Showdown hearing on Kavanaugh not set yet

Posted at 1:15 PM, Sep 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-18 13:15:17-04

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wrestling for advantage, Democratic and Republican senators argued Tuesday over who could, should or would testify at next Monday’s hearing with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who accuses him of a sexual assault when they were in high school. Doubts were even raised whether she would appear.

Meanwhile, Kavanaugh was at the White House for a second straight day, but again did not meet with President Donald Trump. The president said he was “totally supporting” Kavanaugh and rejected calls for the FBI to investigate the accusation against him.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said on radio’s “Hugh Hewitt Show” that he’d not yet received confirmation from the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, that she would appear at Monday’s hearing, despite several attempts to reach her camp.

“So it kind of raises the question, do they want to come to the public hearing or not?” Grassley said.

A day earlier, Republican abruptly agreed to hold a public Judiciary Committee hearing at which Kavanaugh and Ford have been invited to testify. Party leaders made that concession under pressure from senators demanding that the nominee and his accuser give public, sworn testimony before any vote on Trump’s nominee.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats want more than two witnesses, including Mark Judge, who Ford has said was a Kavanaugh friend present during the alleged incident.

Limiting the hearing to just Kavanaugh and Ford would be “inadequate, unfair, wrong and a desire not to get at the whole truth,” Schumer said.

He also said the FBI should be given time to reopen its background investigation into Kavanaugh so it could check Ford’s assertions. And he said the Judiciary Committee should not rush the nomination through by voting on Kavanaugh a day or two after Monday’s hearing.

As both sides contemplated the hearing, Republicans were thinking through the optics of a nationally televised showdown between Kavanaugh and his accuser at which all 11 GOP Judiciary Committee members are men.

“There is no discussion of a Plan B” should Kavanaugh’s nomination fail, according to an individual familiar with the nomination process but not authorized to speak publicly. The person said there should be no such discussion until more information about the alleged incident comes to light.

The hearing is certain to be conflicting and emotive. It will offer a campaign season test of the political potency of a #MeToo movement that has already toppled prominent men from entertainment, government and journalism and energized female voters and political candidates.

Asked by Hewitt if he was considering including a female counsel who would ask questions, Grassley said, “All those things are being taken into consideration.” He added later, “You’re raising legitimate questions that are still in my mind.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who is on the Judiciary Committee, said Republicans are “naturally” concerned about the optics of having only Republican men question Ford “because there’s always a lot of prejudice in these matters.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood strongly behind Brett Kavanaugh, saying her claims that he’d sexually attacked her when both were high schoolers “stands at odds” with everything known about the Supreme Court nominee’s background.

McConnell said that “blatant malpractice” by Democrats — not releasing a letter by the accuser until the confirmation process was nearing its end — “will not stop the Senate from moving forward in a responsible manner.”

The remarks by McConnell, R-Ky., seemed aimed at signaling that while Ford will be given her opportunity to detail her allegations under oath, party leaders — certainly for now — were not easing off their support of Trump’s nominee.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who received Ford’s letter over the summer, said she didn’t reveal it to protect Ford’s confidentiality.

Kavanaugh spoke with the Judiciary panel’s counsel Monday and gave a “clear and consistent” account of what happened 36 years ago, said a person who wasn’t authorized to be identified while describing the process. The person described Kavanaugh as “resolute” and eager to defend himself. Kavanaugh met Monday with White House Counsel Don McGahn and others at the White House and called several senators.

Ford says that at a party when both were teenagers in the early 1980s, an intoxicated Kavanaugh trapped her in a bedroom, pinned her on a bed, tried to undress her and forced his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. She said she got away when a companion of Kavanaugh’s jumped on him.

Kavanaugh, 53, has vehemently denied the accusation. He said in a statement Monday that he wanted to “refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.”

If the Judiciary committee’s timetable slips, it would become increasingly difficult for Republicans to schedule a vote before midterm elections on Nov. 6 elections, when congressional control will be at stake.

With fragile GOP majorities of just 11-10 on the Judiciary committee and 51-49 in the full Senate, Republican leaders had little room for defectors without risking a humiliating defeat of Trump’s nominee to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Among the GOP defectors was Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Judiciary Committee member who has clashed bitterly with Trump and is retiring from the Senate. Flake said he told No. 2 Senate Republican leader John Cornyn of Texas on Sunday that “if we didn’t give her a chance to be heard, then I would vote no.”

There was enormous pressure on GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, two moderates who have yet to announce their positions on Kavanaugh and aren’t on the Judiciary Committee.

Collins said that in a telephone conversation with Kavanaugh on Friday he was “absolutely emphatic” that the assault didn’t occur. She said it would be “disqualifying” if Kavanaugh was lying. Murkowski said Ford’s story “must be taken seriously.” Neither Collins nor Murkowski faces re-election this fall.

Democrats say they want the FBI to investigate Ford’s claims.

But the Justice Department said in a statement late Monday that the accusation against Kavanaugh “does not involve any potential federal crime.” It said the FBI had forwarded to the White House a letter, evidently from Ford, describing alleged misconduct in the 1980s by Kavanaugh. The statement seemed to suggest that the FBI was not currently investigating it.

Ford is now a psychology professor at California’s Palo Alto University. Kavanaugh is currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, widely viewed as the nation’s second-most-powerful court.