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Kavanaugh Accuser Open To Testifying About Sexual Assault Allegations

Sep 20, 2018
Originally published on September 24, 2018 5:28 pm

Updated at 8:20 p.m. ET

Attorneys for Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a high school party in the 1980s, have begun discussing terms of her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.

"She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety," Debra Katz, Ford's lawyer says in an email to committee aides first reported in the New York Times and confirmed by NPR.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, set a Friday deadline for Ford to respond to the committee in advance of a hearing he scheduled for Monday. Kavanaugh, who has strongly denied the claims, has already agreed to appear.

But Katz says that a Monday hearing "is not possible and the committee's insistence that it occur then is arbitrary in any event."

Grassley was forced to postpone a planned committee vote on Kavanaugh's nomination scheduled for Sept. 20 after Democrats and some of his GOP colleagues demanded the committee investigate the allegations. Ford initially sent the top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a letter requesting anonymity in July. But when word leaked out that Feinstein had some information about an allegation regarding Kavanaugh, Ford detailed the incident in an interview with the Washington Post published online Sept. 16.

Attorneys for Ford did a round of interviews after she went public and pledged that she was prepared to testify before the committee. But Democrats and Ford's attorneys pressed Grassley to first agree to an FBI investigation of the alleged incident and to invite other witnesses to appear at any public hearing.

Katz added in her communication to the committee Thursday: "Dr. Ford has asked me to let you know that she appreciates the various options you have suggested. Her strong preference continues to be for the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow for a full investigation prior to her testimony."

Thursday evening the White House released a letter from Kavanaugh to Grassley where the judge informed the committee chairman that "I will be there" at Monday's planned hearing.

The high court nominee added: "I continue to want a hearing as soon as possible, so that I can clear my name.

"Since the moment I first heard this allegation, I have categorically and unequivocally denied it. I remain committed to defending my integrity."

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, may appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week, just not on Monday as the committee had planned. Her attorneys say they want to make sure they agree with committee staff on terms that are, quote, "fair and which ensure her safety."

Her testimony has become the subject of political infighting in the days since she first went public with her allegation, an allegation that Kavanaugh denies. Democrats on the committee say the process has been rushed, and they're calling for an FBI investigation first. Republicans say they've gone out of their way to make Ford comfortable to testify.

NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell has been following the latest developments and joins us now. Hi, Kelsey

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hey there.

SHAPIRO: What are the conditions that Ford's attorneys say need to be met before she'll appear?

SNELL: They aren't very specific beyond saying that they want to work with the committee to set terms. They were pretty clear, however, that they won't be ready to testify on Monday as the committee has, as you said, already insisted. The email - it was really only about two paragraphs long. And she says she wishes to testify but has serious concerns about her security. And that's something that we've heard from her before, which is that she has been forced out of her home. She lives in California, and she was forced to flee after she became public. And she's received death threats. So they're asking for some consideration about that.

And they also say her strong preference is for the committee to allow a full investigation prior to her agreeing to appear. And in the past, that has meant she has wanted an FBI investigation, which Republicans have repeatedly said they are not willing to pursue.

SHAPIRO: Have Republicans responded to this latest letter?

SNELL: Not yet. The email was made public really late this afternoon. And it's just getting into kind of the committee bloodstream. Grassley has been public about urging her to appear, and he says he wants to do what the committee can to reasonably accommodate her.

SHAPIRO: This is Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.

SNELL: Sorry. Yes, the committee chairman - he was saying, you know, that they have been really diligent about this. He came out and talked to reporters yesterday and listed four different ways that she could appear. And only one of those ways involved a public hearing in Washington on Monday.

And a part of this all is that the committee has been publicly documenting all of the ways that they've reached out to her, reached out to other witnesses. And they're trying to create this opportunity to see that they are really doing things in a methodical way. And that's - I mean, that's been really important to them. And it's been important to the president, who has been very restrained about this. He hasn't weighed in on Twitter. And when he was asked about it yesterday, he said that he personally wanted to hear from her. So...

SHAPIRO: So Monday seems to have been ruled out. But will we see Ford and Brett Kavanaugh in an open hearing next week?

SNELL: We really don't know yet. And that's - it's kind of late in the game for this to be the conversation that we're having. The committee set a deadline of Friday morning at 10 a.m. for Blasey Ford and her attorneys to turn in a biography and written testimony.

Now, we don't really know if that deadline still stands. I mean, in the letter, Ford's attorneys say she appreciates that Grassley has been open to several options for her testimony. But they don't commit to any of them. And presumably, that would be something they'll discuss in the call that her - that the attorneys are asking for.

SHAPIRO: An open hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee would be such a spectacle. It would likely be a very difficult setting for Ford, who would be questioned by 21 senators in a marathon session. And the prospect of a public hearing also has serious political implications for both parties. How are they dealing with that?

SNELL: Yeah. All of that public disclosure that I mentioned that Republicans on the committee have been doing are part of the politics here. I mean, they're working to appear as a reasonable and helpful as possible because they want to say that she should be heard while still continuing to pursue getting Kavanaugh confirmed because that is their No. 1 thing. They're under pressure from President Trump, from their activist base. They want to get him on the court before October 1, the beginning of October when the Supreme Court starts. And the longer this is delayed, the less likely it is that that could happen.

SHAPIRO: If that's how Republicans are dealing with it, what about the Democrats? They've been calling for Ford to be heard but supporting her call for an FBI investigation.

SNELL: Yeah. And they continue to insist that they are only asking for things that they believe are fair to Ford. And there is this big fight about whether or not they should have told the FBI sooner, whether it should have been released sooner. The top Democrat on the committee, Dianne Feinstein, had a letter from Blasey Ford for many weeks before it became public. That's become kind of a fight.

SHAPIRO: So you said the Republicans' No. 1 priority is getting Kavanaugh on the court. Probably their No. 2 priority is the November midterms. How is this playing into the political calculation about the campaign?

SNELL: Republicans so far have not strayed from their support or their seeming support. If anything, it's a big pressure on red state Democrats who, you know, have to answer to Republican voters in their states.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Kelsey Snell, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.