Senate Republicans say they plan to forge ahead with a hearing next Monday whether Christine Blasey Ford is there or not, a take-it-or-leave-it gambit to put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court before the end of the month that risks backfiring politically.
Lawyers for Ford, the California professor who accuses Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, said Tuesday night that their client wants an FBI investigation before she testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The committee’s GOP chairman, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), scheduled Ford’s testimony before confirming that this day worked for her. He did, however, make sure it worked for President Trump’s nominee, who categorically denies any wrongdoing and has been holed up at the White House preparing for his second round in front of the Senate.
“The invitation for Monday still stands,” Grassley said in a statement. “Dr. Ford’s testimony would reflect her personal knowledge and memory of events. 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.”
Contrary to some semi-misleading coverage that’s out there this morning, Ford still wants to testify in a public setting. Moreover, the two-page letter from her lawyers does not explicitly say she will not come next Monday if there’s no FBI probe. “She will talk with the committee,” Lisa Banks, one of her lawyers, told Anderson Cooper on CNN. “She is not prepared to talk with them at a hearing on Monday. No legitimate investigation is going to happen between now and Monday. This is going to take some time. There shouldn’t be a rush to a hearing here.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), the No. 3 in GOP leadership, told reporters that Ford is “not really in a position to make conditions.”
Other Republicans went further. “This has been a drive-by shooting when it comes to Kavanaugh,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Seung Min Kim. “I’ll listen to the lady, but we’re going to bring this to a close.” Graham added later, “We run the committee – not her lawyer, not the Democrats.”
— There is a danger for Republicans that this kind of brusque rhetoric toward a purported victim of sexual assault will be perceived as bullying by voters, especially the college-educated, suburban women who are poised to determine which party controls the House come November. As I wrote yesterday, even before Ford came forward, Kavanaugh was already the least popular and most polarizing nominee to the Supreme Court since Robert Bork in 1987.
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— Ford’s lawyers say quotes like the one from Graham prove that Republicans have already pre-judged their client’s claims and thus showcase why an independent investigation is needed. “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,” Banks and Debra Katz, Ford’s other lawyer, wrote in a letter to the Judiciary Committee.
— The professor’s eagerness to fully cooperate with the FBI is significant for another reason: Making a false statement to the bureau is a felony. Just ask former Trump aides Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos and Rick Gates. The FBI, incidentally, is led by Trump appointee Christopher Wray. (In August, on the advice of counsel, Ford passed a polygraph test that was administered by a retired FBI agent.)
— The push to move ahead with no formal investigation underscores why victims generally hesitate to come forward, advocates say, and the vitriol Ford has faced explains why she wanted to stay anonymous until Sunday.
As Graham talked about the “drive-by shooting,” for example, Ford’s lawyers revealed that their client has received death threats, her private email has been hacked and she’s being impersonated online. Ford and her family have now moved out of their home, and she and her husband are staying apart from their two children as a safety precaution.Unlike Kavanaugh, Ford does not get a security detail.
“At 10:28 Tuesday morning, a Twitter account with a white nationalist talking point for its handle posted Christine Blasey Ford’s personal address,” Elise Viebeck reports. “The account called for ‘peaceful protests’ at Ford’s home in Northern California … The allegation was a ‘hoax’ orchestrated by the ‘deranged left,’ the account tweeted. This was at least the third time a Twitter user had ‘doxed’ Ford — posted her personal information online — since she revealed her identity to The Washington Post … Twitter spokesman Ian Plunkett declined to say whether the site suspended any accounts or deleted any tweets for revealing personal information about Ford. … As of Tuesday evening, the Twitter account posting Ford’s address was still active, and another account had posted what it said was an aerial photo of Ford’s house.”
— But Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who calls the shots more than Grassley, is eager to move quickly so that he can avoid his nightmare scenario in which Kavanaugh, or a replacement nominee, wouldn’t get confirmed before the midterms and then Democrats win control of the Senate. The odds of such a takeover are quite low, but a Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) could theoretically keep the seat open through the 2020 election – following the precedent McConnell created when he refused to allow a hearing for Merrick Garland in 2016.
— At the behest of the current majority leader, several GOP senators signaled last night that they’re fine moving forward without Ford’s testimony or an FBI investigation:
— Behind the scenes, Republican senators are more divided about what to do:
— This fight is not without risk for Democrats, either. The showdown might motivate conservatives in red states where Democratic incumbents are up for reelection, and some voters could conclude that GOP leaders tried in good faith to offer Ford a chance to testify but she declined. If there’s a perception that Ford and Democrats are working together too closely in trying to delay proceedings, Republicans and maybe some independents might view her claims as being motivated by partisanship.
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Before the letter from Ford’s lawyer last night, Democrats had also been demanding an FBI investigation before a hearing. “She is under no obligation to participate in the Republican efforts to sweep this whole thing under the rug, to continue this nomination on the fast track and to participate in a smear campaign and basically a railroad job,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), a member of the committee. “This is what they did to Anita Hill!” At a news conference with Democratic colleagues, Hirono added: “I just want to say to the men in this country, just shut up and step up. Do the right thing, for a change.”
— Meanwhile, Kavanaugh had a two-hour “murder board” yesterday at the Eisenhower Office Building to rehearse for next week. The judge practiced answering tough questions about his past, his partying, his drinking, his dating and Ford’s allegations, per Josh Dawsey. Participants in the session included White House counsel Don McGahn, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and deputy chief of staff Bill Shine.
Shine’s role in prepping Kavanaugh is notable because of his scandal-plagued tenure as co-president of Fox News. He was pushed out of the cable network last year after multiple lawsuits suggested that he enabled alleged sexual harassment by Roger Ailes, his boss for 20 years. Shine himself was not accused of sexual misconduct and has maintained that he didn’t know what Ailes was doing to the women who worked for them.
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— For his part, Trump himself tried to cast Kavanaugh as the real victim during an afternoon news conference. “This is not a man that deserves this,” he said. “I feel so badly for him that he’s going through this.”
The president did not express sympathy for Ford and what she’s going through. He did say, though, that “there shouldn’t even be a little doubt” about whether Kavanaugh did what she alleges. “I feel that the Republicans — and I can speak for myself — we should go through a process, because there shouldn’t even be a little doubt,” he said.
POTUS reiterated his support on social media:
— An alleged witness, who agents could interview if the FBI pursued the matter, is unwilling to testify before the Senate. Ford alleges that Mark Judge was in the room – laughing – when Kavanaugh pinned her down and attempted to rape her. But Judge’s lawyer sent a letter to the Senate yesterday saying his client does not want to appear or answer any questions. The lawyer said Judge has “no memory of this alleged incident.”
Judge’s 1997 memoir, “Wasted: Tales of a Gen-X Drink,” references a “Bart O’Kavanaugh” character who passes out drunk and throws up in a car. “A quote from a playwright runs alongside the family photos on Mark Judge’s page in his high school yearbook: ‘Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs,’” Avi Selk reports. “Judge’s yearbook entry appears one page before the bio of … Kavanaugh. Both men graduated in 1983 … In two memoirs, Judge depicted his high school as a nest of debauchery where students attended ‘masturbation class,’ ‘lusted after girls’ from nearby Catholic schools and drank themselves into stupors at parties. He has since renounced that lifestyle and refashioned himself as a conservative moralist — albeit one who has written about ‘the wonderful beauty of uncontrollable male passion.’”
“Fortunately,” Kavanaugh said in a 2015 speech, “we had a good saying that we’ve held firm to to this day … which is: ‘What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep.’ I think that’s been a good thing for all of us!”
Democrats asked to subpoena Judge to appear on Monday, but Republicans said no.
— Linda Fairstein, the former chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Sex Crimes Bureau who is not involved in that fight, said Judge would be “an essential witness.” She said it’s rare for any sexual assault to happen with a witness present. “To me, it’s compelling that she puts someone else there, and that the person who happens to be in the room has a blackout drinking problem,” Fairstein told Deanna Paul. “That’s sort of the intoxicated behavior she described that night. … Ford mentioned details — like the pool party, the narrow staircase, that the house was in Montgomery County. There are enough facts for someone to remember it was their party and their house.”
Fairstein added that it’s also completely normal Ford “didn’t remember” several details. “If she testifies, I would expect her to say ‘I don’t remember’ scores of times,” Fairstein said, for two reasons: the passage of time and trauma. “She found this experience so upsetting that she felt her life was in danger. There might be 220 things she doesn’t know and then a very specific sentence about what happened that was so traumatic.”
— Many women are rallying behind Ford. “Several former colleagues said that, as a biostatistician and psychologist, Ford was known for her scrupulous and meticulous professional conduct. She has published several books and more than 65 peer-reviewed journal articles,” the Associated Press reports from Palo Alto, Calif. “Her work often involves analyzing data gathered in medical studies ranging from investigations of new depression treatments to opioid addiction interventions and traumatic brain injury research.
“Sarah Adler, a former student of Ford’s who is now a clinical psychologist at Stanford, co-organized a letter in support of her former professor that had been signed by more than 300 colleagues and former students by Tuesday afternoon. Another letter of support has been signed by more than 700 graduates of her private prep school, Holton-Arms. ‘I think she felt morally compelled to come forward, which is very much in line with what I know of her,’ said Adler. ‘She analyzes the data and lets the data tell the story.’ … Ford values clear professional boundaries and isn’t one to share personal struggles with coworkers, the former colleagues said.”
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— How it’s playing elsewhere:
- Anita Hill has an op-ed in the New York Times: “In 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court. It failed on both counts. As that same committee, on which sit some of the same members as nearly three decades ago, now moves forward with the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings, the integrity of the court, the country’s commitment to addressing sexual violence as a matter of public interest, and the lives of the two principal witnesses who will be testifying hang in the balance.”
- Mimi Rocah, Barbara McQuade, Jill Wine-Banks, Joyce White Vance and Maya Wiley for NBC News: “Prosecutors look for corroborating evidence — and there are strong indications already that Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth about her attack. … If you are still inclined to believe that Ford is lying, ask yourself: Why would she create a defense witness by identifying Mark Judge, who was and still is indisputably a friend of Kavanaugh’s, as being present and participating in this attack? Why would she place at the scene an individual who could, because of loyalties to his friend, contradict her account if she were making this up? She wouldn’t.”
- Deanna Paul: “The worst is yet to come for Kavanaugh’s accuser. Take it from this sexual assault expert.”
- Mike Rosenwald: “Re-watching Joe Biden’s disastrous Anita Hill hearing: A sexual harassment inquisition.”
- Politico: “George W. Bush reaffirms support for Kavanaugh.”
- Wendy Sherman in USA Today: “Don’t repeat Anita Hill nightmare with Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.”
- Slate: “Everything We Know About Trauma Suggests Christine Blasey Ford Is Telling the Truth.”
- East Bay Times: “Anna Eshoo was first to hear Blasey Ford’s story: ‘I told her I believed her.’”
- Mediaite: “Tucker Carlson Guest Calls Kavanaugh Accuser Christine Blasey Ford a ‘Loon.’”
- Boston Globe: “With Kavanaugh vote, Susan Collins is in the middle of a firestorm.”
- The Atlantic: “The GOP Response to the Kavanaugh Allegations Sends an Unmistakable Message to Women.”
- Bob Schiff, Kristine Lucius, Jeff Berman and Lisa Graves for Time: “Brett Kavanaugh Can’t Be Trusted. We Know Because We Worked as Counsel to Senators When He Was in the Bush White House.”
- Vox: “The Kavanaugh assault allegations are a reminder that Democrats were smart to push out Al Franken.”
— In a measured column for today’s newspaper, David Von Drehle calls on Kavanaugh to withdraw so that Trump can nominate a woman as his replacement and the country can avoid the ugliness that seems inevitable in the coming days: “A decision to block Kavanaugh would surely add a new, arguably unhealthy, dimension to the ugly judicial wars already disfiguring the Senate. The first high-profile nominee brought down by disputed misconduct in high school would probably not be the last. … But a decision to confirm Kavanaugh under these circumstances portends further damage to the already battered credibility of the Supreme Court. … It’s unimaginable that Kavanaugh would have been the pick if Ford’s accusation had been known last spring. And this suggests a least-bad solution to the Senate’s dilemma. Kavanaugh can put the country ahead of his personal ambitions. While maintaining his innocence, he can withdraw for the sake of the court’s credibility. He can continue his distinguished service on the second-highest court in the land.”