Unfiltered Political News

'We're very confident:' Trump, GOP growing more bullish about Kavanaugh's survival

President Donald Trump is growing more confident that his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, can weather a charge of sexual assault and will be confirmed, according to two sources familiar with the confirmation process.

The feeling is shared by some of Trump’s key Republican allies, even as controversy continues to rage over a sexual-assault allegation against the conservative judge. The White House and its allies have taken no steps to line up a new nominee, according to four people familiar with the confirmation process.

“We’re very confident,” one Republican in touch with the White House said when asked whether Kavanaugh will survive the firestorm.

Even so, Kavanaugh’s Washington allies continue to hunt for evidence — scouring everything from high school yearbooks to real estate records — that might reveal Ford to be acting out of personal or political bias, or simply misrecalling a single night when they were in high school.

Trump’s optimism was on display in his comments to reporters Wednesday, just before he departed Washington for North Carolina to tour hurricane-ravaged areas. As he did on Tuesday, Trump cast Kavanaugh as an extraordinary man with an “unblemished record,” whom he said has been treated unfairly. But he also escalated his rhetoric, applying new pressure on Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, by saying she should attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to testify publicly about her allegation.

“I really want to see her. I really would want to see what she has to say,” Trump said. “If she doesn’t show up, that would be unfortunate.

“This is a very tough thing for him and his family. And we want to get it over with,” Trump said — before adding: “At the same time, we want to give tremendous amounts of time.”

The sources including a White House official said the increasing frequency and sympathy of Trump’s tone toward Kavanaugh reflected growing optimism that his nominee would win confirmation despite the epic drama still unfolding around Ford’s allegation and whether she will detail it in public.

“This is not in the bag,” said one White House official. “But I think we know what we are going to do.”

On the advice of senior aides, including White House counsel Don McGahn, Trump previously offered a more muted and cautious line, and in general he has shown uncharacteristic restraint on the subject.

One reason Trump and his allies are feeling bullish: Some Republican senators, including Sen. Bob Corker, who initially called for further investigation of Ford’s allegation, have said the Senate should go ahead and vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination if Ford does wind up testifying. Kavanaugh’s fate hangs on just a few additional votes.

Kavanaugh was at the White House Wednesday preparing in the event there’s a hearing next week, according to a person involved with the confirmation process, who said that Kavanaugh’s remarks would be “qualitatively different” from the statements you normally see in Washington.

“They do not contain the three words that almost every statement in Washington does: Do not recall,” the person said. “That speaks volumes about how he has to approach this.”

Some conservatives have interpreted Ford’s declaration that she wants the FBI to investigate her account before she testifies as evidence that her account of a night in the mid-1980s is somehow flawed.

No evidence has emerged to that effect, although Democrats and Republicans alike on Wednesday described a flurry of hearsay, rumors and online testimonials of generally dubious veracity that allegedly support their respective sides.

“There is a bounty hunter mentality right now,” said the person involved in the confirmation process.

Trump underscored the high stakes of the controversy in his remarks to reporters Wednesday. “Look, when I first decided to run, everybody said the single most important thing you do is a Supreme Court justice, OK? We’ve all heard that many times about a president.”

Republicans hope to vote on Kavanaugh — with or without a Senate hearing — early next week, as long as they can lock down 50 votes among Senate Republicans, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tiebreaking vote if needed.

One Republican familiar with the confirmation process said the White House and GOP are walking a line between not enraging women sympathetic to Ford’s charges but also projecting strength and partisan fire to core Republican voters.

“One thing that is keeping everyone in line is that we’re worried about the #MeToo movement, but we’re also worried about discouraging the base,” the Republican said. “There is a real concern, if Kavanaugh does not get confirmed and we don’t rally to the cause, it could hurt us.”

The question of whether Ford ultimately will appear in-person in Washington added the latest twist in the Republicans’ fast-moving process of trying to confirm and seat a justice before the November midterms.

At stake is the balance of the Supreme Court and court decisions that will reverberate for generations, as well as Trump’s own promises to evangelicals and conservatives that he’d stock the courts with like-minded judges.

Ford’s lawyer, Debra Katz, sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley Tuesday explaining that Ford wants the FBI to investigate the allegation prior to her testimony. The letter added that, since Ford went public with her story in the Washington Post on Sunday, the California clinical psychology professor has endured harassment and threats and has even fled her home.

Kavanaugh’s backers have combed through dusty yearbooks and public records in an attempt to gather information about the night of the Maryland house party party at which Ford says a 17-year-old Kavanaugh assaulted her so aggressively that she feared for her life. Ford says Kavanaugh took her into a room with another male friend, groped her, tried to forcibly remove her clothes, and covered her mouth when she protested.

Ford’s lawyer has not responded to repeated requests from POLITICO for an interview.

Kavanaugh has spent the past few days, holed up in the West Wing with McGahn, who has served as confidant and counselor as the two try to line up support of senators, map out a defense strategy and prepare for a potential hearing on Monday.

In recent days, Kavanaugh has retained the law firm of Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz to represent him.

Even after the allegation came out and Ford went public, the White House and conservative groups doubled down on Kavanaugh as their pick for the Supreme Court — with no one else waiting in the wings, said the four sources familiar with the confirmation process.

Trump himself has largely left the defense of Kavanaugh and strategy behind it to McGahn and congressional leadership. And even as Trump has expressed sympathy for Kavanaugh – as he’s often done for men facing allegations of abuse or sexual impropriety– he’s also been quite focused on the federal government’s hurricane response and new tariffs on China. He spent Wednesday in North Carolina, receiving a briefing on the hurricane response and handing out food in Styrofoam containers to hurricane victims in a church parking lot.

“Trump is happy no one is talking about Manafort and Mueller, so he is happy to play along,” said one Republican close to the White House.

Andrew Restuccia and Lorraine Woellert contributed reporting.

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Timeline: How an allegation against Kavanaugh came to light and shook Washington

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s seemingly all-but-guaranteed confirmation was thrown off course after an allegation became public that he had sexually assaulted a woman when they were both in high school.

Christine Blasey Ford brought her claim anonymously over the summer, but it took months to break out into public view.

Here is a timeline of how Ford’s accusation came to light and how Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump have responded:

July 30: Feinstein receives a confidential complaint

Ford wrote Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, a confidential letter alleging that Kavanaugh climbed on top of her at a party in the 1980s, held her down and groped her.

Ford initially described the incident to Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who later forwarded the letter to Feinstein. Feinstein said she kept the letter’s existence private at the time to respect Ford’s request for confidentiality. Ford had already contacted the Washington Post but declined to speak on the record.

Late August: Ford decides to stay quiet

Ford decided coming forward would probably not affect Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and she decided to stay quiet.

“Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” she told the Washington Post of her thinking at the time.

Sept. 12: Feinstein shares the story with Democrats

Feinstein described the contents of the letter to other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, according to the New York Times. Several of them urged her to go to the FBI or to make the letter public, the paper reported.

That same day, the Intercept reported that Senate Judiciary Committee members wanted to see the document, but Feinstein would not let them.

Sept. 13: Feinstein says she sent information about Kavanaugh to FBI

Feinstein released a brief and cryptic statement saying that she had “received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court” and that she sent the letter to the Justice Department.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chastised Feinstein for keeping the letter secret until the last minute, and the White House called it an orchestrated political move to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

White House counsel Don McGahn got a copy of the letter shortly after Feinstein released her statement and quickly forwarded it to Capitol Hill, a White House aide told POLITICO.

Sept. 14: Kavanaugh denies the still-anonymous allegation

Kavanaugh said in a statement: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) released a letter signed by 65 women who said that they knew Kavanaugh in high school and that “he has always treated women with decency and respect.”

Sept. 16: Ford reveals herself in the Washington Post

In a bombshell Washington Post interview, Ford identified herself as Kavanaugh’s accuser. She said she had already been contacted by news outlets asking about Kavanaugh, making it was clear that her identity had leaked.

Sept. 17: Ford and Kavanaugh agree to testify

Debra Katz, an attorney for Ford, said her client hoped to tell “her story in a manner that is a fair proceeding.”

Kavanaugh issued a new statement saying that he had not previously known who the accuser was but that “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone.”

“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,” he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told reporters that Kavanaugh told him he was not at the party where the assault allegedly took place; a spokesman from Hatch’s office later clarified that Kavanaugh had said he did not attend any parties like the one described.

Trump said he was open to a “full process” to air the allegation, though he called Kavanaugh “as high a quality individual as you’ll ever see.” Lawmakers scheduled a hearing for the following Monday.

Sept. 18: Ford calls for an FBI investigation

Ford’s attorneys told the Senate Judiciary Committee that she wanted the FBI to investigate her allegation, throwing into question whether she would appear at the Sept. 24 hearing.

Sept. 19: Trump says he wants Ford to testify

“I really want to see her. I really would want to see what she has to say,” Trump said. “If she doesn’t show up, that would be unfortunate.”

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Trump claim that FBI can't probe Kavanaugh allegations is wrong, ex-officials say

The White House could order the FBI to investigate the sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, several former senior White House and Justice Department officials from both parties said Wednesday, contradicting President Donald Trump’s claims that doing so would exceed the FBI’s mandate.

Trump continued to insist on Wednesday that there is no potential role for the FBI in exploring claims by California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh covered her mouth while trying to strip her bathing suit off during a party when both were in high school in the 1980s.

“It would seem that the FBI really doesn’t do that,” the president said in response to a reporter’s question about Ford’s call for the FBI to look into the matter before she agrees to testify at a Senate hearing. “They’ve investigated about six times before, and it seems that they don’t do that.”

Trump’s stance echoed that of Senate Republican leaders, who suggested there is no role for the FBI in investigating a decades-old incident that would not be a federal crime.

“We have no power to commandeer an Executive Branch agency into conducting our due diligence. The job of assessing and investigating a nominee’s qualifications in order to decide whether to consent to the nomination is ours, and ours alone,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said in a letter Wednesday to Ford’s lawyers.

Longtime Senate Judiciary Committee member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) agreed. “The FBI does not do investigations like this. The responsibility falls to us,” Hatch said.

But several officials who have had direct roles in the nomination and background check process said it’s common, as part of the FBI’s vetting of presidential nominees for judicial posts and executive branch jobs, to investigate matters that do not qualify as federal crimes. Some noted that the Trump White House itself enlisted the FBI last winter to explore spousal abuse claims against former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter

“What happened here is actually not unusual,” said John Yoo, a senior Justice Department official under President George W. Bush.

“The Judiciary Committee will often say to the Justice Department: ‘Can you send the agents back out and find out if this is true find out what happened with this?…. The normal procedure for this would have been to send the FBI out,” Yoo added.

A former Obama administration lawyer also said the FBI would look into the matter if the White House relayed such a request.

“If the FBI was asked to do it, it would do it,” said the attorney, who asked not to be named. “It doesn’t have to be a federal crime. They’ve investigating someone’s suitability for the position….. It has nothing to do with it being a federal crime.”

In a letter to Democrats Wednesday afternoon, Grassley offered a somewhat different argument, however, saying that FBI involvement was not appropriate given that Ford’s allegations had now gone public.

“Confidentiality permits people to speak freely and candidly about the character and qualifications of the nominee,” Grassley wrote. “The White House requires the Senate to keep Background investigation files private so that people can speak anonymously to investigators if they so desire. Because Dr. Ford’s allegations are in the public arena, there is no longer a need for a confidential FBI investigation.”

Such an investigation did take place when Anita Hill came forward with sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court Clarence Thomas in 1991, and was quickly completed. But Grassley stressed that the probe took place before those claims went public. The Iowa Republican acknowledges that one of those FBI reports was leaked before the follow-up hearing where Hill told her story and Thomas rejected it.

Some officials said the Trump administration’s response to the battery claims against Rob Porter provides ample evidence of the FBI’s willingness to conduct follow-up inquiries, even where no federal crime is alleged. In that case, White House officials asked for more information about the initial claims and the FBI was tasked with conducting another round of interviews aimed at developing more information on what transpired.

In a letter sent to Congress in April, FBI Assistant Director Gerald Roberts said that after Porter’s full background check was sent to the White House in July 2017, officials there came back to the FBI to request “additional information, to include but not limited to, re-interviews of Mr. Porter, his ex-wives and his girlfriend at the time.”

In urgent cases, such re-investigations can be handled by the FBI quite quickly, former officials said.

“It seems to me you could have this done in a day or two, actually,” Yoo said during a question-and-answer session at a Wednesday event sponsored by the Washington Legal Foundation. “I actually was surprised…that the committee decided to just have hearings on Monday to hear from both Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford without the benefit of additional information.”

A White House counsel’s office lawyer under President Barack Obama, Sarah Baker, echoed that position.

“This is really easy to do. This is a quick process. I don’t think it needs to take more than a couple of days,” Baker told reporters Wednesday on a conference call organized by Senate Democrats. “The only reason you don’t ask is if you don’t want the answer.”

One staffer said background investigations are often reopened for questions unrelated to any crime, like concerns about a nominee’s academic credentials.

Yoo did not completely side with Democrats, whom he accused of trying to drag out the process in order to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation. However, the former White House official — perhaps best known for his Bush-era legal memos authorizing torture — said he thought it was still possible that Republicans could get another nominee onto the court this year even if Kavanaugh should withdraw.

Former officials said such background investigation reports are typically handled as highly sensitive, with reports usually hand-delivered to the White House counsel in a sealed envelope.

“It’s not something that’s supposed to be widely shared around,” one attorney familiar with the process said.

Experts on background checks said it would be unusual for the FBI to investigate a 36-year-old allegation, particularly one that involved individuals who were in high school at the time.

But Democrats noted that Grassley has insisted on far-reaching disclosure about judicial nominees’ drug use. As a ranking minority member and as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Grassley insisted that judicial nominees’ drug history back to age 18 was relevant and often disqualifying. (Standard applications for national security jobs ask only about drug use in the past seven years and high-level executive branch employees were asked about drug use over the past decade.)

“His rule was for any judicial nominee, any drug use other than marijuana since age 18 and they’re out,” said one Obama administration attorney involved in the process, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We had to pull people …. Any post-bar drug use at all and you were out.”

One security clearance lawyer also reported that his client, a White House appointee, was questioned about drug use at age 16.

Grassley relaxed his policy on nominee drug use last November. He said Republicans and Democrats had agreed that “one to two uses” after a nominee became an attorney would no longer be disqualifying.

“Over time, there’s been an evolving attitude in our society towards marijuana ….. I’ve had this absolute prohibition attitude that I’ve demonstrated, maybe not in public but in private,” Grassley said. “If that’s the sole judgment of whether somebody ought to have a judgeship or not or maybe any other position, we may not be able to find people to fill those positions.”

The Judiciary chairman said one of his concerns was that if the panel stuck by a stricter policy, nominees might just lie about their drug use when questioned by the FBI.

“Maybe the word gets around that you better lie about it or you ain’t going to get a judgeship. That’s kind of worried me a lot,” he said. “I think we ought to have a consistent policy.”

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GOP presses Kavanaugh vote with accuser's testimony in doubt

Republican senators are giving Christine Blasey Ford a stark choice as they prepare to weigh her sexual assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh: Talk to us on Monday, or risk losing your chance to do so before we vote.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) replied on Wednesday to a letter from Ford’s lawyers that sought an FBI inquiry before she testifies in public about her high school-era assault allegation against the Supreme Court nominee. Republicans are indicating little interest in any such investigation.

“I certainly understand and respect Dr. Ford’s desire for an investigation of her allegations. That is precisely what the Senate is doing,” Grassley wrote. “That is why our investigators have asked to speak with your client. That is why I have invited Dr. Ford to tell her story to the Senate and, if she so chooses, to the American people.”

Grassley added that a “credibility assessment” of Ford’s allegation would not fall to the FBI. On Wednesday morning, he said he would spend the rest of the week trying to persuade the California-based professor to appear before his committee.

“I’m not worried about anything other than just focusing for the next few days [on] encouraging her to come,” Grassley told reporters.

Asked whether he would cancel the hearing if Ford does not attend, Grassley said he doesn’t have to make that choice yet. The Iowan is also willing to send a committee aide to Ford’s home base in California to talk to her if that’s preferable, a GOP Judiciary staffer said.

One of Ford’s attorney’s late Wednesday sent a statement saying that there’s no need to “rush” the hearing and that there are other witnesses who should appear at the hearing.

“Fairness and respect for her situation dictate that she should have time to deal with this,” she wrote.

But the lawyer, Lisa Banks, did not say whether or not Ford would appear at Monday’s hearing.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation might be decided by whether Ford shows up on Monday and is heard by the committee. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is undecided on Kavanaugh, indicated that she’s confused why Ford would go public and then decline to appear, which she said “would be a real disservice to both Judge Kavanaugh and professor Ford.”

“Much to my surprise it now appears that she’s turning down all [of her] options even though her attorney said earlier this week that she would come testify,” Collins said on Maine radio station WVOM. “I just don’t understand why the hearing shouldn’t go forward.”

She predicted the hearing would not go forward if Ford were not to show up. Another Judiciary Committee Republican told reporters he believes Ford might still come.

“Some of my colleagues say she’s not going to show. … I’m a little more sanguine and think there’s a possibility that she will show and will change her mind again,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “I don’t think we should cancel the hearing.”

Grassley’s letter noted that Ford has until Friday morning to submit advance information if she decides to participate on Monday.

Although the FBI conducted a dayslong inquiry of Anita Hill’s 1991 sexual harassment allegations against then-nominee Clarence Thomas, a precedent that Ford’s lawyers referred to in their letter, the FBI has said this week that it acted in accordance with existing guidelines by adding Ford’s allegation to Kavanaugh’s background file without further action.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, who had announced a Monday public hearing before Ford agreed to appear in that setting, say her appearance is necessary in order for the committee to fully examine her claim that Kavanaugh tried to force himself on her when he was 17 and she was 15. Republicans have offered to let Ford speak in private but indicated that they plan to press ahead with President Donald Trump’s high court pick even if she doesn’t ultimately participate.

Some openly dismissed her recent request as a delaying tactic.

“Requiring an FBI investigation of a 36 year old allegation (without specific references to time or location) before Professor Ford will appear before the Judiciary Committee is not about finding the truth, but delaying the process till after the midterm elections,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a senior Judiciary Committee member, said in a statement.

One key Republican who had urged for a delay in order to hear out Ford’s side of the story, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, said Tuesday night that senators should proceed to a vote if she cannot participate on Monday.

If it is just Kavanaugh in the hearing on Monday, he may offer little more than further public denials that the incident ever occurred. Kennedy said he asked Kavanaugh about the allegations on Tuesday and received an “unequivocal” denial.

“Absolutely not. It did not happen. And I am prepared to come before the committee again and answer any questions,” Kavanaugh said, according to Kennedy. The senator said Kavanaugh is not mad at Ford or anyone else for leveling the accusations against him: “He’s not angry and he’s not critical of anybody. He didn’t say a bad thing about anybody.”

Republicans have indicated that they may decide to question Ford and her lawyers over any contacts they had with Democrats if the hearing slated for Monday occurs. The letter from Ford’s lawyers does not commit her to speaking with the committee by Monday, regardless of whether her request for further FBI action is met.

Trump himself told reporters on Wednesday that he hopes Ford decides to speak in public, even as he defended Kavanaugh’s “unblemished record” and dismissed the prospect of any further FBI investigation.

“I really would want to see what she has to say,” Trump said, according to the White House pool report.

“If she shows up and makes a credible showing, that’ll be very interesting, and we’ll have to make a decision, but … very hard for me to imagine anything happened,” he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California the panel’s top Democrat, responded: “President Trump, Dr. Blasey Ford did not want her story of sexual assault to be public. She requested confidentiality and I honored that. It wasn’t until the media outed her that she decided to come forward. You may not respect women and the wishes of victims, but I do.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Republicans to reconsider their resistance to an FBI examination of the allegation. “Senate Republicans and the White House should drop their inexplicable opposition to an FBI investigation, allow all the facts to come out, and then proceed with a fair process in the Senate,” the New York Democrat said in a Tuesday night statement.

Rebecca Morin contributed to this report.

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McCaskill to vote no on Kavanaugh confirmation

Moderate Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill will vote against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, narrowing the number of potential Democratic votes the nominee can secure.

The Missouri senator, who is up for reelection this fall in a conservative state, cited Kavanaugh’s views on “dark, anonymous money that is crushing our democracy.” She said that the “troubling” allegation of sexual assault leveled against Kavanaugh did not influence her decision.

“He has revealed his bias against limits on campaign donations which places him completely out of the mainstream of this nation. He wrote, ‘And I have heard very few people say that limits on contributions to candidates are unconstitutional although I for one tend to think those limits have some constitutional problems,'” McCaskill said. “Judge Kavanaugh will give free reign to anonymous donors and foreign governments through their citizens to spend money to interfere and influence our elections with so-called ‘issue ads.’”

McCaskill also said she was “uncomfortable” with his views on executive power but said that her fear that Kavanaugh’s place on the bench would loosen political spending restrictions was the “determining factor.” Outside groups have spent more than $16 million against McCaskill and nearly $14 million against her opponent, Josh Hawley, this year.

Her opposition is not a huge surprise, given that she also voted against Justice Neil Gorsuch last year. But her decision to oppose President Donald Trump’s nominee is likely to animate her race against Hawley, Missouri’s GOP attorney general and a former law clerk to Chief Justice John Roberts.

Hawley said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show on Wednesday that “people are very, very upset by what they see as an ambush” on Kavanaugh by Democrats after the allegations were raised against him just two weeks before his likely confirmation vote. Hawley has repeatedly hammered McCaskill for opposing Republican nominees and supporting the Supreme Court picks of President Barack Obama and touted his support for Kavanaugh often.

“Nobody is surprised. Claire McCaskill is now 0 for 6 on Supreme Court nominees since she started running for the Senate 12 long years ago,” Hawley said in a statement. “She has sided with Chuck Schumer every single time — for liberals and against Missouri.“

While conservatives may dislike her “no” vote, McCaskill’s decision could also help her turn out the Democratic voters in Kansas City in St. Louis that she needs to win reelection. Her race is essentially tied.

No Democrats yet support Kavanaugh, though he does not need their support to get confirmed if he wins over 50 of the 51 Senate Republicans. Democratic Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Jon Tester of Montana are all undecided.

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When 11 men interrogate: GOP tries to head off Kavanaugh debacle

Senate Republicans are taking aggressive measures to avoid an Anita Hill redux as the Judiciary Committee prepares for a hearing on the sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

They’re off to a shaky start, if the past 24 hours is any indication.

Already, Republicans supportive of Kavanaugh have downplayed the severity of Christine Blasey Ford’s story. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) questioned Ford’s motives. Others are frustrated that she has yet to agree to testify before the panel after asking for a chance to be heard, and wonder if she shows up whether the committee will be left with enough information to make a decision.

“The question is 36 years after the alleged incident. This is why, in criminal cases, we have statute of limitations,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “You’re simply not going to have enough witnesses or documents or other evidence to be able to, I think, reach a conclusive decision about the allegations.”

When Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee 27 years ago, its members tore at her credibility in terms so deeply personal that the hearing is now regarded as an embarrassment for the chamber. This time, their conduct could determine not just the public’s perception of their party but whether Kavanaugh wins the 50 votes needed to sit on the high court.

Exacerbating their challenge is the fact that every Republican on the panel is male — an echo of the all-male dais that questioned Hill in 1991. And all of the committee’s Republicans except for Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have been die-hard Kavanaugh supporters, raising questions about how seriously they’ll take her testimony.

To head off the potentially bad optics of older white men questioning a woman about alleged sexual assault, Republicans are considering having an independent outside lawyer question Ford alongside senators. They’re also carefully controlling the hearing, allowing testimony from no witnesses other than Kavanaugh and Ford, and declining Democratic calls for the FBI to investigate Ford’s claim further.

Cornyn, a senior Judiciary member, said his party would “treat [Ford] with respect and dignity” to avoid a repeat of the Hill hearing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he expects the committee will be “fair” to Ford.

Democrats have a different expectation.

“It’s going to be a shit-show,” said one Democratic senator.

Asked about the potential for a GOP pile-on if Ford testifies, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) would only say: “That’s the Republicans’ problem.”

Republicans are already taking shots at Ford. Graham questioned why she waited months after contacting The Washington Post and her Democratic representative in Congress to go public. He also expressed skepticism about some of the details of her story, including why she took a lie detector test administered by a former FBI agent.

“I don’t know when she took the polygraph. I don’t know who paid for it. I don’t know when she hired the lawyer. I don’t know who paid for it,” Graham said. “But if you didn’t want to go public why are you buying a polygraph and why are you hiring a lawyer? All those things will come out.”

Graham made similar comments about Ford on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, a favorite forum for conservatives.

“I don’t know what’s caused her to” come forward, said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who defended Thomas at the Hill hearings. “But there are those who do question her motivation.”

A top outside surrogate for Kavanaugh, meanwhile, was dubious of what sort of behavior Ford is actually alleging. Ford told the Post that Kavanaugh groped her and covered her mouth while forcing himself on her.

“Her allegations cover a whole range of conduct, from boorishness to rough horseplay to actual attempted rape,” Judicial Crisis Network chief counsel Carrie Severino said on CNN. “There’s 35 years of memory that we’re trying to play with here. But the behavior she describes could describe a whole range of things.”

Few other Republicans have joined them, training their fire instead on Senate Democrats and charging they are merely trying to disrupt the nomination at the last minute.

All 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee warned the GOP Tuesday that pushing ahead with a hearing before Ford has agreed to appear “repeat[s] mistakes of the past,” a nod to Hill.

Democrats don’t have the issue of an all-male Judiciary membership. Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, both former prosecutors, are among the party’s four women who sit on the panel.

“It obviously would be better if there were some Republican women. But I’m not a member of the committee, so I do not expect to be sitting with the committee,” added Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, one of three current Judiciary members who sat on the committee during the Hill hearings, dismissed questions about the potential political risk of 11 Republican men grilling Ford.

“You’re talking about history,” Grassley said. “We’re not looking back, we’re looking forward.”

His Republican colleagues concurred.

“You all are enjoying that story[line] quite a bit,” Cornyn told reporters, but “in the end we’re going to have a job to do and we’re going to do it.”

One GOP senator said the entire purpose of the Monday hearing is to satisfy three undecided Republicans, including Collins and Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona — as well as four undecided Democrats whom Republicans believe could vote for Kavanaugh.

“My hope is that all will be respectful, respectful of Dr. Ford and respectful of Judge Kavanaugh,” Murkowski said Tuesday.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee has a chance to redeem itself from the circus-like atmosphere of a couple weeks ago,” said Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), referring to days of disruptive protests by liberal activists. He added: “If I believe that these allegations are true, then I think it would be a disqualifying factor.”

Although both Ford and Hill’s stories weren’t aired publicly until after the initial round of Supreme Court confirmation hearings concluded, the Kavanaugh flap is playing out differently from the 1991 sexual harassment allegations against now-Justice Clarence Thomas in several important ways.

Hill’s hearings included 22 outside witnesses and an FBI investigation in advance of her testimony, which Democrats have pointed to in lamenting the FBI move to add the Ford allegation to Kavanaugh’s background file rather than conduct a separate inquiry.

One key witness, Mark Judge, who Ford said was in the room at the time of the alleged assault, is refusing to testify before the panel. Grassley’s spokesman said Tuesday, however, that aides have “made contact with other alleged witnesses based on the Washington Post’s reporting.” Grassley’s office would not say late Tuesday which other individuals that Republicans have contacted.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the FBI should be devoting more resources to the decades-old Kavanaugh charges than it did to Hill’s allegations against Thomas. “The Hill case involved a two-day FBI investigation,” he said. “They asked for two weeks, but the committee went ahead anyway.”

The Justice Department said in a Monday night statement, however, that the FBI’s handling of the issue comports with a 2010 memo that governs background checks. “The allegation does not involve any potential federal crime,” a DOJ spokesperson said.

Democrats’ frustration over the FBI’s handling of Ford’s allegation isn’t deterring at least some of them from participating in Monday’s planned hearing. Both Durbin and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said they expect to attend, even if it’s just Kavanaugh testifying, though they prefer more witnesses and an FBI investigation.

“I do think there are now questions that are appropriate for us to ask Judge Kavanaugh,” Coons said.

Nolan McCaskill contributed to this report.

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The most awkward moments from the Anita Hill hearing

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Partisan brawl erupts over Kavanaugh hearing

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expects the Judiciary Committee to give Christine Blasey Ford a fair hearing next week, but Democrats are already crying foul.

The committee has scheduled a Monday hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her more than three decades ago.

“I anticipate obviously they’ll handle this in a fair manner,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said of the judiciary panel Tuesday.

Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters that Ford can testify publicly or privately in an open or closed setting. But senators say no one has confirmed her appearance, despite her lawyer remarking in TV interviews Monday that she would be willing to share her story publicly.

And Democrats are complaining that Republicans’ treatment of Ford is already off to a bad start.

“Scheduling a hearing for Monday, a week from when Dr. Ford made her accusations public, is a shameful attempt to jam this through without giving anyone the time they need to investigate and put together the questions that need to be asked,” Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said.

“She first talked about this publicly on Sunday,” Murray added. “On Monday night, Republicans scheduled a hearing without talking to her or confirming with her or even giving her a heads up. Not only that, but right now Republican leaders are trying to prevent any outside witnesses beyond Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh from appearing, which would be unprecedented and wrong. And now some Republicans are already saying a vote will come a few days later.”

But Republican leaders argue that it’s the Democrats who created this situation. They blame Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, for holding on to a letter from Ford that she’s had since July. The missive details the allegation that Kavanaugh “physically and sexually assaulted” her during high school but asks Feinstein to keep the matter confidential until the two are able to speak.

McConnell suggested Feinstein “decided to spring it right at the end” for political purposes. “It’s pretty obvious this is all about delaying the process, but the accuser certainly does deserve a right to be heard, and we’re looking forward to hearing what she has to say on Monday.”

The sexual harassment allegation has imperiled Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which was all but assured just a week ago. But McConnell expressed confidence that Republicans, who hold a narrow 51-49 majority, will be able to confirm Kavanaugh as planned after the hearing.

“I’m not concerned about tanking the nomination,” McConnell said.

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Kavanaugh in 2015: 'What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep'

Georgetown Prep’s unofficial saying, according to Brett Kavanaugh: What happens there, stays there.

The Supreme Court nominee made the crack in a 2015 speech at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, which he said was the alma mater of three of his friends. Kavanaugh said the trio had also been classmates when he attended Catholic high school at Georgetown Prep.

“But fortunately, we had a good saying that we’ve held firm to to this day … which is: What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep,” Kavanaugh said, according to a video of the speech. “I think that’s been a good thing for all of us.”

Kavanaugh gave no other context for the joke, but it gained attention anyway after it first surfaced on MSNBC because the judge has recently been accused of misconduct while he was a high school student.

Christine Blasey Ford on Sunday came forward as the woman who had anonymously alleged that when they were both in high school, Kavanaugh had drunkenly groped her and pinned her down on a bed while a friend watched. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted the clip of Kavanaugh joking about Georgetown Prep, adding: “I can’t imagine any parent accepting this view. Is this really what America wants in its next Supreme Court Justice?”

Kavanaugh and Ford have been asked to testify at a hearing slated for Monday, but Ford has yet to say whether she will attend.

The 2015 talk in which the high-school joke arose was part of a lecture series in which Kavanugh was asked to talk about partisanship.

“Judges need to follow the law, not make the law,” Kavanaugh said during the speech. “That has to be our aspiration in a system of evenhanded justice. You have to check political allegiances at the door when you become a judge.”

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Dems ask McGahn if he knew of Kavanaugh assault claim

Three Democratic senators on Tuesday questioned whether White House Counsel Don McGahn knew of any sexual assault allegation claims against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at any time during his nomination process.

The three senators — Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — wrote in a letter to McGahn asking if “individuals in the White House and members of the Senate knew about these allegations earlier than they have admitted.”

They also ask if McGahn had any knowledge of the drafting of a Sept. 14 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee written by 65 women who say they knew Kavanaugh in his youth and support his character. The letter supporting Kavanaugh’s character was released a day after an anonymous allegation against the nominee became public.

After Christine Blasey Ford came forward publicly with her allegation of sexual assault, some of the signatories of the original letter signed by 65 women have either declined to comment or maintained their support of Kavanaugh.

The senators also wrote that McGahn was aware that former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter had faced accusations of domestic abuse before the allegations were made public, adding that “you allowed Mr. Porter to serve in the White House and have access to sensitive and classified information without investigating those accusations further.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment about the letter sent to McGahn.

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