WASHINGTON — Professor Christine Blasey Ford accepted a Senate committee’s request to testify on her claim of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct, her lawyers said Saturday — with a hearing tentatively set for Thursday.
Ford’s lawyers and aides to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in a brief phone call Saturday reached the tentative agreement on the hearing day of Thursday, which Ford had demanded, and will talk again Sunday morning about other details, according to news reports citing people briefed on the deal.
The breakthrough in tense negotiations over the day of the week for the testimony could lead to a much-watched hearing amid a bitterly fought partisan confirmation process that revs up voters in both parties ahead of the midterm elections just weeks away.
“Dr. Ford accepts the Committee’s request to provide her firsthand knowledge of Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct next week,” Ford lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks wrote in an email that aimed to meet the committee’s 2:30 p.m. deadline to respond.
Grassley did not comment publicly on Ford’s response or the tentative agreement.
Grassley has sought to push the Kavanaugh confirmation ahead while at the same time appearing to be fair in his handling Ford's accusations, which appeared a week ago.
Amid his juggling act, President Donald Trump and some Senate Republicans have become impatient.
“On Monday, Brett Kavanaugh met with Committee counsels to answer questions subject to criminal penalties and offered to testify publicly Tuesday morning,” White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement. “Since then, we have heard about different dates, conditions, and ever changing schedules, but today we appear no closer to a fair hearing.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) tweeted, “Worth noting that this is exactly where we were on Monday morning — without agreeing to a date, time, and terms we are no closer to hearing from Dr Ford then we were when her lawyers said Dr. Ford was willing to testify during their media tour 6 days ago”
Committee Democrats stood with her.
“Dr. Blasey Ford has made the extremely brave decision to testify before the Senate this coming week. Now Senate Republicans must ensure this is a fair hearing with testimony from other witnesses — especially Mark Judge — and questions asked by Senators,” tweeted Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
Grassley and his aides had proposed a public hearing on Wednesday with only two witnesses, Ford and Kavanaugh, with Ford going first, and having an outside counsel, most likely a woman, conduct questioning.
Katz and Banks continued to insist on a Thursday hearing, with only senators asking questions and more witnesses, especially a Kavanaugh friend who Ford said was in the room during the alleged assault.
“Although many aspects of the proposal you provided . . . 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,” they wrote, “we are hopeful that we can reach agreement on details.”
Ford’s allegations, which she revealed last Sunday in a Washington Post interview, have disrupted the Senate Republicans' aggressive road map to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in time to robe up for the start of its new term next Monday.
Ford, 51, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, accused Kavanaugh, 53, of pinning her to a bed, groping her, trying to disrobe her and putting his hand on her mouth when she tried to scream at a drunken house party when she was 15 and he was 17. She escaped, she said, when his friend Mark Judge jumped on them.
Kavanaugh has denied the assault occurred and has repeatedly urged Grassley to hold a hearing so he can clear his name.
Over the past week, the twists and turns have created a drama akin to the controversial interruption of the confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991 when Anita Hill, his former assistant at the EEOC and Education Department, accused him of sexual harassment.
On Saturday, another eruption occurred with the abrupt resignation of committee communications aide Garrett Ventry, 29, who was helping with the response to Ford’s allegations.
Ventry quit, NBC News reported, amid evidence that the North Carolina House speaker had fired him in 2017 because a female Republican General Assembly aide accused him of sexual harassment. Ventry denied the allegation.
In a late Friday night tweet, Grassley tried to explain another delay that he granted Ford’s lawyers in a tweet addressed to Kavanaugh, who sits on the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Judge Kavanaugh I just granted another extension to Dr Ford to decide if she wants to proceed w the statement she made last week to testify to the senate. She shld decide so we can move on I want to hear her. I hope u understand. It’s not my normal approach to b indecisive,” Grassley tweeted.
Trump dropped his restraint and questioned whether Ford experienced a serious assault because neither she nor her parents filed a criminal complaint.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday told conservatives, who focus on shifting the courts to the right, at the Values Voter Summit in Washington on Friday, “You’ve watched the fight, you’ve watched the tactics, but here’s what I want to tell you: in the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) criticized Grassley’s negotiating position demanding a quick response from Ford and her lawyers.
“Bullying a survivor of attempted rape in order to confirm a nominee — particularly at a time when she’s receiving death threats — is an extreme abuse of power,” Feinstein said.
And both Republicans and Democrats criticized Trump’s tweet demanding to see a police report as ignorance of how young women, especially teenagers, react to frightening and humiliating sexual assaults.
In the negotiations over the hearing, a key sticking point has been Ford’s insistence she cannot testify before Thursday while Grassley’s aides have said that the hearing, originally planned for Monday, must be on Wednesday, according to news reports.
The two sides were also far apart on other issues: Ford wants only senators to ask questions, while Grassley said it must include a female counsel; Ford wants Mark Judge, the Kavanaugh friend she said was in the room at the time, to testify, but Grassley nixed other witnesses; and Ford still wants an FBI investigation of her claims before testifying, but Grassley rejected that demand.
Ford also wants Kavanaugh to testify first, but Grassley said she must go first so Kavanaugh can respond to her allegations.
Grassley said he had accepted Ford’s requests that Ford and Kavanaugh testify separately, that Kavanaugh would not be in the room when she appeared before the committee, and that only one camera would be used with press access limited.