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GOP rejects calls to delay hearing until FBI reviews sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh

GOP rejects calls to delay hearing until FBI reviews sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh
Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies during the second day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they both were in high school, signaled late Tuesday that she would not testify about the allegation until after the FBI investigated the matter.

But GOP senators in charge of leading Kavanaugh’s confirmation process quickly rejected her request.

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The letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee from Ford’s attorneys threw into doubt plans for a high-stakes Senate hearing on Monday and capped a day in which Republicans and Democrats bitterly debated how to handle the allegation.

“An FBI investigation of the incident should be the first step in addressing her allegations,” read the letter from Ford’s attorneys, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks. “A full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a nonpartisan manner and that the committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions.”

The letter added that since Ford came forward with the allegation, “she has been the target of vicious harassment and even death threats. As a result of these kind of threats, her family was forced to relocate out of their home. Her email has been hacked, and she has been impersonated online.”

Republicans, who have rejected calls for an FBI inquiry, indicated they would move forward even if Ford didn't testify. Earlier in the day some Republicans suggested that Ford's refusal to show up would raise questions about her credibility.

“The invitation for Monday still stands,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “Dr. Ford’s testimony would reflect her personal knowledge and memory of events. Nothing the FBI or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee, so there is no reason for any further delay.”

A key Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a member of the Judiciary Committee who had said earlier in the week that the process had to slow down so that Ford could be be heard, seemed to suggest late Tuesday that he was joining his colleagues in demanding a Monday hearing.

“When Dr. Ford came forward, I said that her voice should be heard and asked the Judiciary Committee to delay its vote on Judge Kavanaugh,” Flake tweeted. “It did so. I now implore Dr. Ford to accept the invitation for Monday, in a public or private setting. The committee should hear her voice.”

But Democrats backed Ford’s call for an FBI investigation and hinted they may not attend the hearing if she does not testify.

“We should honor Dr. Blasey Ford’s wishes and delay this hearing,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “A proper investigation must be completed, witnesses interviewed, evidence reviewed and all sides spoken to. Only then should the chairman set a hearing date.”

Privately, Republican lawmakers have expressed worry that the hearing may end in an inconclusive case of “he said, she said,” leaving lawmakers to make an excruciating decision about how to vote on a lifetime judicial appointment just weeks before the midterm election and in the midst of the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment.

Even before the letter from Ford was released, plans for the Monday hearing were unclear. Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh who Ford says witnessed the alleged assault, told the committee Tuesday he would not testify because he did not remember the incident.

“Brett Kavanaugh and I were friends in high school but I do not recall the party described in Dr. Ford's letter,” Judge said in a letter to the Judiciary Committee. “More to the point, I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes.”

In media interviews in recent days, Judge has either denied the incident took place or said he did not remember it. He is the author of the book “Wasted: Tales of a Gen-X Drunk,” which details his drinking problem and blackouts as a student. Democrats said his sworn testimony would be crucial to reviewing the allegation.

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Feinstein said she wanted to hear from Judge and others.

“What about individuals who were previously told about this incident?” Feinstein asked, noting that 22 witnesses were called during the 1991 confirmation hearing involving Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. “What about experts who can speak to the effects of this kind of trauma on a victim? This is another attempt by Republicans to rush this nomination and not fully vet Judge Kavanaugh.”

President Trump, during a news conference with the president of Poland, expressed support and empathy for Kavanaugh, and offered no comparable gesture toward Ford.

“I feel so badly for him that he's going through this, to be honest with you,” Trump told reporters. He called Kavanaugh “impeccable” and said “this is not a man that deserves this.”

Trump saw no need to involve the FBI. “I don’t think the FBI should be involved because they don’t want to be involved,” he said. “This is not really their thing. The senators will do a good job.”

Trump blamed Democrats for waiting until shortly before a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh to raise Ford’s allegation, which Feinstein learned about in July. Feinstein has said she did not disclose a letter she received from Ford because Ford initially did not want to be publicly identified.

Over the weekend, Ford told the Washington Post that during a pool party in suburban Maryland in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her down on a bed and groped her, covering her mouth when she tried to scream for help. She said she escaped when Judge jumped on the bed, sending all three tumbling off.

Ford considers the incident an “attempted rape,” according to Katz, her attorney.

Democrats said earlier in the day that the hearing was being skewed so heavily against Ford that they would understand if she did not want to testify.

“If I were her lawyer, I’d be very concerned that it’s under these kind of totally disadvantageous conditions,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

Kavanaugh’s confirmation appeared on track as recently as a week ago. Republicans considered five votes up for grabs: moderate Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).

Now the future of Kavanaugh’s nomination rests largely on the shoulders of Collins, Murkowski and Flake.

All three moderate Democrats — who voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee — are now considered far less reliable votes, according to GOP sources. All three have called for Ford to be heard.

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Collins said Tuesday that she wanted Kavanaugh and Ford’s lawyer to be able to question the opposing side. After that, she suggested, senators would be allowed to pose questions.

“Such an approach would provide more continuity, elicit the most information and allow an in-depth examination of the allegations,” Collins wrote in a letter to the leaders of the committee.

Sept. 19, 4:30 a.m.: The story was updated with Flake.

8:05 p.m.: The story was updated with comments by Sens. Grassley and Corker.

6:15 p.m.: The story was updated with comments from Sen. Lindsey Graham and details from Ford’s letter.

5:45 p.m.: The story was updated with Ford saying she wanted an FBI investigation.

3:30 p.m.: The story was updated with comments from Mark Judge.

11:30 a.m.: The story was updated with comments from Sens. Mazie Hirono and Susan Collins.

10 a.m.: The story was updated with comments from President Trump.

The story was originally published at 9:50 a.m.

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