Christine Blasey Ford Agrees to Testify Before Congress Next Week
A source familiar with the matter said all sides have agreed to a Thursday hearing.
Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, has agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week, her lawyers confirmed Saturday.
“Dr. Ford accepts the Committee’s request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct next week,” Ford’s lawyers, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, said in a letter to the committee.
A source familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast that the committee’s chairman, its top Democrat, and Ford’s lawyers came to an agreement on Saturday evening to hold a hearing on Thursday, as Ford had requested. They plan to re-convene on Sunday.
The letter from Katz and Banks came after an intense 72 hours of negotiations over the terms of Ford’s testimony. But as of Saturday afternoon, Ford’s lawyers appeared to object to some of the terms laid out by the committee. Katz and Banks asked to continue negotiating with the committee and its chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
“Although many aspects of the proposal you provided via email, on September 21, 2018, at 2:33 pm, are fundamentally inconsistent with the Committee’s promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations, and we are disappointed with the leaks and the bullying that have tainted the process, we are hopeful that we can reach agreement on details,” the attorneys continued.
Republicans viewed their letter as yet another attempt to delay the confirmation process, saying Saturday’s letter essentially took the negotiations back to square one.
“The Ford legal team got the impact they wanted by getting headlines and news alerts saying they accepted without actually accepting anything Chairman Grassley has offered over six days of bending over backwards to accommodate ever-moving goalposts,” a senior GOP aide told The Daily Beast.
On Friday afternoon, Republicans on the committee had given Ford an ultimatum, telling her lawyers that the committee would vote Monday on Kavanaugh’s nomination unless they accepted a final offer for Ford to testify on Wednesday. A source on Ford’s legal team told The Daily Beast that as of Saturday, the attorneys were still pushing for a Thursday hearing, as opposed to Wednesday, and for senators—not outside counsel—to question their client. The committee has already rejected those demands, prompting Democrats to rally behind Ford and her lawyers.
“Even in accommodating Dr. Blasey Ford’s request for a few additional days, Chairman Grassley has rejected many of her reasonable requests to ensure a fair process,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a member of the judiciary committee, said in a statement. “Next week’s hearing, as currently contemplated, will be a kangaroo court, because the Republicans have done everything in their power to prevent the consideration of any outside evidence, whether corroborating or exculpatory. Republicans should respect Dr. Blasey Ford’s wishes, as they should respect the wishes of all victims of sexual assault.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), another member of the committee, said in a statement that the hearing should include “experts in sexual assault who can provide critical context for her testimony.” Republicans have thus far said only Ford and Kavanaugh should testify.
Katz and Banks had asked on Friday night for another extension until Saturday to decide whether to accept the committee’s offer to testify. In a letter to the committee, Katz accused Republicans of trying to “bully Dr. Ford and deprive her of the ability to make a considered decision that has life-altering implications for her and her family.” Meanwhile, Republicans were facing backlash from their base over the continued delay.
“Now Chairman Grassley is facing growing frustration from Kavanaugh supporters who believe the Democrat operatives leading Dr. Ford’s legal teams are simply playing delay games,” the senior GOP aide added.
Ford, who went public on Sunday in an interview with The Washington Post, alleges that an intoxicated Kavanaugh pinned her down and forced himself onto her. She says the incident took place when they were in high school, but could not recall the exact date and location.
Kavanaugh, who has denied the decades-old allegation, has expressed a desire to testify in an effort to clear his name. The committee’s Republican staff has already interviewed him under oath about Ford’s claims, but Democratic staffers declined to participate.
According to aides, two alleged witnesses identified by Ford sent statements to the committee which disputed Ford’s allegations. Those statements were given under the penalty of perjury. Ford’s attorneys are demanding that the committee subpoena Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s high school friend who was allegedly present during the incident as described by Ford. Judge said in a statement to the committee, under penalty of perjury, that he has “no memory” of it. He has declined to testify.
After initially pledging on Monday that their client would testify, Ford’s lawyers later demanded a full FBI investigation before she would speak with the committee about the alleged assault. The attorneys also ruled out the possibility of testifying next week. But their calculus quickly changed as Republicans grew more defiant, indicating that they were not willing to delay the Supreme Court confirmation process any further. Katz and Banks eventually dropped their demand that the FBI investigate the matter.
According to committee aides, Ford’s lawyers outlined a series of demands for the hearing, some of which were met. But the committee rejected their requests that Kavanaugh testify first and that only senators be allowed to ask questions. Republicans have been seeking an outside counsel to avoid the poor optics of having 11 men question Ford. They plan to have female staff lawyers do at least some of the questioning.
Katz and Banks also revealed on Saturday that Michael Bromwich, the former inspector general of the Justice Department, has joined Ford’s legal team. He is also representing former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Democrats, who have no procedural power to delay a new hearing or a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, accused Republicans of “bullying” Ford and of “extreme abuse of power.”
“It’s clear that Republicans are doing all they can to cement another conservative seat on the Supreme Court—at any cost—even pushing through a nominee with a cloud of controversy hanging over his head,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the committee, said in a statement on Friday. “Brett Kavanaugh could serve on the court for 40 years, what’s another 24 hours to make sure we get this right?”
Throughout the week, Republicans have grown more bullish on Kavanaugh’s prospects. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), speaking at the Values Voter Summit earlier Friday, projected confidence about the confirmation process.
“In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court,” McConnell said.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, spent much of the week laying low about Ford and her allegations, only encouraging her to testify. But by Friday, Trump had abandoned that strategy and, in a series of tweets, directly disputed Ford’s allegation.
“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents,” Trump wrote.
That tweet, among others, set off a firestorm of criticism among the Republican senators who remain undecided on Kavanaugh’s nomination, and who have indicated that Ford’s testimony will weigh on their vote for or against Kavanaugh. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said she was “appalled” by the president's comments.
“First of all, we know that allegations of sexual assault—and I’m not saying that’s what happened in this case—but we know allegations of sexual assault are one of the most unreported crimes that exist,” Collins told reporters in her home state of Maine. “So I thought that the president’s tweet was completely inappropriate and wrong.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), another key swing vote, told CNN she wished Trump “had continued what he has been doing, which is basically allowing the Senate Judiciary Committee to proceed with its work as the committee needs to do.”
Democrats have said a full FBI investigation should precede any hearing, a suggestion Grassley formally rejected earlier this week. GOP holdouts, including Collins, Murkowski and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), had rallied behind their party’s leaders in urging Ford to testify next week and not wait for an FBI probe.