- The Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has come under fire for an allegation of sexual assault against him as a teenager.
- The burgeoning scandal has prompted Democrats and even several Republicans to call for additional hearings, which would delay any confirmation vote.
- Kavanaugh has emphatically denied the allegation.
WASHINGTON – Days after it surfaced that Judge Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl while he was in high school, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is in limbo as lawmakers contemplate additional hearings and delaying procedural hurdles and votes necessary to advance the confirmation process.
When Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, a 51-year-old research psychologist, came forward over the weekend, it sent the Senate committee tasked with vetting Kavanaugh’s nomination into a tailspin. Ford, who identified herself to The Washington Post in an article published Sunday, says that at a party in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and groped her while his friend watched.
All 10 of the Judiciary Committee’s Democrats signed a letter to its Republican chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, asking to delay the Thursday vote on whether to shepherd Kavanaugh out of the committee. Later Monday morning, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the few Republicans undecided on whether to confirm Kavanaugh, called for both Kavanaugh and Ford to testify under oath before the committee.
Those moves, coupled with calls for delaying the vote by retiring GOP Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, mean that what Republicans thought would be a swift confirmation is now hanging by a thread.
Grassley said in a statement Monday afternoon that he was attempting to work with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, to establish follow-up calls, but that Feinstein’s office was refusing to comply.
“The standard procedure for updates to any nominee’s background investigation file is to conduct separate follow-up calls with relevant parties,” Grassley said. “In this case, that would entail phone calls with at least Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford. Consistent with that practice, I asked Senator Feinstein’s office yesterday to join me in scheduling these follow-ups. Thus far, they have refused. But as a necessary step in evaluating these claims, I’ll continue working to set them up.”
Grassley also chastised Democrats, saying Republicans were kept in the dark about a letter Ford sent to Feinstein via Rep. Anna Eshoo of California earlier this summer detailing her allegation.
“Unfortunately, committee Republicans have only known this person’s identity from news reports for less than 24 hours and known about her allegations for less than a week,” Grassley added. “Senator Feinstein, on the other hand, has had this information for many weeks and deprived her colleagues of the information necessary to do our jobs. The Minority withheld even the anonymous allegations for six weeks, only to later decide that they were serious enough to investigate on the eve of the committee vote, after the vetting process had been completed.”
The more Republicans start to call for a delayed vote, the more likely it is to happen, as the GOP’s Senate majority is slim.
Republicans are also concerned about what action the White House might take. There is an expectation among GOP aides that Trump will go after Ford for accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault. If Trump were to do so, it could make things even more difficult for Republicans.
The White House is sticking by Kavanaugh
Regardless, the White House is standing by Kavanaugh, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
“We want to go through a full process … and hear everybody out,” Trump told reporters on Monday, describing Kavanaugh as “one of the great intellects and one of the finest people.”
Asked whether Kavanaugh had offered to withdraw, Trump replied, “What a ridiculous question.”
“This is a completely false allegation,” Kavanaugh said in a statement Monday morning. “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes – to her or to anyone.”
Kavanaugh also said he would be willing to cooperate with the Judiciary Committee on any additional material or testimony it might want from him.
“Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday,” he added. “I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.”
On Monday, CNN reported that Kavanaugh had hired Beth Wilkinson, an attorney from Wilkinson Walsh Eskovitz, a prominent firm in Washington, DC. Ford is being represented by Debra Katz, who has specialised in sexual-misconduct cases.
Meanwhile, conservative activist groups are rallying around Kavanaugh’s defence. The Judicial Crisis Network announced on Monday that it would launch a $US1.5 million ad campaign to combat what it called attacks on Kavanaugh’s character.
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