Christine Blasey Ford — the Palo Alto University professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault — has agreed to testify about the allegations in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Ford’s attorneys on Sunday confirmed that Ford will appear before the committee at 10 am on 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,” Ford’s attorneys said in a statement.
They said no decision has been made yet about who will question Ford — whether it will be lawmakers or staff attorneys.
The New York Times reported previously that during a brief call on Saturday, aides to Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the committee, and Ford’s lawyers tentatively agreed to the date.
“Dr. Ford accepts the Committee’s request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct next week,” wrote Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, two of Ford’s attorneys, on Saturday prior to the date agreement. “Although many aspects of the proposal you provided via email, on September 21, 2018, at 2:33 pm, are fundamentally inconsistent with the Committee’s promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations, and we are disappointed with the leaks and the bullying that have tainted the process, we are hopeful that we can reach agreement on details.”
Republicans have said that they are interested in hearing from Ford, but negotiations over what that will look like had grown increasingly contentious in the last few days. Grassley had given Ford until 2:30pm on Saturday to offer the committee a more definitive response about her testimony. Democrats, meanwhile, have accused Republicans of bullying Ford and continuing to rush the process.
Just agreeing on a hearing has required days of back-and-forth
After coming forward in a Washington Post article last weekend in which she accused Kavanaugh of forcing himself on her while they were at a party in high school, Ford said she wanted to cooperate with lawmakers and is interested in having her story heard. Kavanaugh has unequivocally denied the accusations.
But several days of uncertainty about whether she would appear before the committee followed.
Grassley had previously issued three earlier deadlines (Friday at 10am, 5 pm, and then 10 pm) for a response from Ford, which Katz argued were “aggressive and artificial” and ran counter to claims that the panel wanted to genuinely consider Ford’s perspective.
“You have been tasked with pressuring Dr. Ford to agree to conditions that you find advantageous to the nominee,” Katz wrote. Grassley ultimately extended that deadline to Saturday afternoon.
Grassley didn’t appear to be happy about the extension, despite granting it. In a tweet on Friday, he complained that he feels like he’s “playing 2nd trombone in the judiciary orchestra and [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer is the conductor.”
With all the extensions we give Dr Ford to decide if she still wants to testify to the Senate I feel like I’m playing 2nd trombone in the judiciary orchestra and Schumer is the conductor— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) September 22, 2018
Ford’s attorney had said Thursday that she was still negotiating the terms under which she would testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She had said that it was “not possible” for her to attend the public hearing originally scheduled for Monday, but that she “wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety,” according to an email obtained by the Washington Post.
An unnamed Republican senator told Politico the committee has agreed to some of Ford’s requests, which include ensuring that she and Kavanaugh are not in the same room. “We’ll do it on Wednesday, we expect the accuser before the accused and we do intend to have the counsel do the questioning,” the senator said.
Republicans on the committee have indicated that they were interested in moving ahead with a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination if Ford didn’t testify. Grassley appeared to follow through on this threat by scheduling a committee vote on Kavanaugh for Monday, which would have taken place if Ford declined to appear.
“In the event that we can come to a reasonable resolution as I’ve been seeking all week, then I will postpone the committee vote to accommodate her testimony. We cannot continue to delay,” Grassley said in a Friday statement before the extension.
One of the major sticking points was the committee’s proposed structure for the hearing.
“The Committee’s stated plan to move forward with a hearing that has only two witnesses is not a fair or good faith investigation; there are multiple witnesses whose names have appeared publicly and should be included in any proceeding,” Banks wrote in a statement earlier this week.
Ford and Kavanaugh are currently the only two witnesses expected to testify. Democrats have argued that others, including Mark Judge, whom Ford implicated in the assault as part of her accusation, should speak as well. Ford had said that Judge helped Kavanaugh push her into a bedroom at the party and was intermittently encouraging Kavanaugh during the alleged assault. Judge has said he has no recollection of this incident and that he never saw Kavanaugh act in this way. Ford’s attorneys on Sunday pointed out that the committee has refused to subpoena Judge or invite other witnesses to testify.
The Times reported on Saturday that a woman named Leland Keyser, who was believed to have been at the party with Ford, told the committee that she “does not know” Kavanaugh and has “no recollection” of being at a party or gathering where he was present. Judge and one other man also said to have been at the party also told the committee they don’t remember it, meaning Ford has no corroborating witnesses.
Whether the FBI would investigate was an earlier roadblock
Ford and her lawyers also threw up breaks over (the lack of) an FBI investigation: Ford had said she wouldn’t testify unless the FBI first conducted an investigation into the allegations, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon.
Judiciary Republicans, the Department of Justice, and President Donald Trump have all thrown cold water on the idea of an FBI investigation. Grassley on Wednesday said it was not the job of the FBI to weigh the “credibility” of these allegations.
Ford’s call for an FBI probe echoes one that Democrats have been making ever since she came forward. The review they are pushing wouldn’t be a new criminal investigation but a reopening of Kavanaugh’s existing background check. The FBI may not be responsible for determining how seriously to consider allegations, but the agency plays a pivotal role in fact-finding and interviewing witnesses, they argue.
In the wake of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas in 1991, President George H.W. Bush directed the FBI to open an investigation. The agency interviewed Hill, Thomas, and at least one other witness, after which the White House determined that Hill’s allegations were “unfounded.”
It’s well within Trump’s ability to do the same, but thus far, he’s shown little inclination that he’s interested in doing so. Ford’s decision to testify suggests she’s accepted the outcome and remains ready to speak out on her own rather than let the process continue without senators hearing what she has to say.