GOP to Kavanaugh accuser: Reach deal or panel votes Monday

Donald Trump
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman rejected key conditions Friday that Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser wants if she is to testify about her claim of sexual assault, and said his panel would vote Monday on Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination without an agreement.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he was giving attorneys for Christine Blasey Ford until 10 p.m. Friday to come to a “reasonable resolution” or his Republican-run panel would vote on sending Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate. “We are unwilling to accommodate your unreasonable demands,” Grassley said in a written statement.

There was no immediate public response from Ford’s lawyers. That silence and Grassley’s offer, which did not rule out further compromise, left uncertain whether Ford would appear and tell lawmakers and a captivated nation about her allegation that an inebriated Kavanaugh trapped her on a bed, muffled her cries and tried removing her clothes when both were teenagers in the 1980s.

Grassley’s stance underscored a desire by President Donald Trump and GOP leaders to usher the 53-year-old Kavanaugh onto the high court by the Oct. 1 start of its new session and before the November elections, when Democrats are mounting a robust drive to grab congressional control.

The Judiciary panel’s top Democrat expressed fury at Grassley’s position, and maintained Democrats’ effort to build the battle into a larger election-year question about the treatment of women.

“Bullying a survivor of attempted rape in order to confirm a nominee — particularly at a time when she’s receiving death threats — is an extreme abuse of power,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

Friday was the latest in a string of tumultuous days for Kavanaugh, whose ascension to the Supreme Court seemed a sure bet until Ford emerged last weekend and provided details of the alleged assault. Kavanaugh, a District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals judge, has repeatedly denied the accusation.

Earlier, Trump ended a week of constraint and sarcastically assailed Ford, tweeting that if the episode was “as bad as she says,” she or “her loving parents” surely would have reported it to law enforcement.

Trump’s searing reproach of the California psychology professor defied the Senate Republican strategy, and the advice of White House aides, of not disparaging her while firmly defending his nominee and the tight timetable for confirming him.

The president’s tweet brought blistering rejoinders from Democrats and a mix of silence and sighs of regret from his own party. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who hasn’t declared support for Kavanaugh, called the remark “appalling.” It was also the latest provocation — from a man who’s faced a litany of sexual misconduct allegations himself — of moderate female voters whose support Republicans will need to fend off a robust Democratic drive to capture congressional control in November’s elections.

At a campaign rally in Missouri later Friday, Trump didn’t mention Ford but said Kavanaugh was born to be on the Supreme Court and “it’s going to happen.”

In his letter to Ford’s attorneys, Grassley wrote that he was rebuffing Ford’s proposal 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.

Female interrogators “are sensitive to the particulars of Dr. Ford’s allegations” and would “generate the most insightful testimony and will help de-politicize the hearing,” said a letter Grassley’s staff sent Ford’s lawyers. Kavanaugh, a District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals judge, has repeatedly denied the accusation.

Grassley also denied Ford’s proposal that she testify after Kavanaugh — a position lawyers consider advantageous because it allows a rebuttal of any charges. And he said said he’d schedule a hearing for Wednesday, not Thursday, as Ford prefers.

“It is not fair to him or to his family to allow this situation to continue without a resolution and without an opportunity for him to clear his name,” he said about Kavanaugh.

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 bedroom where Kavanaugh’s assault occurred. Ford eventually escaped.

Grassley consented to other Ford demands, including that she be provided security and that Kavanaugh not be in the hearing room when she testifies.

Ford’s request for security comes after her lawyers said she has relocated her family due to death threats. She planned to meet with FBI agents in the San Francisco area to discuss those threats, said a person close to her who would describe her plans only anonymously.

The GOP letter to Ford’s lawyers said Kavanaugh and his family have received death threats too, “And they’re getting worse each day.”

Kavanaugh had seemed to gain momentum among Republican senators this week, with growing numbers saying it was approaching time to vote and those who’d voiced concern about Ford’s charges stopping short of expressing opposition to Kavanaugh. But with the slender 51-49 GOP majority and the unpredictability of how Ford and Kavanaugh would come across to millions of American voters should she agree to testify, his approval remains in question.

Minutes after Trump’s tweet Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell played verbal hardball of his own, drawing a standing ovation when he assured a gathering of evangelical activists that the conservative Kavanaugh would soon be a justice.

Acknowledging the tumult Ford’s accusation has caused, McConnell said at the Values Voter Summit: “Keep the faith, don’t get rattled by it. We’re going to plow right through and do our jobs.”

Trump began his Friday morning with a Twitter eruption from Las Vegas, where he had spent the night after a political rally.

“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!” he wrote.

The remark infuriated many who’ve long argued that women are frequently overwhelmed, confused and ashamed by sexual attacks and keep silent or even bury the memory without confiding with anyone. Using a combination of Justice Department statistics and Census Bureau surveys, the government says fewer than 1 in 4 rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police in 2016.

Ford has said she never mentioned the alleged incident to anyone until 2012, when she revealed it during a marriage counseling session with her husband.

“A highly offensive misunderstanding of surviving trauma,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted about Trump’s attack.

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AP congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro and reporters Mary Clare Jalonick, Eric Tucker, Ken Thomas, Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller contributed.

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