Brett Kavanaugh

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GOP Hopes Showdown With Kavanaugh, Accuser Salvages Supreme Court Nomination

September 18, 2018 - 12:23 pm
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WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/AP) -- A major showdown may be looming on Capitol Hill Monday, as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman accusing him of sexual assault will testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Republicans are hoping the hearing with Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford will salvage the judge’s endangered nomination.

Republicans reversed course and agreed to the hearing in the face of growing demands by GOP senators to hear directly from Kavanaugh and Ford, now a psychology professor in California. Their sworn testimony, certain to be conflicting and emotive, 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.

"Now the whole nation's trying to figure out something that's not really evident," said Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma). "It is a political dialogue on a very, very painful subject for a lot of people."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), said his panel would hold a hearing next Monday with both Kavanaugh and Ford "to provide ample transparency" and "give these recent allegations a full airing."

But as of late Tuesday, the date had yet to be secured for Ford, who has not returned correspondence from Grassley and his aides.

“They haven’t gotten a definitive action from her reaction to their investigation. Democrats say that’s understandable – this is a woman who was a private citizen with an anonymous allegation until Sunday – not even 48 hours ago – and now, suddenly, she’s being thrust into the public spotlight, obviously, testifying before a phalanx of senators is probably not something she was keenly interested in doing before a week ago, and so they say they’re not surprised that it’s taking some time for her to get back to the committee,” said CBS News Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes.

But Republicans emphasize that Ford was the one who offered to testify in the first place, Cordes said.

Meanwhile, as to what will actually happen at the hearing, not many details are known yet.

“We don’t have many particulars except for a date and a time, and we have a list of people who will speak – at least two. Brett Kavanaugh will speak and Christine Blasey Ford will speak. And this will be the opportunity for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hear both sides of this story,” said CBS News White House Correspondent Steven Portnoy. “It truly is a he said-she said, although Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has some evidence that she’ll bring to the table if she’s asked about it.”

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.

Ford has said she has talked about the issue with her husband and her therapist over the last several years, and she has taken a polygraph test.

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."

“Now some Republicans say, ‘Well maybe she’s a little mixed up in her memory.’ That’s what Orrin Hatch, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, told us yesterday,” Portnoy said. “So ultimately, this will be an issue for the senators to weigh credibility and decide who to believe. Susan Collins said yesterday – she’s of course the Republican senator from Maine – that if Brett Kavanaugh is lying about this, that’s disqualifying.”

Shortly before Grassley's announcement that a hearing would be held, the senator said there would be private, telephone interviews of Kavanaugh and Ford conducted by committee staffers. Democrats refused to participate, saying the seriousness of the charges merited a full FBI investigation.

“That’s where things get a little complicated,” Portnoy said. “There are separation of powers issues and who can direct an investigation. Democrats are complaining that the White House isn’t compelling the FBI to essentially conduct an investigation; to get to the bottom of all this. The FBI’s position is to say two things. One is, ‘Well, there’s no federal crime here for us to investigate.’ And the second is, ‘We’ve received information. We’ve put it in the file. It’s for you, lawmakers, to decide who to believe.’”

But Democrats argue that Ford perhaps should not testify before there has been a full and impartial investigation, Cordes said.

Republicans had also displayed no willingness to delay a Judiciary panel vote that Grassley had planned for this Thursday to advance the nomination, setting the stage for full Senate confirmation of Kavanaugh by month's end, in time for the new Supreme Court session. Thursday's vote has now officially been canceled by Grassley and will not occur.

President Donald Trump telegraphed earlier Monday that that schedule might slow. He told reporters at the White House: "If it takes a little delay, it will take a little delay."

On Tuesday, Trump said six background checks have been conducted on Kavanaugh as he has risen up the ladder in rank as a judge. Trump again called Kavanaugh a “great intellect” with a personal history that he called “impeccable in every way.”

“I feel so badly for him that he’s going through this, to be honest with you. I feel so badly for him. This is not a man that deserves this. This should have been brought to the fore; it should have been brought up long ago,” Trump said, “and that’s what you have hearings for. You don’t wait till the hearing is over and then all of a sudden bring it up.”

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.

Some Democrats raised questions about whether Grassley's planned hearings were sufficient.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, said in a statement Monday night that she was disappointed the FBI and White House "are failing to take even the most basic steps to investigate this matter" and that the process was being rushed. She said President George H.W. Bush had asked the FBI to investigate Anita Hill's allegations against Thomas.

Another Democrat on the panel, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, said staging the hearing without the FBI investigation would make it a "sham."

Underscoring the raw political divisions prompted by the Kavanaugh fight, Feinstein said she'd only learned of the hearing on Twitter.

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.

Kavanaugh and Ford had each indicated earlier Monday a willingness to testify to the Judiciary committee. Debra S. Katz, Ford's attorney, said on NBC's "Today" that Ford was ready to testify publicly to the Judiciary panel, but she did not respond Monday evening to efforts to learn whether she would appear.

Kavanaugh went to the White House on Monday, but Trump said he did not meet with his nominee. He declined to say whether Kavanaugh had offered to withdraw, dismissing the question as "ridiculous."

Ford, now a psychology professor at California's Palo Alto University, gave her description of her encounter with Kavanaugh to The Washington Post in an interview published Sunday.

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.

Until Monday, Trump had remained silent about the allegations against Kavanaugh. The president himself has faced accusations of affairs and unwanted advances — not to mention his taped comments about groping women that emerged shortly before he was elected in 2016.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)