Trump says Brett Kavanaugh ‘doesn’t deserve’ what is happening after sexual assault allegations
WASHINGTON — President Trump said Tuesday that he feels “terribly” for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, his Supreme Court nominee who could face off in a high-stakes hearing next week with a woman who has accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers.
“I feel so badly that he’s going through this,” Trump said at the White House. “This is not a man who deserves this.”
Trump called Kavanaugh “a great gentleman” and lamented that his wife and daughters are experiencing the public airing of accusations that Trump said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., should have brought up earlier in his confirmation process.
Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said she kept the accusations of Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor in California, private at Ford’s insistence until her name leaked out. At the same time, Trump said he believes the Senate should proceed with a hearing on Ford’s accusations at which she will be allowed to “state her case” and that there would be no doubt about Kavanaugh’s innocence.
Trump’s comments, made at a joint news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda, came on day when Republicans and Democrats sparred over the scope of a hearing planned for Monday, which Ford has still not confirmed she will atttend.
Earlier in the day, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate on Tuesday sharply questioned Ford’s credibility, as GOP leaders indicated they will limit witnesses at next week’s hearing to just the Supreme Court nominee and his accuser.
Speaking to reporters, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he was concerned by “gaps” in the account of Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor in California, who told The Washington Post in an interview published Sunday that Kavanaugh drunkenly 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 when the two were in high school.
“The problem is, Dr. Ford can’t remember when it was, where it was, or how it came to be,” Cornyn told reporters at the Capitol late Tuesday morning.
When asked whether he was questioning the accuser’s account – which Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied — Cornyn said, “There are some gaps there that need to be filled.”
His comments came shortly after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, outlined a plan to limit testimony at Monday’s planned hearing to that provided by Kavanaugh and Ford – which brought cries of protest from Democrats.
They insisted that other witnesses also be called, including Mark Judge, a Kavanaugh friend who Ford said witnessed the assault.
Feinstein said it was “impossible to take this process seriously,” noting that 22 witnesses appeared at the hearing in 1991, when law professor Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
“What about other witnesses like Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge?” Feinstein said in a statement. “What about individuals who were previously told about this incident? What about experts who can speak to the effects of this kind of trauma on a victim? This is another attempt by Republicans to rush this nomination and not fully vet Judge Kavanaugh.”
Speaking to reporters later, Grassley defended his plan.
“We’ve had two people that want to tell their story and that’s what we’re gonna do,” he said.
Pressed about the precedent of the Hill hearing, Grassley said: “You’re talking about history. We’re not looking back. We’re looking forward.”
During a morning radio interview, Grassley said that Kavanaugh has agreed to participate in Monday’s hearing – and had been interviewed by committee staff on Monday night – but that his staff has not yet heard from Ford.
“It kind of raises the question: Do they want to come to the public hearing or not?” Grassley told syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt. “We still haven’t heard from Dr. Ford, so do they want to have the hearing or not?”
During a television appearance on Monday, Debra Katz, an attorney for Ford, said her client is “willing to do whatever it takes to get her story forth,” including testifying publicly before the Senate. Katz declined to comment to The Post on Tuesday.
Grassley suggested that the hearing could be called off if Ford declines to appear.
As the day wore on on Tuesday, there was mounting frustration among Republicans that Ford had not confirmed she would attend.”I don’t know how you can say I’m just not gonna appear,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “She has the option of a closed session, with cameras or without. We want her to appear.”
In Ford’s account to The Washington Post, she said that Judge, a Kavanaugh friend and classmate at Georgetown Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., was present when Kavanaugh assaulted her.
Reached by email Sunday, Judge declined to comment. In an interview Friday with the Weekly Standard, before Ford’s name became public, he denied that any such incident occurred, calling the accusation “just absolutely nuts.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Tuesday that he sees “no reason” for Judge to appear before the Judiciary Committee, on which he sits.
“He’s already said what he’s gonna say,’ Graham said. “I want to hear from her, if she wants to speak, and I want to hear from him,” he added, referring to Ford and Kavanaugh.
Grassley said he has not decided who would testify first but assumes Ford would. He said he does not know how many rounds of questions senators on the panel would get to ask.
In response to a question from Hewitt, Grassley did not rule out the possibility that a female lawyer could be tapped to ask questions of Ford from the Republican side.
All 11 GOP members of the Judiciary Committee are men, a dynamic that some in the party have acknowledged could work against them.
“Everything could be considered now,” Grassley said after Hewitt suggested tapping former Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire to question Ford.
“You’re raising legitimate questions that are still on our mind,” Grassley said.
Graham said he doesn’t consider the predominantly male composition of the Judiciary Committee to be an issue because many women elected him and his colleagues.”
“All of us got here by being elected by men and women,” Graham told reporters. “I earned my way on that seat. I’ve got a lot of women supporters in South Carolina.”
In a letter to committee leaders Tuesday, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, considered a key vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, said that she is recommending that Ford’s lawyer get an opportunity to question Kavanaugh and that Kavanaugh’s lawyer get an opportunity to question Ford.
During remarks on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the hearing will provide an opportunity for Ford to be heard, but he stressed that her allegation “is completely at variance” with what senators know about Kavanaugh.
“Judge Kavanaugh will have the opportunity to defend himself against this accusation, an accusation which he has unequivocally denied, and which stands at odds with every other piece of the overwhelming positive testimony we have received about his character from his close friends, colleagues, law clerks, from the distant past to the present day, including high school years during which this misconduct is alleged to have taken place,” McConnell said.
Speaking to reporters, Cornyn pushed back on Democratic demands for the FBI to further investigate Ford’s claims.
“The FBI has already done an investigation,’ he said. “They typically don’t investigate juvenile accusations, and they’ve referred what they did do to the committee.”
While many Republicans remain confident that Kavanaugh will be confirmed, there were private discussions among some lawmakers on Monday about whether the GOP should have a backup plan, should Kavanaugh withdraw from the process or fail to secure the necessary votes.
“He’s not going to withdraw,” Cornyn insisted. “I talked to him yesterday, and he’s determined to testify and tell his side of the story.”
He added, “Our Plan B is the same as our Plan A: Judge Kavanaugh.”