccable.”
Ford has contended that at a house party in a Maryland suburb of Washington, a drunken Kavanaugh tried undressing her and stifling her cries on a bed before she fled.
Grassley has said he’d be willing to let Ford testify in public or private. He offered to send committee aides to her California home to take testimony.
As the week has proceeded, Republicans have seemed to regain momentum toward approving Kavanaugh though his prospects have remained uncertain.
Even moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said it would be “unfair” to Kavanaugh if Ford decides to not appear, and others were urging leaders to proceed quickly to a vote. Still, the bare 51-49 Republican majority means they can lose just one vote and still approve him if all Democrats vote no. Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie.
Democrats have tried using the issue to demonstrate that Republicans treat women unfairly, their eyes on upcoming elections in which suburban, anti-Trump female voters could be pivotal in many races. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a possible 2020 presidential candidate, said Republicans were “bullying” Ford by giving her a Monday deadline to testify.
Ford went public with her accusation over the weekend in a Washington Post interview and said Monday through her lawyer that she was ready to testify. But Tuesday, she began insisting on an FBI investigation of her allegations and said other witnesses should also participate in a hearing.
Republicans have resisted all Democratic efforts to slow and perhaps block Kavanaugh’s confirmation. A substantial delay could push confirmation past the November elections, when Democrats have a shot at winning Senate control, plus allow more time for unforeseen problems to crop up.
AP writers Padmananda Rama, Catherine Lucey and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed.