After days of negotiations, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford are headed to an extraordinary public hearing this Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee following Ford’s accusation that the nominee sexually assaulted her when they were high school students more than three decades ago.
Ford is set to testify Thursday at 10 a.m., the committee officially announced, amid national political tensions. Committee member Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal was among a number of Democrats who accused Republicans of “bullying” Ford ahead of the testimony.
“Courageously, Dr. Ford will tell her story in the face of an impossible choice & vile bullying by Republican leadership,” Blumenthal tweeted Saturday. “I will support her steadfast bravery against the arbitrary, unfair, irrational constraints set by Chairman Grassley. The nation should rally around her decision to speak truth to power. Dr. Ford’s sharing her story despite death threats & vicious bullying speaks to the credibility of her allegations.”
Blumenthal was also critical of the process. “No one should confuse support for that story with an endorsement or acceptance of this deeply broken process,” he tweeted. “I remain deeply disturbed by the conduct of my colleagues over the last week, & am committed to ensuring that Dr. Ford’s safety & security is made a top priority.”
The nation has not experienced such a highly-charged Supreme Court confirmation since Anita Hill accused now-Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment 27 years ago.
In an email to the Senate Judiciary Republican majority Saturday, Ford’s attorney, Debra Katz of Washington’s Katz, Marshall & Banks, wrote:
“Dr. Ford accepts the Committee’s request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct next week. Although many aspects of the proposal you provided via email, on September 21, 2018, at 2:33 pm, are fundamentally inconsistent with the Committee’s promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations, and we are disappointed with the leaks and the bullying that have tainted the process, we are hopeful that we can reach agreement on details.”
Katz said in the email message that she hoped negotiations will continue on the details of the hearing.
The agreement came after an intense and short period of negotiation between Grassley and Katz and her partner Lisa Banks.
Grassley initially imposed a 10 p.m., Friday deadline on Ford to respond to scheduling a hearing on Wednesday. In a letter to Katz, he said his committee would vote Monday on the nomination if Katz did not respond or if Ford chose not to testify. Grassley also rejected some of what he called Katz’s “unreasonable demands,” including her request for a Thursday hearing, a “full” investigation of the accusation, a subpoena of a witness Ford claimed to have seen to the alleged sexual assault and that Kavanaugh testify before Ford.
Grassley told Katz that U.S. Capitol Police would provide adequate security to Ford. He also agreed to Katz’s request that Kavanaugh not be present when Ford testifies, that the number of rounds of questions and minutes of rounds be equal for all senators, that only one camera be in the hearing room and that press be limited.
Katz, in response, called the deadline “aggressive and arbitrary.” The deadline’s sole purpose, she wrote in an email to the committee, “is to bully Dr. Ford and deprive her of the ability to make a considered decision that has life-altering implications for her and her family. She has already been forced out of her home and continues to be subjected to harassment, hate mail, and death threats. Our modest request is that she be given an additional day to make her decision.”
Shortly before midnight, Grassley said he had given Ford until 2:30 p.m. Saturday to respond to his offer of a Wednesday hearing.
Ford has alleged that, during the early 1980s, she attended a summer party in a Washington suburb where Kavanaugh and another male student, both drunk, pushed her into a bedroom and locked the door. Kavanaugh pushed her onto the bed, placed his hand over her mouth and tried to remove her clothes, Ford claims. She contends that she escaped when the other student jumped on top of them and they all fell to the floor.
Kavanaugh has “categorically and unequivocally” denied Ford’s claims. In a statement Monday, Kavanaugh said: “This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone.”
A number of Democratic senators and supporters of Ford challenged the fairness of any hearing following comments Friday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and tweets by President Donald Trump.
McConnell told a summit of social conservatives: “In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the U.S. Supreme Court. So, my friends, keep the faith. Don’t get rattled by all this. We’re going to plow right through it and do our job.”
Trump attacked Ford’s credibility in a tweet, saying: “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. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”
Katz on Friday had rejected a Monday hearing demanded by committee Republicans. She said it was not possible before Thursday because Ford was not prepared. Ford was dealing with death threats that drove her family from their home in order to ensure that she, her husband and two sons were safe, Katz said. The FBI reportedly was investigating those threats.
Katz, in her Friday letter to the committee, said Ford did want to testify but only under fair conditions and with assurances that she would be safe. Katz repeated Ford’s “strong preference” for a “full investigation” of her claims. Grassley has rejected that request. Katz also sought the issuance of a committee subpoena for the other man whom Ford claimed was present during the alleged assault—Mark Judge.
Among other conditions, Katz wanted only committee members to conduct the questioning of Ford and Kavanaugh. The 11 Republican male committee members were said to be considering hiring outside female counsel to do the questioning. Katz also said Kavanaugh should testify first.
In 1991, Thomas testified before Hill. He had rebuttal time after her testimony and stunned committee members by saying he had not listened to her. “I’ve heard enough lies,” he told the committee. Thomas subsequently was confirmed 52-48, the narrowest margin in a century.