By LISA MASCARO, MARY CLARE JALONICK and JONATHAN LEMIRE , Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Details must be worked out on a tentative agreement for a Thursday hearing for Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee about her allegation that the Supreme Court nominee sexually assaulted her decades ago. Talks were continuing Sunday.
Lawyers for Ford and bipartisan representatives of the committee came to the tentative agreement after a short but productive phone call late Saturday, said a person briefed on the matter, who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity. The person said Kavanaugh would also appear.
Some details of the hearing, such as the order of their testimony, remained in negotiation and talks were expected to continue Sunday. A second person confirmed the tentative agreement for the hearing Thursday.
The tentative accord could begin to close days of high-stakes brinkmanship that have roiled Washington ahead of midterm elections and threatened to jeopardize Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court.
Tensions have been running on overdrive since Ford, a 51-year-old college professor in California, went public with her allegation that Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were at a house party in high school. Kavanaugh, an appellate court judge, denied the allegation and said he wanted to testify as soon as possible to clear his name.
Ford initially indicated she wanted to tell her story to the committee, but talks dragged on as her lawyers negotiated terms of her appearance.
Republicans have grown frustrated as Ford’s lawyers insisted on a hearing next Thursday rather than Monday or even Wednesday and made other requests, some of which the committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, rejected. Democrats, against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, countered that Ford should be shown respect and given accommodation to tell her story.
As the talks continued, Grassley warned that he would schedule a Monday vote on whether to recommend Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate. On Saturday, both sides convened for the phone call that lasted about 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, Republicans viewed Ford’s requests as a way to delay voting on President Donald Trump’s nominee.
As Republicans were considering their next move in private talks Saturday, fresh divisions were emerging between those who have advocated confirmation and other GOP senators who have expressed his interest in hearing Ford’s story before voting.
The White House is approaching Ford’s potential testimony with trepidation, nervous that an emotional performance might not just damage Kavanaugh’s chances but could further energize female voters to turn out against Republicans in November against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement.
Moreover, the West Wing aides who had urged Trump to remain muted in his response to the accusations worried about how the president might react to an hourslong, televised hearing. In tweet Friday, Trump broke his silence to cast doubt on Ford’s story in ways Republicans had been carefully trying to avoid.
Trump mused to confidants that the “fake” attacks against his nominee were meant to undermine his presidency, according to a White House official and a Republican close to the White House. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.
Other Republicans scoffed at Ford’s latest offer questioning her willingness to accept the committee’s request to tell her story.
“When?” tweeted the No. 2 GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the committee.
Details of the Thursday hearing remain in flux.
On Friday, Grassley turned down Ford’s request that only senators, not attorneys, be allowed to ask questions. The committee’s 11 Republicans — all men — have been seeking an outside female attorney to interrogate Ford, mindful of the election-season impression that could be left by men trying to pick apart a woman’s assertion of a sexual attack.
He also rejected her proposal that she testify after Kavanaugh, a position lawyers consider advantageous because it gives them a chance to rebut accusations.
Grassley rebuffed other Ford requests, including calling additional witnesses. Ford wants an appearance by Mark Judge, a Kavanaugh friend who Ford asserts was at the high school party and in the room where the incident occurred.
The lawyers for Ford wrote to the committee on Saturday that she “accepts the Committee’s request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct next week.”
Attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks said that many aspects of Grassley’s latest offer were “fundamentally inconsistent” with the committee’s promise of a “fair, impartial investigation.” They said they remained disappointed by the “bullying” that “tainted the process.” Yet they remained “hopeful that we can reach agreement on details.”
Ford’s interests are being aided by another prominent Washington attorney, Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general. He said on Twitter Saturday that he had joined her legal team.
Democrats on the committee came to Ford’s side.
“Let’s all remember that Dr. Ford is not on trial, rather Judge Kavanaugh is seeking a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. He said she “should be treated with the respect she deserves.”
Patience among Republicans, though, is running thin. The GOP is facing enormous pressure from its base of conservative leaders and voters to swiftly approve Kavanaugh, who would become the second of Trump’s nominees to sit on the nation’s highest court, ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Earlier Saturday amid the latest deadline standoff Vice President Mike Pence called Kavanaugh “a man of integrity with impeccable credentials.” He said he expected Kavanaugh to join the high court soon.
The lawyer for a woman who Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser has said attended the 1980s party at which he allegedly molested her has told Senate Republican investigators that the woman doesn’t recall such a gathering or know the Supreme Court nominee.
The Washington Post reports Saturday that Christine Blasey Ford told them that Leland Keyser was at that high school party.
A GOP Judiciary Committee investigator contacted Keyser last Tuesday, saying Keyser had been “identified” as attending that party and wanted to talk to her. Committee spokesman Taylor Foy said Keyser’s name “came up” in its investigation.
But in an email late Saturday, Keyser attorney Howard Walsh told the committee she “does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection” of ever attending a gathering with Kavanaugh.
That response seemed a setback to Ford supporters’ efforts to corroborate her claim.
AP writer Eric Tucker contributed from Washington. Lemire reported from Bridgewater, New Jersey.