Christine Blasey Ford told Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley Tuesday that she wants the FBI to investigate her claims of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, raising further doubts about whether she and Kavanaugh will appear before the committee on Monday.
Ford’s attorneys did not explicitly say in a letter to committee leaders that she will not appear on Monday, but said that an inquiry by the FBI “will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner.” Republicans have signaled that they will move forward with the hearing regardless of whether Ford shows up or not.
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“While no sexual assault survivor should be subjected to such an ordeal, Dr. Ford wants to cooperate with the Committee and with law enforcement officials. As the Judiciary Committee has recognized and done before, an FBI investigation of the incident should be the first step in addressing her allegations,” said Ford’s attorneys, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks.
Responding to Ford, Grassley suggested on Tuesday evening that Monday’s scheduled hearing should proceed regardless of whether or not she is willing to appear.
“The invitation for Monday still stands. Dr. Ford’s testimony would reflect her personal knowledge and memory of events,” Grassley said. “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.”
Ford’s push for an independent investigation into her allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were both in high school is consistent with the demands of Senate Democrats who have asked for the FBI or an independent counsel to investigate the claims instead of having senators trying to suss out the truth through a hearing. Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied Ford’s allegations.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the panel, said that the hearing scheduled for Monday should be delayed, adding: “We’re better than this.”
“I agree with her 100 percent that the rushed process to hold a hearing on Monday has been unfair and is reminiscent of the treatment of Anita Hill. I also agree that we need the facts before senators — not staff or lawyers — speak to witnesses,” Feinstein said. “We should honor Dr. Blasey Ford’s wishes and delay this hearing.”
Republicans, however, have been angered by Democrats’ repeated calls to delay action and seem unwilling to hit the brakes regardless of whether Ford testifies. Kavanaugh has already agreed to appear Monday.
“I don’t anticipate anything happening other that we move forward. I question whether she will [show up]. I don’t know whether she will or she won’t,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said on Tuesday evening. “We’re going to proceed, there’s no question about it.”
Still, whether and when they move forward depends on a handful of swing vote Republicans, namely Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Those senators are either undecided or insisted upon slowing down the process in order to hear Ford.
Regardless of whether Ford appears, Republicans said they could hold a committee vote on Kavanaugh as soon as next week. Thursday’s panel vote was canceled amid the new allegations. Still, Republicans’ initial goal of getting Kavanaugh, a 53-year-old appeals court judge, confirmed in time for the Oct. 1 start of the Supreme Court’s term is already in serious jeopardy.
But Corker said on Tuesday evening that Grassley “took immediate action to ensure both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh have the opportunity to be heard, in public or private. Republicans extended a hand in good faith. If we don’t hear from both sides on Monday, let’s vote.”
In appearance on CNN, which first reported the letter, Banks would not say whether Ford would show up on Monday if there was no investigation. But she made clear that she believes a thorough investigation is unlikely to occur before Monday.
“She will cooperate with the committee in whatever form that takes and it remains to be seen. We have to talk with Senator Grassley’s office and the other committee members to determine what form that will take,” Banks said. “Any legitimate investigation will happen between now and Monday. This is going to take some time. What needs to happen is there shouldn’t be a rush to a hearing here. There’s no reason to do that.”
The FBI did conduct an FBI investigation before Anita Hill’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding allegations of sexual harassment by now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The FBI said before Banks and Katz’s letter was made public that they would not be conducting an investigation.
Ford’s attorneys also said that her life has been “upended” since she made the decision to come forward on Sunday night, saying she has been the subject of death threats, her family has been forced to relocate and her email has been hacked. They also charged that Republicans planned to seat Kavanaugh at the same table as Ford on Monday. Grassley’s spokesman, George Hartmann, refuted that publicly on Twitter and said they were “never going to testify on the same panel/at the same table.”
Kavanaugh’s backers cryptically said that he will be vindicated and Feinstein will be worse off in the coming days for how she handled the allegations, which she received in July but leaked out in the press over the past week until Ford came forward.
Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said on Twitter that Feinstein will soon apologize to Kavanaugh. In an email exchange, Whelan declined to comment on whether Kavanaugh and his allies had obtained new information that made him confident he would clear his name.
“I’ll stand by my tweet. I genuinely expect that Feinstein will apologize to Kavanaugh and his family,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday that Ford would have “the opportunity to be heard,” whether in public or private, and that he’s not concerned about the matter unraveling Kavanaugh’s nomination. Indeed, one of the critical Republicans remaining undecided on Kavanaugh suggested that he wouldn’t oppose moving ahead on the confirmation if Ford decides to forgo testimony.
“I don’t know how they can say: I’m just not going to appear. She has the option of a closed session, with cameras or without. We want her to appear. And then she has said, before we made the decision, that she wanted to appear. So that’s what we want,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said after he and other Judiciary Committee Republicans met with McConnell for nearly an hour.
“She’s asked to come and testify, she needs to be heard,” Flake said. “I hope she comes.”
Republicans have moved to slim down the hearing to just Ford and Kavanaugh. A key witness in Ford’s decades-old allegation, Kavanaugh’s high school classmate Mark Judge, said Tuesday he would prefer not to testify. Judge, who Ford says was the third person in the room when Kavanaugh assaulted her, said in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that “I have no more information to offer the committee and I do not wish to speak publicly regarding the incidents.” Democrats want Judge there.
Judge wrote a memoir that discusses his binge drinking while in high school and another book that features a character named “Bart O’Kavanaugh” drinking heavily. But his resistance to speaking further about what Ford has alleged was an assault fueled by alcohol abuse likely closes the door to any appearance before the Judiciary panel, since Republicans would be able to defeat any Democratic attempt to subpoena Judge’s testimony.
Grassley’s staff spent the day trying to contact Ford’s attorneys to no avail. Feinstein’s staff similarly had heard nothing from Ford’s lawyers until receiving the letter.
Republicans have billed the public hearing as an opportunity for both Kavanaugh and Ford to share their sides of the story. GOP leaders made that decision under pressure from undecided members of their conference — chiefly Flake, who said he would vote against Kavanaugh in the committee unless senators were given more of a chance to hear from Ford.
“We have a woman who has come forward,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), an undecided swing vote on the nomination, said Tuesday. “She deserves to be heard. It’s important that her voice and her story is shared.”
If Ford and her lawyer ultimately opt out of the GOP’s public hearing invitation — Democrats have skipped a staff-level call with Kavanaugh on the matter, casting doubt on their participation — Republicans would face another tough decision on whether to press ahead with the nomination.
After Democrats declined to participate, Republican staff members interviewed Kavanaugh on Monday evening. Foy said the nominee was “forthright and candid.”
While the GOP waits to hear about whether Ford will testify, senators also are discussing the use of a third party to question Ford in an effort to make the hearing appear more fair and less political, according to one GOP senator. Collins recommended to Grassley that counsel for Ford be allowed to question Kavanaugh and that Kavanaugh’s counsel be allowed to ask questions of Ford. And Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) floated the idea of an independent counsel who would ask questions of both Kavanaugh and Ford.
Nancy Cook contributed to this report.