Senate Republicans Deliver Testimony Ultimatum to Kavanaugh Accuser Christine Blasey Ford
The White House is cautiously upbeat, and Senate Republicans are relieved that they appear to have the upper hand—for now.
Senate Republicans are presenting Christine Blasey Ford with an ultimatum: testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, or we’ll move on with Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
In a letter to Ford’s attorney’s on Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the committee’s chairman, outlined several options including having staff fly to California, where she lives, to interview her far away from the glare of cameras in Washington. He did not, however, acquiesce to her lawyers’ demand that the FBI investigate the matter before Ford would testify about her decades-old allegation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh.
“You have stated repeatedly that Dr. Ford wants to tell her story. I sincerely hope that Dr. Ford will accept my invitation to do so, either privately or publicly, on Monday,” Grassley wrote in a Wednesday letter to Ford’s lawyers, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks. “In the meantime, my staff would still welcome the opportunity to speak with Dr. Ford at a time and place convenient to her.”
Katz and Banks fired back later Wednesday, saying in a statement that “the rush to a hearing is unnecessary, and contrary to the Committee discovering the truth.” They also said Ford has received death threats and has been unable to return to her home.
“[Ford] continues to believe that a full non-partisan investigation of this matter is needed and she is willing to cooperate with the Committee,” the attorneys added.
If Ford chooses to testify, Grassley noted, she will be required to send her written testimony to the committee by Friday at 10 a.m. The letter seemed to have satisfied, at least for the moment, some of the more skittish members of the Republican conference who pushed for Ford to be given a platform to tell her story.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who were instrumental in convincing Grassley to hold a public hearing about the allegations on Monday, said they hoped Ford would reconsider her decision. Collins noted that the committee has offered Ford the opportunity to testify either in public or in private.
Ford told The Washington Post on Sunday that an intoxicated Kavanaugh forced himself on her while the two were at a party in high school. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations. The White House has stood by Kavanaugh and has been preparing him for Monday’s hearing.
Just a few days ago, officials at the White House had quietly feared that the small group of Republican senators could lead to the defeat of the nomination.
But by Wednesday, Team Trump had quickly grown, for now, cautiously upbeat and optimistic about Kavanaugh’s chances due to what senior aides viewed as the potentially squeamish GOP lawmakers like Collins and Flake rallying behind GOP leaders amid Ford’s refusal to testify publicly Monday, according to two administration officials.
“That didn’t take long,” marveled one of these officials.
Trump’s public response and posturing since the Post story broke has so far remained somewhat muted compared to some of his past unforced public-relations disasters, with sources close to the president largely attributing that to the counsel of top aides such as Kellyanne Conway, Bill Shine, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“I really want to see her. I really would want to see what [Ford] has to say,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “If she shows up, that would be wonderful; if she doesn’t show up, that would be unfortunate.”
He also said that it is “very hard for me to imagine anything happened” between the two, and that the situation has been “very unfair” to Kavanaugh.
For the more aggressive pro-Kavanaugh, anti-Ford talking points, the West Wing has left that primarily to its trusted outside allies.
Ed Rollins, co-chair of the pro-Trump Great America PAC, told The Daily Beast earlier this week that Kavanaugh “is eminently qualified! They need to get him confirmed now,” and that “if this is the new standard, no one will ever want or be able to serve in government or on the judiciary.”
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are growing frustrated with the process and are expected to use the remainder of this week to convince Ford to appear before the committee on Monday. Aides say the hearing will go on as planned even if only Kavanaugh shows up.
But Republicans are aware of the poor political optics if the committee presses forward with a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination before it hears from Ford.
But by that point, she will have missed her chance, they say.
“Republicans put themselves at risk of horrible optics in offering the hearing and called the bluff of Dr. Ford’s legal team,” a senior GOP aide said. “Contrasting her unwillingness to even appear for a closed hearing to Kavanaugh’s eagerness to begin clearing his name as early as possible is a fairly strong suggestion at who is more confident in the credibility of their story.”
That said, aides for Republican and Democratic senators on the committee have argued that if Ford shows up Monday and comes off as a compelling and credible witness, it could seriously damage Kavanaugh’s prospects. Republicans only have a one-vote majority in the Senate, and Kavanaugh has yet to secure the support of the requisite 50 senators.
All 10 Democrats on the judiciary committee have called for a full FBI investigation to precede any hearing. Ford’s lawyers echoed those calls in their letter to Grassley on Tuesday night.
“A full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the Committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions,” Katz and Banks wrote.
But Republicans were quick to note that Ford’s attorneys were making the same argument as Senate Democrats, prompting some to suggest that the two parties were coordinating as part of a broader political calculation.
“Requiring an FBI investigation of a 36-year-old allegation (without specific references to time or location) before Professor Ford will appear before the Judiciary Committee is not about finding the truth, but delaying the process till after the midterm elections,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who suggested the committee could vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination as early as next Wednesday, said in a statement.
Grassley noted in his letter to Ford’s attorneys that the Senate cannot compel the FBI to investigate Ford’s claims, adding: “The job of assessing and investigating a nominee’s qualifications in order to decide whether to consent to the nomination is ours, and ours alone.”
In a subsequent response to the committee’s Democrats later Wednesday, Grassley said he would not delay the hearing and formally rejected their calls for an FBI probe.
“It would be a disservice to Dr. Ford, Judge Kavanaugh, this Committee, and the American people to delay this hearing any further,” he wrote.