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Kavanaugh accuser won’t testify Monday but open to doing so later next week

After a sexual assault allegation surfaced against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, Republicans have been pushing to hear from both parties quickly. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

An attorney for Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, said Thursday that her appearing at a hearing on Monday to detail her claims is “not possible” but that she could testify later in the week.

Debra Katz, Ford’s lawyer, relayed the response to top staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, requesting to set up a call with them to “discuss the conditions under which [Ford] would be prepared to testify next week.” 

“As you are aware, she’s been receiving death threats which have been reported to the FBI and she and her family have been forced out of their home,” Katz wrote to the committee. “She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety. A hearing on Monday is not possible and the committee’s insistence that it occur then is arbitrary in any event.” 

The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), said through a spokesman late Thursday that he would be consulting with colleagues on how to proceed. Kavanaugh wrote to Grassley in a letter released by the White House that he looks forward to testifying. 

“I continue to want a hearing as soon as possible, so that I can clear my name,” Kavanaugh said in the letter. “Since the moment I first heard this allegation, I have categorically and unequivocally denied it. I remain committed to defending my integrity.”

Amid the maneuvering, the nomination was roiled further late Thursday by incendiary tweets from a prominent Kavanaugh friend and supporter who publicly identified another high school classmate of Kavanaugh’s as Ford’s possible attacker.

Ed Whelan, a former clerk to the late justice Antonin Scalia and president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, pointed to floor plans, online photographs and other information to suggest a location for the house party in suburban Maryland that Ford described. He also named and posted photographs of the classmate he suggested could be responsible.

Ford dismissed Whelan’s theory in a statement late Thursday: “I knew them both, and socialized with” the other classmate, Ford said, adding that she had once visited him in the hospital. “There is zero chance that I would confuse them.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill and White House officials immediately sought to distance themselves from Whelan’s claims and said they were not aware of his plans to identify the former classmate, now a middle school teacher, who could not be reached for comment and did not answer the door at his house Thursday night.

Whelan did not respond to requests for comment. He had told people around him that he had spent several days putting together the theory and thought it was more convincing than her story, according to two friends who had talked to him.

On Friday morning, Whelan said he had made an “inexcusable mistake” by identifying Kavanaugh’s classmate.

“I made an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment in posting the tweet thread in a way that identified Kavanaugh’s Georgetown Prep classmate,” he said on Twitter. “I take full responsibility for that mistake, and I deeply apologize for it. I realize that does not undo the mistake.”

Whelan has been involved in helping to advise Kavanaugh’s confirmation effort and is close friends with both Kavanaugh and Leonard Leo, the head of the Federalist Society who has been helping to spearhead the nomination. Kavanaugh and Whelan also worked together in the Bush administration.

Kavanaugh and his allies have been privately discussing a defense that would not question whether an incident involving Ford happened, but instead would raise doubts that the attacker was Kavanaugh, according to a person familiar with the discussions. 

Democratic senators, pointing to the highly charged Anita Hill hearings in October 1991, have defended Ford’s request to have the FBI do its own probe before she testifies. Back then, the FBI report into Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against now-Justice Clarence Thomas was finished on Sept. 26, 1991 — three days after its inquiry began, according to a Washington Post report at the time. 

The Republicans who would judge the credibility of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh's accusers are already judging their credibility. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

“Someone who is lying does not ask the FBI to investigate their claims,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Thursday at an event on Capitol Hill. “Who is not asking the FBI to investigate these claims? The White House. Judge Kavanaugh has not asked to have the FBI investigate these claims. Is that the reaction of an innocent person? It is not.”

Gillibrand said Senate Republicans’ ultimatum of a Monday hearing was “bullying.”

Republicans have rejected the comparisons to the Hill proceedings. Grassley wrote in a Wednesday letter to Democrats on the Judiciary Committee that the FBI investigated Hill’s accusations against Thomas when they were still not public. Because Ford’s accusation is already public, Grassley argued that it was appropriate for the Senate to step in with its own investigation as lawmakers did when the Hill allegation first became public. 

A senior Senate Democratic aide noted that reopening FBI background checks was fairly routine; 10 such probes into judicial nominees had been reopened in the past three months alone, the aide said. A Republican aide didn’t dispute the figure but said those updates can be relatively minor, such as adding a nominee’s tax records or educational information that had been inadvertently excluded. 

Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee has interviewed lawyers to be potential outside counsel who would lead the questioning in the highly charged hearing, according to two people familiar with the process. If the outside counsel was a woman, it could help with an optics issue facing the 11 Republican senators on the committee, all of whom are men. 

The objective of bringing in an outside lawyer, one Senate GOP official said, would be having an “experienced attorney who hasn’t been so deeply involved in the nomination and could bring some fresh eyes to evaluate everything fairly and firmly.” 

A variation of this plan had been discussed since at least Tuesday, when Republicans had discussed a proposal to hire a female attorney and have her do all the questioning, while the GOP senators on the committee would ask no questions, according to another Senate GOP official. 

“There is a deliberate and conscious effort to not seem like we are attacking the woman in any way,” this person said.

Earlier this week, Kavanaugh told Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), one of his most fervent supporters, that Ford has the wrong perpetrator in mind and that he has not attended a party like the one Ford described in an account she gave The Post this week of the alleged assault. 

A handful of pivotal senators have yet to disclose how they will ultimately vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, including Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). On Thursday, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott — who are both running as independents — issued a statement opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination. 

“Mr. Kavanaugh’s record does not demonstrate a commitment to legal precedent that protects working families,” Walker and Mallott said in the joint statement, remarks that could put political pressure on Murkowski. “Key aspects of our nation’s health-care and labor laws may be at risk if Mr. Kavanaugh receives a lifetime appointment.”

Earlier Thursday, Senate Republicans had reiterated their resolve to press forward with a vote on Kavanaugh in the coming days if Ford chose not to testify before the 21-member Judiciary Committee. 

“If she doesn’t want to participate and tell her story, there’s no reason for us to delay,” Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, told CNN. “I think it all depends on what she decides to do. We’ve all made clear this is her chance.”

Republicans push to confirm Kavanaugh amid fears it will come at a political cost

Ford has alleged that while she and Kavanaugh were at a house party in the early 1980s, when the two were in high school, Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed, groped her and put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams as he tried to take off her clothes. Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Late Thursday afternoon, Republican and Democratic staffers on the Judiciary Committee spoke on the phone with Katz to begin negotiations for a potential hearing next week. The first concern Katz raised on the call, according to a senior Senate aide directly familiar with the conversation, was the issue of Ford’s security — asking the staffers what the protocol is for ensuring that she is safe and whether reporters could be kept at a distance from her, as was done for Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings.

The roughly 30-minute conversation also touched on the scope of the questions, and Katz raised concerns about the potential of an outside counsel coming in to question Ford, arguing that the scenario would be too much like a trial, according to the aide. Ford also does not want Kavanaugh in the hearing room when she testifies, Katz told the staffers, and requested that the nominee speak first.

Katz also raised the possibility of a subpoena for Mark Judge, the person who is alleged to have been in the room at the party, and other potential witnesses, and suggested that Thursday would be a good hearing date.

Republicans are sure to push back on Katz’s requests. One Senate GOP official familiar with the call said Ford’s request to have Kavanaugh testify first is a “non-starter,” adding that “it only makes sense for the accused to respond to the charge.”

The committee also does not plan to issue subpoenas, the GOP official said, who added that other potential witnesses have already made it clear they have no intention of testifying on this matter.

Republicans have so far stuck to the Monday timeline, as well as Grassley’s decision to limit the hearing to two witnesses: Kavanaugh and Ford. 

“What is happening with the Judiciary Committee, really, I would call it a railroad job,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said alongside Gillibrand on Thursday. “They are totally intent on getting Judge Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court come hell or high water. . . . You have to ask yourself why.”

Hirono spoke at an event on Capitol Hill to highlight a letter of support that was said to have been signed by more than 1,000 alumni of Ford’s high school in Maryland. A flood of anti-
Kavanaugh protesters also descended on Capitol Hill Thursday while more Senate offices reported receiving threats related to the nomination.

“We’re getting a lot of calls, many of which are angry and some of which are threatening,” said Tom Mentzer, a spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein ­(Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee who has played a central role in the Ford developments. 

Cornyn said Thursday that he sees no reason to call additional witnesses since the committee had already held a full hearing on Trump’s nominee.

“We already had a hearing,” Cornyn said. “That’s what I call hijacking the regular committee process to accommodate political interests.”

On Thursday, a group of eight Democrats wrote to President Trump, asking him to direct the FBI to reopen its background check on Kavanaugh, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The Democrats, all of whom served as prosecutors or state attorneys general, noted that President George H.W. Bush asked the FBI to investigate after Hill raised allegations against Thomas.

“Senate Republicans are attempting to make Dr. Blasey Ford testify on just a few days’ notice — without having the FBI follow up on her allegations and provide a report first,” said the letter, which was spearheaded by Sens. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.). “This strikes us as simply a check-the-box exercise in a rush to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”

Alice Crites, Gabriel Pogrund, Beth Reinhard, John Wagner and Sharon Dunten contributed to this report.