Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, moved closer Saturday to reaching an agreement with Republicans for her to testify at a Senate hearing Thursday.
The emerging accord marked the most concrete signs of progress yet in high-stakes negotiations that reached an impasse at the start of the weekend. Still, the Senate has made no public announcement of a hearing, and those close to the situation cautioned that they still needed to resolve some disagreements.
The sudden advance in the discussions came after Ford’s attorneys, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, emailed staff for Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) earlier Saturday to inform them Ford was prepared to appear before his panel.
“Dr. Ford accepts the Committee’s request to provide her firsthand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct next week,” they said, stopping short of accepting Grassley’s initial offer of a Wednesday hearing and complaining that the terms of his offer were “inconsistent with the Committee’s promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations.”
The parties were expected to continue hashing out hearing details through the weekend. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a key swing Republican vote on the panel, said Saturday that he would not mind if the hearing took place on Thursday, going against the hard line Grassley initially drew in the talks.
As negotiations continued, Leland Keyser, a woman Ford told The Washington Post was present at the party where she alleges Kavanaugh assaulted her, came forward to say she “does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present,” according to an email her lawyer sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, obtained by The Post. In a brief interview at her home in Silver Spring, Keyser said that she did not recall the party, but that she was close friends with Ford and that she believes Ford’s allegation.
Before her name became public, Ford told The Post she did not think Keyser would remember the party because nothing remarkable had happened there, as far as Keyser was aware. Ford has said she did not tell anyone about the alleged assault until 2012.
“It’s not surprising that Ms Keyser has no recollection of the evening as they did not discuss it,” Katz said in a statement. “It’s also unremarkable that Ms. Keyser does not remember attending a specific gathering 30 years ago at which nothing of consequence happened to her. Dr. Ford of course will never forget this gathering because of what happened to her there.”
The email marked the latest turn in the tense showdown between Republican senators and Ford that has hovered over Kavanaugh’s nomination for days. Ford first told her story publicly in an interview with The Washington Post published last Sunday. Kavanaugh has firmly denied her allegations.
Several Republicans have accused Ford of delaying the hearing unnecessarily. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) tweeted “#Rope-a-dope,” referencing a boxing strategy of trying to tire out opponents by making them consistently go on offense.
“We have heard about different dates, conditions, and ever-changing schedules, but today we appear no closer to a fair hearing,” White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said late Saturday. “But one thing has remained consistent: Brett Kavanaugh remains ready, willing and eager to testify as soon as possible.”
Last week, Grassley set plans in motion for the Judiciary Committee to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination Monday if Ford rejected or ignored committee Republicans’ demand for a Wednesday hearing. After Katz asked for more time to reply, Grassley had extended his deadline for a decision to Saturday afternoon.
The email from Ford’s lawyers — sent to reporters shortly before the 2:30 p.m. cutoff Grassley had set — does not specify which day Ford would agree to appear. The parties have agreed to continue discussions about hearing specifics on Sunday, according to people familiar with the conversations.
As the talks have progressed, Ford has expanded her legal team. Michael R. Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general who has been representing former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, announced Saturday that he was resigning from his law firm, Robbins Russell, to work with Ford.
In an email to the firm’s staff — sent two minutes after Ford responded to Grassley’s invitation to testify — Bromwich said he was resigning because of objections within the firm to his representing Ford while employed there.
Ford has alleged that while she and Kavanaugh were teenagers in high school in the early 1980s, they attended a house party at which he 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 allegation.
If a final agreement on the details of a hearing is reached, it would set the stage for a dramatic, searing confrontation in the coming week. Kavanaugh has said that he wants to testify before the Judiciary Committee about the matter. The panel has invited him to do so.
The negotiations between Ford’s lawyers and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have been contentious. They have centered on several points that have spurred some disagreements, including the prospect of a hearing on Wednesday instead of Thursday.
Republicans said they would accommodate several of Ford’s requests, including ensuring that she had adequate security at the Capitol and that Kavanaugh would not be in the room when she speaks.
But the GOP also declined her other requests, including that Kavanaugh testify first and that the committee subpoena Mark Judge — a Kavanaugh friend who Ford says was present during the alleged incident — and call other potential witnesses to the hearing.
The Republican-led committee had wanted to reserve the option of having female staff attorneys on the committee do the questioning, while Ford said she would rather be questioned by senators.
“If this process to secure her testimony falls apart, the fault is totally and clearly on the Republican leadership,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a telephone interview Saturday.
A person familiar with Ford’s legal team’s thinking said Saturday that the attorneys will continue to push for their other demands, including whether senators will question Ford directly or whether they will use staff attorneys and whether they will subpoena Judge. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe strategy.
Judge and another boy Ford has said were present have denied any knowledge of the party or of Kavanaugh’s alleged behavior.
“One week ago, Dr. Christine Ford claimed she was assaulted at a house party attended by four others,” Kupec said in a statement. “Since then, all four of these individuals have provided statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee denying any knowledge of the incident or even having attended such a party.”
Meanwhile, a temporary communications adviser to Grassley during the confirmation fight abruptly resigned after a past accusation of sexual harassment surfaced, which he denied.
Garrett Ventry submitted his resignation Friday, he said in a brief telephone interview Saturday. He said he stepped down “in order to not be a distraction” as Senate Republicans continue to try to get Kavanaugh confirmed.
Also Saturday, Vice President Pence joined the chorus of Republican support for Kavanaugh, telling a crowd of around 2,000 conservative activists at the Values Voter Summit that Kavanaugh “is a man of integrity, with impeccable credentials and a proven judicial philosophy” and that he would soon be confirmed.
Pence then took aim at the conduct of Democratic senators during the confirmation process, describing it as “a disgrace and a disservice to the Senate and the American people.”
President Trump, who took to Twitter to cast doubt on Ford’s credibility Friday, was quiet on the issue Saturday.
As the discussions continued late Friday night and into Saturday, Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee were growing weary of the extended talks. Grassley lamented in a tweet Friday that with all the deadline extensions, he felt like he was playing “2nd trombone in the judiciary orchestra,” and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was the conductor.
Some Republican senators had just about reached the limits of their patience by Saturday, according to one of them, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe the mood. Senate GOP leaders have argued that they have been accommodating to Ford’s requests, while Democrats say Republicans have bullied her with unreasonable deadlines.
Gabriel Pogrund, Josh Dawsey, Karoun Demirjian and Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.