Senate Republicans strongly signaled on Wednesday that they will forge ahead with embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation as his accuser called the rush for a public hearing next week unfair.
GOP senators who fretted earlier this week about the prospects for President Trump’s pick are now largely pushing for a vote on Kavanaugh, who is accused of sexually assaulting now-professor Christine Blasey Ford when they were teenagers, amid signs that she may decline to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And Trump is more convinced he should stand by Kavanaugh than he was two days ago, people close to the White House say.
Publicly, Trump has become more vocal in defending Kavanaugh, telling reporters on Wednesday that it was “very hard for me to imagine anything happened” with Ford, who detailed her allegation extensively with The Washington Post in a report published Sunday.
Ford, through her lawyers, has requested that the FBI conduct an investigation into the alleged incident before she speaks to the committee, and Senate Democrats have lined up behind her. But Republicans have not budged from their view that the FBI does not need to intervene, or from their plan to hear testimony from Kavanaugh and Ford on Monday.
Ford’s attorneys have not officially declined the committee’s invitation. But they reiterated Wednesday that while Ford is willing to cooperate with the Judiciary Committee, there needs to be a “full, nonpartisan investigation.” Her lawyers also said that having just two witnesses — Kavanaugh and Ford — was neither fair nor in good faith when, they said, there are multiple witnesses who should testify.
“Dr. Ford was reluctantly thrust into the public spotlight only two days ago,” attorney Lisa Banks said. “She is currently unable to go home, and is receiving ongoing threats to her and her family’s safety. Fairness and respect for her situation dictate that she should have time to deal with this.”
But Republicans were increasingly determined to confirm Kavanaugh before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, which would check off a major conservative goal and finish a nomination battle that has been bitterly contentious from the start.
“Requiring an FBI investigation of a 36-year-old allegation (without specific references to time or location) before Professor Ford will appear before the Judiciary Committee is not about finding the truth, but delaying the process till after the midterm elections,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the committee who pushed for a vote “as soon as possible.”
Anger grew Wednesday among Democrats, who have not forgotten about the GOP’s treatment of Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s third Supreme Court nominee, who was summarily blocked by Republicans two years ago.
“It’s pretty mind-bending hypocrisy that Republicans are all of a sudden interested in expediting Supreme Court nominations,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “Listen, I get why they’re nervous. They were already in trouble electorally, and the way they’re handling this matter doesn’t help for November’s purposes.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who is facing one of the most competitive reelection bids this year, announced Wednesday that she would oppose Kavanaugh. But she said her decision was not based on the allegation against him — which McCaskill said was “troubling” — but on his past concerns about campaign contribution limits.
Privately, Trump is being cautioned extensively to stay out of the fight over Kavanaugh, according to two White House advisers, and so far has tempered his language. He has told advisers that he is skeptical of Ford’s account and the timing of the allegation, these advisers said. He continues to mention Kavanaugh’s academic degrees and his intellect.
Meanwhile, White House aides have begun asking lawyers and others whether other women are likely to come out and make accusations, these officials said.
But Leonard Leo, the influential adviser to the administration on judicial nominations, has told attorneys and people close to the White House that he was increasingly convinced Kavanaugh would be confirmed, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) has asked Ford’s attorneys to respond by Friday at 10 a.m. on whether she plans to appear before his panel. His staff has tried to set up interviews with Ford, as well as with Mark Judge — a Kavanaugh friend who is alleged to have witnessed the incident — and two other potential witnesses, according to a letter Grassley sent Wednesday to Democrats on the committee.
“I have reopened the hearing because I believe that anyone who comes forward with allegations of sexual assault has a right to be heard, and because it is the committee’s responsibility to fully evaluate the fitness of a nominee to the Supreme Court,” Grassley wrote to Banks and Debra Katz, another lawyer for Ford. “I therefore want to give Dr. Ford an opportunity to tell her story to the Senate and, if she chooses, to the American people.”
Grassley is also willing to send his staff to California to speak to Ford if she prefers, committee spokesman Garrett Ventry said. Ford is a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, which is northwest of San Jose in northern California.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a pivotal swing vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, both urged Ford to speak to senators. And Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who like Flake also pushed the Senate to hit pause on Kavanaugh’s nomination until lawmakers heard from the professor, said: “If we don’t hear from both sides on Monday, let’s vote.”
Collins said Wednesday that Ford has a few ways she can detail her story to the committee by Monday, including in a public or private session that would be videotaped; or in an interview conducted by congressional investigators.
“I don’t think she can reject, having made all of these serious allegations, I don’t think that she can reject all those options,” Collins said in an interview with WVOM-FM in Maine. “Otherwise, there are these very serious allegations hanging over the head of a nominee who has emphatically denied them. And that’s just not a good way for us to end.”
Grassley left open the possibility that the hearing could occur Monday with only Kavanaugh present. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) believes he has his conference unified behind a plan for a Monday hearing — which includes building extensive timelines on Ford’s story and media accounts — with or without her, according to an adviser to McConnell.
Even as Ford and Democrats push for an FBI probe, Trump has suggested that an FBI investigation is unnecessary. But there is precedent for the FBI’s stepping in late in the process of a Supreme Court nomination. In 1991, when law professor Anita Hill alleged that now-Justice Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her, the FBI was called in to investigate.
The FBI reiterated Wednesday that it had included information about the allegations in Kavanaugh’s background file and that it is up to the White House to decide what to do with it. A criminal inquiry is essentially out of the question, because what is alleged does not constitute a federal crime.
The FBI would not compile a report offering an opinion, one way or another, on the credibility of the allegations. Rather, it would provide the White House reports on the interviews and other evidence agents gathered and again leave it to the White House to decide what to do with Kavanaugh’s nomination.
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.
Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), whom Ford first contacted with her allegation, detailed to The Post her interactions with Ford, a constituent in her Bay Area district. The two women met for roughly 90 minutes on July 20.
“It was more than obvious to me that she bore the scars of what she had been subjected to,” Eshoo said Wednesday. “She doesn’t have a political bone in her body. And she obviously was really terrified about what could become of her and her family.”
“At the end of the meeting, I told her that I believed her,” she added. “In telling her story, you know, there were details to it, and I believed her.”
Matt Zapotosky, Mike DeBonis and Emma Brown contributed to this report.