Christine Ford, a psychology professor from California, accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party 36 years ago, when both were teenagers, an allegation the judge vehemently denies. Ford’s accusation was leaked to the media days before the Senate Judiciary Committee was set to recommend Kavanaugh for confirmation by the full Senate.
Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) set a deadline for the morning of Sept. 21 for Ford to decide if she will testify. Ford’s lawyer had previously stated that the accuser is willing to share her story with the committee, but later reverted to demanding that the FBI conduct an investigation before any hearing takes place.
In response to the demand for an FBI probe, Grassley explained that the allegation isn’t within the bureau’s jurisdiction since it isn’t a federal crime. The committee can’t order the bureau to conduct an investigation, the chairman added.
“The Constitution assigns the Senate, and only the Senate, with the task of advising the president on his nominee and consenting to the nomination if the circumstances merit,” Grassley wrote. “We have no power to commandeer an Executive Branch agency into conducting our due diligence.”
The FBI said that it isn’t investigating Ford’s allegation.
In the meantime, Kavanaugh stood by his willingness to testify before the committee. The judge says he never treated anyone in the manner that Ford described and that he never attended the party where the alleged assault took place.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump stood by his nominee and hoped Ford would agree to testify.
“Look, if she shows up and makes a credible showing, that will be very interesting and we’ll have to make a decision,” Trump said. “But I can only say this: He’s such an outstanding man—very hard for me to imagine that anything happened.
“If she shows up, that would be wonderful. If she doesn’t show up, that would be unfortunate,” Trump added, referring to the committee testimony.
Ford’s lawyer, Debra Katz, explained in a letter to Grassley that her client had been harassed and received death threats after coming forward publicly with the accusation. Katz argued that facing the committee on national television side-by-side with Kavanaugh would force Ford “to relive this traumatic and harrowing incident.”
Grassley replied to clarify that the committee had offered Ford multiple dates to testify and gave her the opportunity to opt for a private hearing.
“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 the meantime, my staff would still welcome the opportunity to speak with Dr. Ford at a time and place convenient to her.”
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) who had previously called to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation to hear from Ford, told Fox News that he would push the nomination forward if the accuser refused to testify on Sept. 24.
“I now implore Dr. Ford to accept the invitation for Monday, in a public or private setting. The committee should hear her voice,” Flake wrote on Twitter.
When Dr. Ford came forward, I said that her voice should be heard and asked the Judiciary Committee to delay its vote on Judge Kavanaugh. It did so. I now implore Dr. Ford to accept the invitation for Monday, in a public or private setting. The committee should hear her voice.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) September 19, 2018
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) echoed Flake’s call.
“Republicans extended a hand in good faith. If we don’t hear from both sides on Monday, let’s vote,” Corker tweeted.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), another member of the judiciary committee, accused Democrats of using the allegations as an opportune political move, rather than following the committee process for investigating accusations.
“No matter the outcome, Democrats should be held responsible for circumventing the very process that protects people like Dr. Ford. Their decision to reveal this allegation at the most politically damaging moment reeks of opportunism,” Hatch wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key swing vote, said that she’s confused by Ford’s refusal to testify.
“Much to my surprise, it now appears that she’s turning down all [of her] options, even though her attorney said earlier this week that she would come testify,” Collins told WVOM, a local radio station in Maine. “I just don’t understand why the hearing shouldn’t go forward.”
The confirmation saga swirls in Washington just weeks away from the Nov. 6 midterm elections, during which Republicans are looking to hold on to their majorities in the House and Senate. Trump said on Sept. 18 that the Supreme Court is key to his winning the presidency.
“The Supreme Court is one of the main reasons I got elected President,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I hope Republican Voters, and others, are watching, and studying, the Democrats Playbook.”
The Supreme Court is one of the main reasons I got elected President. I hope Republican Voters, and others, are watching, and studying, the Democrats Playbook.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2018
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) doubts the need to investigate Ford’s allegation, noting that the accuser couldn’t specify a date or location for the alleged assault. The call for the FBI probe “is not about finding the truth, but delaying the process till after the midterm elections,” Graham wrote on Twitter.
“It is imperative the Judiciary committee move forward on the Kavanaugh nomination and a committee vote be taken ASAP,” Graham added.
Democrats have said the White House can order a more detailed FBI investigation, such as what occurred during the 1991 confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexual harassment. Republicans have said the FBI would be doing nothing more than what committee staffers could achieve by interviewing Kavanaugh and Ford.
Committee Republicans have planned for only Kavanaugh and Ford to testify, but Democrats want other witnesses, too.
Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) said Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s high school friend, should be subpoenaed if he refuses to testify. Ford has said Judge witnessed the alleged assault. In a letter to the committee on Sept. 18, Judge’s lawyer said Judge didn’t recall the incident and didn’t wish to testify.
Separately, a former classmate of Kavanaugh’s denied attending the party where the assault allegedly occurred. Patrick Smyth sent a letter to Grassley and ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, saying, in addition, that he wasn’t aware of any “improper conduct” by Kavanaugh, a classmate at Georgetown Preparatory School, according to CNN, which obtained a copy of the letter.
A spokesman for the police department in Montgomery County, Maryland, site of the alleged incident, said it has no investigation ongoing.
Reuters contributed to this report.