Plans for a dramatic, clarifying hearing featuring Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who accused him of sexual assault have descended into chaos and partisan bitterness.
The confusion and bickering between Democrats and Republicans set off by Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations are casting a darkening cloud over Kavanaugh’s hopes of being swiftly confirmed and cementing a conservative majority on the court in a huge win for President Donald Trump.
Senate Democrats are demanding a delay in the hearing scheduled for Monday to allow for time for an FBI probe into the allegations which Kavanagh has categorically denied.
But Trump Tuesday rejected Democratic demands for the bureau to look at Ford’s claims that she was assaulted by a drunken Kavanaugh when they were teenagers at a house party outside Washington in the 1980s.
“I don’t think the FBI really should be involved because they don’t want to be involved,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
“Judge Kavanaugh is anxious to do this. I don’t know about the other party. But Judge Kavanaugh is anxious to do it,” Trump said, sticking to his unusual show of restraint on the drama.
Attention is now also turning to Kavanaugh’s past and behavior around the time of the alleged assault on his fellow high schooler, who is now a California professor and came forward on Sunday about her previously anonymous claims.
The optics of Monday’s planned hearing are also coming into focus, given that the 11 Republican senators who hold the key to passing the nomination out of committee are all middle aged or elderly men and face an acutely sensitive task fraught with political risk when they cross examine Ford, at one of the most agonizing and personal moments of her life.
Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii accused the Republicans of not being sufficiently sensitive to women’s concerns about the allegations.
“Of course it helps that there are women on that committee. … But really, guess who’s perpetuating all of these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country. And 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, Ford has not yet agreed to appear. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said Tuesday on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show that Ford had not responded to multiple requests to do so. On Monday, her lawyer had said her client would be prepared to testify to Congress.
‘We must not repeat the mistake’
Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday sought to build on apparent Democratic momentum after Republicans were left with little choice but to delay Thursday’s previously scheduled committee vote on Kavanaugh and call for the public hearing.
“We must not repeat the mistake of the Anita Hill hearings,” Schumer said, referring to the 1991 confirmation hearings in which the former attorney accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment that in subsequent years came to be seen as one of the most notorious moments in recent congressional history.
“They were rushed. They were a debacle. Do we want to repeat that mistake?”
Democrats want a full FBI investigation into the allegations, but Republicans are keen to avoid any more delays in the nomination – which represents a vital deliverable to their voters in the midterm elections and will cement a conservative majority on the Court, possibly for a generation.
The top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, said that unless there was an investigation, the hearing should not go ahead.
“The important thing is to get this investigated,” she said, adding that if the FBI doesn’t investigate the allegation, “I think it should be delayed.”
In the hours after Ford came forward, Kavanaugh pushed for immediate hearings so he could publicly deny the allegations, a source told CNN’s Ariane de Vogue. The judge was back at the White House on Tuesday preparing his defense after spending all day there on Monday.
One of the big risks for Kavanaugh is the six days until the hearing are likely be filled with speculation about his past and potentially new revelations that could reflect poorly on his character and adversely impact his credibility as a witness.
‘Tales of a Gen X Drunk’
There is increasing interest in Washington on the other person who Ford has said was in the room at a house party in the Washington suburbs while the alleged drunken assault, when she was 15 years old, took place.
The man, Kavanaugh’s old friend Mark Judge, a journalist and filmmaker, has also denied that the incident happened.
“It’s just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way,” Judge told The Weekly Standard in an interview on Friday. CNN has been unable to reach Judge for comment despite repeated attempts.
But in a book “Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk,” he details his experiences of extensive drinking while attending Georgetown Preparatory School, where Kavanaugh was also a student.
Judge writes that he is “shocked” about what he got away with in high school – recalling beach parties that hundreds of people would attend.
At another point he describes his high school as “positively swimming in alcohol” and references a “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” who he writes vomited in someone’s car.
It has not been confirmed whether this is a reference to the Supreme Court nominee in his younger days.
Judge said he had “no memory” of the alleged incident in a letter to the Judiciary Committee Tuesday and his lawyer said he has no plans to speak publicly
“Brett Kavanaugh and I were friends in high school but I do not recall the party described in Dr. Ford’s letter. More to the point, I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes,” Judge wrote.
But the book is certain to fuel questions about Kavanaugh’s character among Democrats on the Judiciary Committee on Monday and the party is demanding that Judge should be asked to testify under oath.
The gender balance of the hearing is also becoming an issue. The Judiciary Committee has 21 members, 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. None of the GOP senators are women. There are four female senators among the Democratic ranks.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who is not on the committee but represents a potentially decisive Republican vote on Kavanaugh in the full Senate, said Tuesday that she would talk to GOP leaders about having attorneys representing Kavanaugh and Ford do the questioning to begin with, before turning over to committee members.
Republicans cannot afford any perception that they are bullying Ford, given the deep hole the party is already experiencing with female voters with the midterm elections only seven weeks away.
“It is not unheard of to have the counsel do the questioning,” she said noting the past precedent with the Watergate hearings. “We have two very experienced trial attorneys that are representing the judge and the professor. And with all due respect to my colleagues on the committee they may be able to elicit more information.”
The fact that both attorneys are women, “might be helpful as well” given the optics of the all male Republican panel on the committee, she said.
But Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said the gender imbalance on the committee would not be a problem.
“That is something I am sure they (Democrats) will point out. But the fact of the matter is you have some of the most decent people in the Senate as Republican members of the judiciary committee,” Hatch said.