Democrats and Republicans Clash Over Timing, Witness List for Kavanaugh Hearing

Supreme Court Associate Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (Christy Bowe/Globe Photos/Zuma Press/TNS)

September 18, 2019

By Jennifer Haberkorn

WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday bitterly debated how to move forward on a high-stakes hearing Monday with Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh and the California professor, Christine Blasey Ford, accusing him of a decades-old sexual assault.

Girding for what could be one of the most dramatic congressional hearings in years, Democrats accused Republicans of limiting the scope of the hearing, resisting an FBI probe into the matter and banning testimony from anyone other than Kavanaugh and Ford.

Republicans accused Democrats of intentionally withholding Ford’s allegations until only last week to maximize the disruption to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which now has been delayed.

As of Tuesday afternoon, it remained unclear whether next week’s hearing would even take place as scheduled. Ford, who offered to testify, has not confirmed whether she will attend on Monday. Democrats complained she was not consulted in advance when Republicans scheduled the hearing and noted that many key details have not been finalized.

Republicans pushed Ford to accept the invitation.

“Our staff reached out to Dr. Ford’s lawyer with multiple emails yesterday to schedule a … call and inform her of the upcoming hearing, where she will have the opportunity to share her story with the committee,” said Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa. “Her lawyer has not yet responded.”

Privately Republican lawmakers 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 elections and in the midst of the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment.

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 does 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 critical to reviewing the allegations.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she wants 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 Donald Trump, during a news conference with the Polish president, 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 allegations, which Feinstein learned about in July. Feinstein has said she did not disclose a letter she received from Ford earlier 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 her attorney, Debra Katz.

Democrats say the hearing is being skewed so heavily against Ford that she may not want to testify on Monday.

“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: moderates Sens. Susan Collins, R- Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Joe Manchin, D-W.V., 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 Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who said the process has to slow down and that Ford needs to be heard.

Flake, who is retiring in January, has been outspoken with his frustration with Trump, so he is unlikely to be persuaded by presidential pressure. 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 of them have called for Ford to be heard.

Collins said Tuesday that she wants 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.


©2018 Los Angeles Times

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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