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Senate Judiciary chairman says he’ll give Kavanaugh accuser more time to decide whether to testify before committee

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)

President Trump cast doubt Friday on the credibility of the woman who has accused Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, escalating tensions over the Supreme Court nomination, as Senate negotiations over whether she will tell her story at a public hearing slipped into the weekend.

By attacking California professor Christine Blasey Ford, Trump abandoned the self-restraint he had showed for days and pushed Kavanaugh’s nomination deeper into turmoil. Democrats, key Republican senators and advocates for victims of sexual assault swiftly rebuked the president.

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) gave Ford one more day to respond to his offer for her and Kavanaugh to testify before his panel on Wednesday, capping an extraordinary late-night back-and-forth.

“Judge Kavanaugh I just granted another extension to Dr Ford to decide if she wants to proceed w the statement she made last week to testify to the senate,” Grassley tweeted. An aide confirmed that he was granting her request for more time.

Before that tweet, Debra Katz, an attorney for Ford, said committee Republicans’ arbitrary deadlines and ultimatums had created stress and anxiety for her client, who met with the FBI on Friday about the death threats she had received.

“Your cavalier treatment of a sexual assault survivor who has been doing her best to cooperate with the Committee is completely inappropriate,” Katz wrote in an email to Grassley aides.

Earlier in the day, Grassley had warned that he would move ahead with plans for his committee to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Monday if his offer of a Wednesday hearing was rejected or ignored.

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)

The developments added new turbulence to a nomination that Republicans have sought to steady in their public comments. “In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told conservative activists Friday.

Plenty of uncertainty loomed over the nominee, who could shift the court further right for a generation — and whether Trump’s broadside would influence on-the-fence Republican senators with the power to torpedo Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“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,” Trump said in a Friday tweet, his first to mention Kavanaugh’s accuser by name.

Ford said in an interview with The Washington Post published Sunday that she told no one of the incident in any detail until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband. By Friday afternoon, the hashtag #WhyI­DidntReport was trending on Twitter, with thousands of people coming forward to explain their hesi­ta­tion to contact authorities.

Also on Friday, Trump tweeted: “Let her testify, or not, and TAKE THE VOTE!”

“He was born for the U.S Supreme Court. He was born for it. And it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen,” Trump said at a rally in Missouri on Friday night.

In a departure from his usual instincts to go on the attack, Trump had remained relatively restrained in his public remarks about Ford’s accusation. Until Friday, the president mostly defended Kavanaugh’s character while stressing that Ford should be allowed to be heard.

His latest comments triggered a widespread backlash from Democratic lawmakers and a few moderate Republican senators who have not declared whether they will support Kavanaugh. Republicans hold a slim 51-to-49 advantage in the Senate.

“I was appalled by the president’s tweet,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “First of all, we know that allegations of sexual assault — I’m not saying that’s what happened in this case — but we know allegations of sexual assault are one of the most unreported crimes that exist. So I thought that the president’s tweet was completely inappropriate and wrong.” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) sounded a similar note, saying, “I thought that was incredibly insensitive.”

Democrats were even more critical. Sen. Maggie Hassan (N.H.) tweeted: “The President’s comments are one of the reasons why it is so hard for survivors of sexual assault [to] come forward.”

Ford met with the FBI on Friday afternoon as part of its investigation of death threats she has received since agreeing to go public with her allegations, according to Katz. Accordingly, Katz told Grassley’s aides in her email, “we would need until tomorrow to confer with her and to be able to provide you with a well-considered response.”

Amid the firestorm over Trump’s tweet, McConnell predicted Kavanaugh would soon be confirmed, calling him a “stunningly successful individual.”

“You’ve watched the fight. You’ve watched the tactics,” McConnell said during remarks at the Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of social conservatives, in Washington. “Here’s what I want to tell you: In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court.”

Negotiations between Senate Republicans and Ford’s lawyers dragged into Friday evening and centered on whether Ford would testify and under what conditions.

In a note from Grassley’s staff to Ford’s lawyers, the Republicans said they were willing to accommodate several of the professor’s requests for testifying before the committee. Those included ensuring that she had proper security and breaks during her testimony, that all senators get equal time to speak, that press access be limited, and that just one camera be allowed in the room. She also asked that Kavanaugh not be present as she speaks.

But Republicans made clear they would not agree to some of her other requests. Among those were 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 Republicans also offered a Wednesday hearing, rather than Thursday as Ford had asked for, and they wanted to reserve the option of having female staff attorneys on the committee do the questioning.

The Senate Judiciary Committee sent its counterproposal to Ford’s attorneys Friday afternoon.

“We want to hear Dr. Ford’s testimony and are prepared to accommodate many of your demands, including further delaying a hearing that is currently scheduled for Monday,” Grassley said. “We are unwilling to accommodate your unreasonable demands. Outside counsel may not dictate the terms under which committee business will be conducted.”

Democrats protested the deadlines imposed by Grassley, saying they were tantamount to bullying. And Katz said she emailed his aides about Ford’s FBI meeting at 4:01 p.m. and heard back at 5:47 p.m., “insisting that we accept your ‘invitation’ for a Wednesday hearing by 10:00 p.m. tonight.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that she was “shocked and appalled by the Republicans’ refusal to wait 24 hours for a hearing and instead rush forward with a vote.”

Some Republican senators also feel strongly that an outside counsel should handle the questioning, one GOP official said — although Ford does not want outside lawyers brought in because it would make her less comfortable, according to her attorneys.

Over the span of three hours Friday, Trump tweeted several times about Ford and Kavanaugh from Las Vegas, where he held a political rally Thursday night and did a couple of events Friday.

In one tweet, he contended that Kavanaugh is under assault by “radical left wing politicians” who are not interested in the truth about the allegation but instead “just want to destroy and delay.”

The president also took aim at “radical left lawyers” who he said are seeking to get the FBI to investigate Ford’s allegations, saying: “Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?”

Katz and Democratic senators have called for the FBI to reopen its background-check investigation of Kavanaugh. The FBI has said it has no plans to do so unless the White House asks for such an investigation. A Justice Department spokesman said earlier this week that Ford’s allegation “does not involve any potential federal crime.”

Ford told The Post in the interview published Sunday that Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed, groped her and put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams at a house party in the early 1980s. The alleged incident occurred while both were students at separate schools in Maryland. Kavanaugh has firmly denied the accusation.

Ford said she told no one at the time what had happened to her. She was terrified, she said, that she would be in trouble if her parents realized she had been at a party where teenagers were drinking, and she worried they might figure it out even if she did not tell them.

A 2015 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of current and recent college students found that 88 percent of women who experienced unwanted sexual contact did not tell police or university authorities about the incidents. The result was the same among women who reported sexual assault by force or threat, as well as those who were incapacitated and unable to give consent.

About six dozen women appeared at a news conference in Washington on Friday morning to show support for Kavanaugh. Standing under a banner with the hashtag #IStandWithBrett in pink lettering, several of them spoke about their interactions with him over the years and vouched for his character. 

One of the women, Meghan McCaleb, said she was a close friend of Kavanaugh in high school and also knew Ford, but “not well. She was friends of friends.” McCaleb said that she never recalled being at a party with Ford and that she “hung with a different crew than we hung with.”

Ford also received some backup. Samantha Guerry, her friend and former classmate, expressed exasperation at Trump’s question about why she didn’t report the alleged incident to the FBI years ago, which he also posed a day earlier in an interview with Fox News.

“The idea that someone would have told the FBI 36 years ago is ludicrous,” she said in an interview with CNN, noting that many women who are assaulted “are extremely unlikely to tell anyone.”

Emma Brown, Scott Clement, Carol Leonnig and David Weigel and contributed to this report.