Kavanaugh’s accuser wants FBI probe before she testifies
WASHINGTON — Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when both were in high school, signaled late Tuesday that she would not testify about the allegations until after the FBI investigated the matter.
The letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee from Ford’s attorney threw into doubt plans for Monday’s high-stakes Senate hearing and capped a day in which Republicans and Democrats bitterly debated how to handle the allegations.
Republicans, who have rejected calls for an FBI inquiry, indicated that they would consider moving forward with the hearing Monday even if Ford didn’t testify. Earlier in the day some Republicans suggested that Ford’s refusal to show up on Monday would raise questions about her credibility.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the panel should have the Monday hearing without or with Ford.
“If she does not want to come Monday, publicly or privately, we’re going to move on and vote Wednesday,” he said on Fox News, speaking before Ford’s letter was released.
But Democrats backed Ford’s call for an FBI probe and hinted they may not attend the hearing if she does not testify.
“We should honor Dr. Blasey Ford’s wishes and delay this hearing,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement. “A proper investigation must be completed, witnesses interviewed, evidence reviewed and all sides spoken to. Only then should the chairman set a hearing date.”
Privately, Republican lawmakers have expressed worry that the hearing may end in an inconclusive case of “he said, she said,” leaving lawmakers to make an excruciating decision about how to vote on a lifetime judicial appointment just weeks before the midterm election and in the midst of the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment.
Even before the letter from Ford was released, plans for the Monday hearing were unclear. Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh who Ford says witnessed the alleged assault, told the committee Tuesday he would not testify because he did not remember the incident.
“Brett Kavanaugh and I were friends in high school but I do not recall the party described in Dr. Ford’s letter,” Judge said in a letter to the Judiciary Committee. “More to the point, I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes.”
In media interviews in recent days, Judge has either denied the incident took place or said he did not remember it. He is the author of the book “Wasted: Tales of a Gen-X Drunk,” which details his drinking problem and blackouts as a student. Democrats said his sworn testimony would be crucial to reviewing the allegation.
Feinstein said she wanted to hear from Judge and others.
“What about individuals who were previously told about this incident?” Feinstein asked, noting that 22 witnesses were called during the 1991 confirmation hearing involving Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. “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.”
President Trump, during a news conference with the president of Poland, expressed support and empathy for Kavanaugh, and offered no comparable gesture toward Ford.
“I feel so badly for him that he’s going through this, to be honest with you,” Trump told reporters. He called Kavanaugh “impeccable” and said “this is not a man that deserves this.”
Trump saw no need to involve the FBI. “I don’t think the FBI should be involved because they don’t want to be involved,” he said. “This is not really their thing. The senators will do a good job.”
Trump blamed Democrats for waiting until shortly before a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh to raise Ford’s allegation, which Feinstein learned about in July. Feinstein has said she did not disclose a letter she received from Ford because Ford initially did not want to be publicly identified.
Over the weekend, Ford told The Washington Post that during a pool party in suburban Maryland in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her down on a bed and groped her, covering her mouth when she tried to scream for help. She said she escaped when Judge jumped on the bed, sending all three tumbling off.
Ford considers the incident an “attempted rape,” according to her attorney, Debra Katz.
Democrats said earlier in the day that the hearing was being skewed so heavily against Ford that they would understand if she did not want to testify.
“If I were her lawyer, I’d be very concerned that it’s under these kind of totally disadvantageous conditions,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation appeared on track as recently as a week ago. Republicans considered five votes up for grabs: moderate Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.
Now the future of Kavanaugh’s nomination rests largely on the shoulders of Collins, Murkowski and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a member of the Judiciary Committee who said the process had to slow down and that Ford needed to be heard.
Flake, who is retiring in January, has been outspoken about his frustration with Trump, so he is unlikely to be persuaded by presidential pressure. All three moderate Democrats — who voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee — are now considered far less reliable votes, according to GOP sources. All three have called for Ford to be heard.
Collins said Tuesday that she wanted Kavanaugh and Ford’s lawyer to be able to question the opposing side. After that, she suggested, senators would be allowed to pose questions.
“Such an approach would provide more continuity, elicit the most information and allow an in-depth examination of the allegations,” Collins wrote in a letter to the leaders of the committee.