WASHINGTON — A lawyer for the California professor accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault on Thursday told Senate Judiciary Committee staffers she would be willing to testify next Thursday, but not Monday, if the terms are fair and her safety is assured.
Reopening stalled negotiations, Debra Katz, an attorney for Christine Blasey Ford, said Monday’s planned hearing “is not possible" and the preference is for Thursday. She added that Ford also does not want Kavanaugh in the same room, according to news reports.
Katz, who canceled media interviews to negotiate privately, also said in the 30-minute phone call that she wanted other witnesses called, including Kavanaugh's friend Mark Judge, who Ford said had been in the room at the time of the alleged sexual assault when they were in high school. Judge already said through an attorney he won't testify.
The phone call negotiation came the night before the 10 a.m. Friday deadline that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chairman, set for Ford to say if she intends to appear at the Monday hearing. It's not clear if Grassley will hold to that deadline.
In a statement after the call, Grassley's committee spokesman, Taylor Foy, said Grassley’s staff now "will consult with his colleagues on the committee," and that Grassley is committed to "providing a fair forum" for both Ford and Kavanaugh.
But that might not be an easy task.
Kavanaugh urged Grassley to move ahead with the 10 a.m. Monday hearing in a letter sent Thursday afternoon.
“I will be there,” wrote Kavanaugh, who repeated his denials of Ford’s allegations. “I continue to want a hearing as soon as possible, so that I can clear my name.”
Kavanaugh said committee staff interviewed him Monday and he twice requested a hearing the very next day. In contrast, Ford has been slow to respond whether she would appear at a hearing to make her case — and balked at having one before an FBI investigation.
Meanwhile, a conservative activist who is a friend and outside adviser to Kavanaugh for his nomination proposed a theory on Twitter that Ford had mistaken Kavanaugh for a classmate and teammate.
Edward Whelan, president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, used photos, maps and floor plans to show the classmate looks similar to Kavanaugh and his house is located in the area where Ford said the alleged attack took place.
But Ford dismissed that theory in a statement late Thursday, The Washington Post reported, saying she knew and socialized with them both. "There is zero chance that I would confuse them.”
In the email seeking the phone call with Grassley's and Democrats' staff members, Katz said the accuser “wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety."
"As you are aware, she has been receiving death threats, which have been reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and she and her family have been forced out of their home,” Katz wrote.
Katz also said it was still Ford’s “strong preference” to first have an FBI investigation into her allegations of Kavanaugh’s sexual assault when they both were in high school — a claim Kavanaugh categorically denied — but the email did not make it an absolute condition for testifying.
Demands that the FBI investigate the allegations before Ford testify by both Democrats and Ford’s attorneys have been rejected by Grassley and President Donald Trump, who nonetheless have said they wanted her to testify anyway.
Ford’s allegations, made public on Sunday, have thrown the already bitterly partisan confirmation process into turmoil, forcing the cancellation of a committee vote set for Thursday and creating a perilous political situation for senators up for election just weeks ahead of the election.
A poll conducted Sept. 16-19, after Ford's allegations became public, found that opposition by registered voters to Kavanaugh's nomination rose to 38 percent from 29 percent last month.
The poll released Thursday afternoon by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News found 34 percent supported it, about the same as last month, and 28 percent of those surveyed said they didn't have enough information to have an opinion.
Among women, who could play the role of swing voters in the midterms, opposition to Kavanaugh's confirmation stood at 42 percent, with 28 percent supporting it. Among men, however, 43 percent backed Kavanaugh and 33 percent opposed him.
As Ford hesitated in following through on her willingness to testify in her interview with The Washington Post on Sunday, Senate Republicans began to increasingly urge that a committee vote be held next week to set up a quick final vote by the full Senate.
Judiciary Committee Republicans are poised to use their 11-10 majority to approve Kavanaugh's nomination and send it for a final vote by the full Senate, where they have a narrow 51-49 vote edge.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Thursday he is confident the Senate will confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Democrats continued to demand an FBI investigation. If one doesn't happen, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a committee member, said Democrats would open an investigation if they win control of the House or Senate, even if Kavanaugh is confirmed and on the Supreme Court.
“I am confident of that,” said Whitehouse on CNN. “And I think we’ll also be investigating why the FBI stood down its background investigation when this came up in this particular background.”
Meanwhile, police arrested some protesters opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination, and backing Ford and her allegations, as they demonstrated in Senate office buildings, including at Grassley’s office.
After 65 men and women who knew Kavanaugh in high school signed a letter supporting him, more than 1,000 graduates of Holton Arms High School signed a letter supporting Ford, who attended that private high school in Washington's suburbs.