Senate committee to hold public hearing with Kavanaugh, accuser after sexual assault allegation
By John Wagner, Seung Min Kim and Felicia Sonmez
Sep 17, 2018 | 8:00 PM
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who has accused him of sexually assaulting her decades ago will testify publicly before the Senate next Monday, setting up a potentially dramatic and politically perilous hearing that could determine the fate of his nomination.
Republicans, including President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., remained defiant as they scrambled to protect Kavanaugh's nomination in the wake of the allegation by Christine Blasey Ford, who told The Washington Post in an interview published Sunday that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back, groped her and put his hand over her mouth at a house party in the early 1980s.
But by the end of the day, Senate Republicans had delayed a committee vote planned for Thursday and abandoned tentative plans for the matter to be handled behind closed doors amid growing calls by members of both parties for Kavanaugh and Ford to testify publicly under oath, injecting uncertainty into the nomination.
The White House said in a statement that Kavanaugh "looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation" and stands poised to testify as soon as the Senate is ready to hear him.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said that his staff had contacted Ford to hear her account and held a follow-up call with Kavanaugh Monday afternoon but that Democrats had declined to participate.
Trump on Monday defended Kavanaugh, praising him as "one of the finest people that anybody has known" and signaling that he supports a proposed hearing on the allegations.
"We want to go through a full process," Trump told reporters at an event on workforce development. He added that the Senate will "go through a process and hear everybody out."
He called Kavanaugh "somebody very special" who "never even had a little blemish on his record." And he criticized Democrats, who he said should have "done this a lot sooner because they had this information for many months."
"If it takes a little delay, it'll take a little delay," Trump said of the confirmation process. "It will, I'm sure, work out very well."
Trump's comments marked his first public response after The Post reported Sunday on Ford's accusation against Kavanaugh.
An attorney for Ford said Monday that Ford is willing to testify about the allegations before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In an article published Sunday, Ford told The Washington Post that one summer in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and a friend - both "stumbling drunk," Ford alleges - corralled her in a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County, Maryland.
While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.
Kavanaugh on Monday issued a fresh denial of the allegations, which have roiled his confirmation process. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a member of the committee, said that Kavanaugh told him in a conversation Monday that he was not present at the party in question.
"If I recall it correctly, he wasn't even there," Hatch said. "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."
Ford has never said where and when the party occurred.
Democrats are insisting that the FBI handle the matter by reopening Kavanaugh's background investigation rather having committee staff make calls.
"In view of the enormity and seriousness of these allegations, a staff-only phone call behind closed doors is unacceptable and Democratic staff will not participate. This isn't how things should be done and is in complete violation of how this committee has worked in the past," Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats said in their statement.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also called for the FBI to investigate.
"Republicans and their staff cannot investigate these allegations. They've already said they're not true," he said in remarks on the Senate floor.
"The double standard - the twisting of this body into a cruel, nasty partisanship, unprecedented in a feverish desire to fill the bench with people that the other side agrees with - it's one of the lowest points I have seen in my years here," Schumer said.
His remarks came shortly after McConnell took to the floor to blast Democrats for not raising Ford's accusation earlier in the process.
"But now - now, at the 11th hour, with committee votes on schedule after Democrats have spent weeks and weeks searching for any possible reason that the nomination should be delayed - now, now, they choose to introduce this allegation," McConnell said.
The offer from Ford's attorney prompted a growing number of calls from senators - including moderates in both parties whose votes are key to Kavanaugh's fate - to hold another hearing at which both Ford and Kavanaugh could testify publicly.
"She's willing to do whatever it takes to get her story forth," Katz said on NBC's "Today" show when asked whether her client would speak publicly about Trump's Supreme Court nominee.
Kavanaugh said Monday he is willing to talk to the committee in any way it "deems appropriate."
"I have never done anything like what the accuser describes - to her or to anyone," he said in a statement. "Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday."
Underscoring the uncertainty Kavanaugh faces, four senators considered swing votes on the nomination issued statements Monday calling for a thorough review of the allegations by Ford, a professor in California.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, tweeted that "Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh should both testify under oath before the Judiciary Committee."
Three red-state Democrats, Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, also called for hearings.
"Given the nature of these allegations, and the number of outstanding questions, I believe the Judiciary Committee should hold off on Thursday's scheduled vote," Donnelly said.
Heitkamp said it "takes courage for any woman to speak up about sexual assault, and we need to respect Prof. Ford by listening to her and hearing her story."
Manchin, meanwhile, said Ford "deserves to be heard," and Kavanaugh "deserves a chance to clear his name" during a hearing.
"I hope they will be given the opportunity to do that as quickly as possible," Manchin said.
Kavanaugh was at the White House on Monday morning, but according to a senior official, he did not meet with Trump. The official said Kavanaugh has been coming to the White House "often" for meetings during the confirmation process.
Many GOP activists stood firmly by Kavanaugh amid the firestorm and prepared for a drawn-out battle over his nomination.
The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group that has been a major proponent of Republican nominees to the high court, said on Monday that it would launch a $1.5 million advertising blitz to support him, featuring a longtime friend of the federal judge who would speak to his character.
"We are not going to allow a last-minute smear campaign destroy a good and decent man who has an unblemished personal record," an adviser to the Judicial Crisis Network said in a statement.
During the NBC interview, Katz characterized Kavanaugh's actions as "attempted rape," adding that her client feels "that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped."
Ford is "not taking a position" on whether Kavanaugh should withdraw his nomination, Katz said. "She believes that these allegations obviously bear on his character and his fitness, and the denials of course bear on his character and fitness."
Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Republicans who are retiring at the end of this term, have joined Democrats in urging a delay in the vote until the committee hears from Ford.
Amid the uproar, Republicans continued to express anger Monday that Ford's allegations did not surface until after Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings.
Feinstein received a letter from Ford in July in which Ford asked to remain anonymous. Ford has said she decided to come forward only when her name began leaking out.
In a statement, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that the Judiciary Committee should handle the allegation through its normal process, which begins with follow-up calls.
"That Democrats have so egregiously mishandled this up until now is no excuse for us to do the same," said Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber. "If Democrats reject the committee handling this swiftly and in a bipartisan way through regular order, then it's clear that their only intention is to smear Judge Kavanaugh and derail his nomination."