Allegations of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh leveled by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford threaten to end his nomination for the Supreme Court.
Amid contentious and largely public negotiations, Christine Blasey Ford’s attorneys said Sunday that their client is “committed to moving forward with an open hearing on Thursday” where Ford will testify about her sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“We made important progress on our call this morning with Senate Judiciary Committee staff members,” said Ford’s lawyers Debra Katz, Lisa J. Banks and Michael R. Bromwich on Sunday, according to a readout of their call to Judiciary Committee officials.
“We committed to moving forward with an open hearing on Thursday Sept 27 at 10:00 am. Despite actual threats to her safety and her life, Dr. Ford believes it is important for Senators to hear directly from her about the sexual assault committed against her,” they said.
Although they said “a number of important procedural and logistical issues remain unresolved,” the attorneys said those remaining hurdles “will not impede the hearing taking place.”
The Judiciary Committee confirmed in a statement on Sunday that the hearing was set for Thursday morning and that a hearing previously scheduled for Monday had been canceled.
Ford had wished the committee to subpoena alleged witness Mark Judge and other potential witnesses, according to the email exchange between Ford’s attorney and the committee. Another sticking point had been the proposal from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to use an outside counsel to question Ford during the hearing.
‘Unfazed and determined’: Top Grassley aide vows to confirm Kavanaugh despite allegations
Ford’s lawyers continued to push for the ability to subpoena more witnesses in the call on Sunday. In an email obtained by USA TODAY, Mike Davis, an aide to Judiciary Committee Chairman’s Chuck Grassley, explained that “as with any witness who comes before the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee cannot hand over its constitutional duties to attorneys for outside witnesses. The Committee determines which witnesses to call, how many witnesses to call, in what order to call them, and who will question them.”
“These are non-negotiable,” Davis said.
Ford’s team said they were told that no final decision had been on a Republican proposal to use an outside lawyer. But the attorneys said “various senators have been dismissive” of Ford’s allegation and said they felt those senators “should have to shoulder their responsibility to ask her questions.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the 11 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, said Sunday before Ford announced her decision that the issue of witnesses beyond Kavanaugh and Ford, and the use of outside counsel had been potential deal-breakers.
“Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked Graham if committee Republicans, who are all male, wanted to bring in outside counsel to do the questioning because they feared “the optics” of them fiercely grilling Ford on a sensitive subject like sexual assault.
Graham explained that they wanted to bring in a lawyer because “we’ve got 11 politicians who haven’t done a trial in about 20 years. I thought it’d be really smart to have somebody come in who knows what the hell they’re doing, to ask the questions, to be respectful.”
In an email Saturday night, Davis told Ford’s attorneys that Grassley “asked me to assure you that he will do everything in his power to provide a safe, comfortable, and dignified forum for Dr. Ford to provide her testimony.”
Davis said Grassley agreed to hold the hearing in the regular committee room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, rather than the larger room in the Hart Senate Office Building that was used during the first four days of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, in order to avoid a “circus atmosphere.”
Sunday’s agreement caps off a week of dizzying negotiations that have cast a spotlight on the California college professor’s life and raised doubts about Kavanaugh’s future on the nation’s highest court.
Ford, 51, is a psychology researcher and professor at Palo Alto University in California. She alleges that Kavanaugh held her down and forcibly tried to remove her clothing at a party in 1982 when they were both in high school.
Kavanaugh, 53, has strongly denied the allegation.
Mark Judge, the friend who was allegedly in the room with Kavanaugh and Ford, denied having any recollection of the party. And in an email obtained by USA TODAY, a lawyer for a woman Ford also said was at the house said her client didn’t know Kavanaugh and that she did not remember the party described by Ford.
And Patrick J. Smyth, whom Ford also identified as someone at the party when the alleged incident took place, told the Judiciary Committee in a statement that he “has no knowledge of the party in question.”
The New York Times reported Sunday that Kavanaugh has calendars from the summer of 1982 that he plans to turn over to the Judiciary Committee that do not corroborate Ford’s story.
The calendar pages show Kavanaugh was out of town for much of June, July and August, according to the NYT. When at home, Kavanaugh listed his basketball games, movie outings, football workouts and college interviews on his calendar, as well as a few parties that include names of friends other than those identified in the complaint against him.
Echoing many Republicans, Graham expressed skepticism about Ford’s allegation.
“I don’t know when it happened, I don’t know where it happened. And everybody named in regard to being there said it didn’t happen. I’m just being honest. Unless there’s something more, no I’m not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh’s life over this,” Graham said.
“But she should come forward, she should have her say. She will be respectfully treated,” he added.
Speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, said for too long in America women who alleged sexual assault or abuse were “were presumed to be making it up or culturally not talking or told to be quiet.”
“I think it’s really important, in this time, in this day, that we recognize when women speak out, that we should presume that they are innocent,” she said.
In a letter to President Donald Trump on Sunday, top Senate Democrats called on the White House to order an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegation, as former President George H.W. Bush did in 1991 after Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations surfaced against his nominee Clarence Thomas.
“There is no legitimate basis for you to continue blocking the FBI from investigating this important matter,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
“We therefore request that you adhere to precedent and direct the FBI to immediately and thoroughly investigate Dr. Ford’s allegations and provide a report to the Senate as soon as possible,” they said. “Judge Kavanaugh is being nominated to the highest court in our land. These serious allegations should be fairly and impartially considered before the Senate moves forward.”
Trump has said the FBI would not be able to conduct an investigation in time, a claim which Feinstein and Schumer dispute.
On Friday Trump said the “radical left lawyers want to get the FBI involved” and wondered why they weren’t called “36 years ago.” That echoed another tweet he sent Friday saying, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.”
Contributing: Richard Wolf and Christal Hayes, USA TODAY
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