A Senate panel’s scheduled public hearing next week into allegations U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted a teenage girl when they were both in high school was thrown into doubt Tuesday.
Senator Charles Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee considering Kavanaugh’s appointment to a lifetime seat on the country’s highest court, said his staff had reached out several times to Kavanaugh’s accuser, California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, but had yet to hear back that she would appear at Monday’s hearing.
Republican lawmakers later said Ford could testify either in public or in private.
“We’re going to give her that opportunity on Monday,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Ford’s attorney has said that her client would be open to “a fair proceeding” and testify.
Grassley, however, told a radio interviewer Tuesday that Ford’s lack of response so far “kind of raises the question, do they want to come to the public hearing or not.”
President Donald Trump, who picked Kavanaugh, an appellate court judge in Washington, to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, voiced his continuing support.
“I’m very supportive,” Trump told reporters at the White House. Trump said he did not think that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has conducted background checks over the years on Kavanaugh, needs to investigate Ford’s allegations.
“I don’t think the FBI should be involved because they don’t want to be involved,” Trump said. The president said that senators hearing Ford’s accusations, if she testifies, “will open it up and they will do a very good job” considering Ford’s allegations and Kavanaugh’s adamant denial that he has ever been involved in any attack on a woman.
Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said the panel plans to call only two witnesses, Ford and Kavanaugh, and not another man, Mark Judge, whom Ford has alleged was in the same bedroom in a house in suburban Washington in 1982. Ford has alleged that Kavanaugh, “stumbling drunk,” groped her, leaving her fearful for her life.
Grassley’s omission of Judge, who has denied that an attack occurred, and other possible witnesses drew the ire of the Senate panel’s top Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. “It’s impossible to take this process seriously,” Feinstein said.
“What about other witnesses like Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge?” Feinstein said. “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.”
One key undecided lawmaker on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Republican Susan Collins of Maine, said she was “very puzzled” by the uncertainty of Ford’s testimony.
“I’ve said from the beginning that these are very serious allegations and she deserves to be heard,” Collins said. “She is now being given an opportunity to come before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions and I really hope that she doesn’t pass up that opportunity.”
Another undecided senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said, “We have a woman who has come forward, she deserves to be heard, it’s important that her voice and her story is shared.”
But the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, raised doubts about Ford’s account of the three-decade-old incident, saying, “The problem is, Dr. Ford can’t can’t remember when it was, where it was, or how it came to be.”
Republicans on the committee had hoped to hold a vote to move Kavanaugh’s nomination forward to a full Senate vote as early as Thursday of this week.
In an interview with The Washington Post published Sunday, Ford alleged that when she was 15 and Kavanaugh was 17, he cornered her in the bedroom at a house and groped her as Judge watched.
Ford, now 51, told the newspaper that Kavanaugh threw her down on a bed, grinding his body against hers and trying to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she was wearing over it. Ford said when she tried to scream, he put his hand over her mouth.
Republicans, some of whom see the allegations as a stalling tactic by Democrats to thwart the 53-year-old Kavanaugh’s confirmation, have been pushing to confirm him before November’s midterm elections, when they could lose their 51-49 majority control of the Senate.