Kavanaugh's accuser reaches deal to testify
Testimony set for Thursday after hours of talks, sources say.
The woman who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers has reached a final agreement with the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify Thursday, although some details —including whether Republicans will use an outside lawyer to question her — remain unresolved, people involved in the talks said Sunday.
The agreement, reached after an hourlong negotiating session Sunday morning between her lawyers and committee aides, is the latest step in a halting process toward a potentially explosive hearing that will pit the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, against Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s second nominee to the Supreme Court. On Saturday, the two sides had reached a tentative agreement for Blasey to appear Thursday.
“Despite actual threats to her safety and her life, Dr. Ford believes it is important for senators to hear directly from her about the sexual assault committed against her,” her lawyers, Debra S. Katz, Lisa J. Banks and Michael R. Bromwich, said in a statement Sunday morning, adding that while some logistical and other details were not yet settled, “theyw ill not impede the hearing taking place.”
The on-again, off-again talks — with an appointment to the nation’s highest court in the balance — have consumed official Washington, and thrown confirmation proceedings for Kavanaugh, who has vigorously denied Blasey’s allegations, into turmoil. Until last week, Kavana- ugh’s confirmation seemed all but assured; Blasey’s testimony has the potential to alter that.
At least one Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said Sunday that it was unlikely that Blasey’s testimony would change his mind. He accused Democrats of taking advantage of her.
“I want to listen to Dr. Ford. I feel sorry for her. I think she’s being used here,” he said on “Fox News Sunday,” adding, “I’m not going to play a game here and tell you this will wipe out his entire life, because if nothing changes, it won’t with me.”
The Blasey accusations carry unmistakable echoes of the 1991 confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexual harassment by the law professor Anita Hill. The Thomas hearings riveted the nation, and the hearing with Blasey promises a similar spectacle, one that will invariably explore Kavana- ugh’s upbringing in the exclu- sive world of prep schools in suburban Washington.
Both Kavanaugh and Blasey attended private schools, and she has said that the judge and a friend of his were “stumbling drunk” when the assault occurred in about 1982. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said Sunday that questions about Kava- naugh’s high school alcohol consumption were bound to come up.
“Well, it’s certainly rele- vant to the whole conversation,” Durbin said on the ABC program “This Week.” “Dr. Ford has said that they were stumbling drunk at the time that this occurred. And there have been a lot of things said about the alco- hol that was consumed by the judge as well as by oth- ers in his school. That has to be part of any relevant questioning.”
The talks between the two sides Sunday morning produced an agreement on the general shape of the hearing, a person briefed on the talks said. It will be open to the public; there will be breaks at 45-minute intervals, or on request; and while Blasey prefers that Kavanaugh testify first, she will accept that she might have to go first. There will also be security for Blasey, who has received death threats, and she will have two lawyers at the witness table with her.
But other sticking points remain. One is whether the committee will subpoena Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh’s who Blasey has said was in the room at the time of the assault, or any others said to be at the gathering where the alleged assault occurred. Judge has said he knows of no such incident.
But perhaps the biggest sticking point is whether senators on the Judiciary Committee will question Blasey themselves, or use an outside lawyer or a committee aide, most likely a woman.
All the Republicans on the panel are men. In a mid- term election season where Republicans are already struggling to connect with female voters, party leaders desperately want to avoid images of an all-male panel ganging up on a woman who says she experienced a sexual assault. There are four women on the Judiciary Committee, but all are Democrats.
Lawyers for Blasey have strongly opposed having an outside questioner, arguing that it could give the hearing a prosecutorial tone. And Senate Democrats have indicated that, no matter whom Republicans choose to question Blasey, when she is questioned by Democrats, senators will be doing the talking.
“We were told no decision has been made on this important issue, even though various senators have been dismissive of her account and should have to shoulder their responsibility to ask her questions,” Blasey’s lawyers said in their statement. “Nor were we told when we would have that answer or answers to the other unresolved issues.”
Mike Davis, Sen. Chuck Grassley’s chief counsel for judicial nominations, wrote in his own message to the lawyers Sunday that some of those concerns went against standard committee procedure.
“As with any witness who comes before the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee cannot hand over its constitutional duties to attorneys for outside witnesses,” he wrote. “The committee determines which witnesses to call, how many witnesses to call, in what order to call them, and who will question them. These are nonnegotiable.”
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, is sworn in Sept. 4 at his confirmation hearing in Washington.