Brett Kavanaugh accuser will testify before Congress on Thursday

Oliver Laughland in New York
Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in before the Senate judiciary committee on Capitol Hill on 4 September. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, will testify before the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday, in proceedings likely to become a decisive moment in the confirmation of the conservative judge.

A statement issued on Sunday by lawyers for the professor at Palo Alto University, who alleges Kavanaugh assaulted her at a part in the early 1980s, said an open hearing would take place at 10am on Thursday.

Kavanaugh, who has denied the allegations, is also expected to appear.

“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,” the statement said.

Ford’s lawyers confirmed that a number of other witnesses to the alleged assault would not be called. This included Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh who was allegedly present in the room at the high school party where the violent assault is alleged to have occurred. Judge has said he has no recollection of events described by Ford and does not wish to testify.

Senate Republicans on the judiciary committee, all of whom are men, are weighing up how they will question the 51 year-old. Reports have indicated that chairman Chuck Grassley is seeking to hire a female attorney to question the witness, a move Ford’s team have opposed.

The issue was still unresolved on Sunday, according to the statement from Ford’s attorneys.

Grassley has also rejected an application from Ford’s lawyers for her to appear after Kavanaugh, which would give her the opportunity to rebut his comments.

Counsel for the chairman’s office wrote to Ford’s attorneys on Sunday to inform them Grassley would “do everything in his power to provide a safe, comfortable, and dignified forum” for the hearing.

Every accuser deserves the right to be heard. But at the same time I think the accused deserves the right to be heard

Nikki Haley

On Sunday, a Fox News poll indicated a slump in support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, with just 40% of voters approving his suitability for the highest court in the land. With the midterm elections less than two months away, the White House remains concerned Ford’s potential appearance could not only derail Kavanaugh but also damage the Republican party among female voters.

The outcome of Kavanaugh’s confirmation could determine the ideological balance of the court for years. Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose retirement prompted Donald Trump’s second nomination, was the swing vote on a number of key decisions.

Trump, himself accused by at least 16 women of sexual misconduct, has offered his full support to Kavanaugh. In a series of Twitter posts on Friday, he described the judge as a “fine man, with an impeccable reputation” and attacked Ford’s credibility, asking: “Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?”

A number of senior female Republicans hit back. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday: “Every accuser always deserves the right to be heard. But at the same time I think the accused deserves the right to be heard.”

Haley added: “Accusers go through a lot of trauma. Some handle it one way, some handle it another. Regardless, it’s not something we want to do to blame the accuser or to try and second guess the accuser.”

I’m going to do everything I can to make sure she can tell her story free of intimidation

Mazie Hirono

Senator Susan Collins of Maine branded Trump’s tweets “completely inappropriate and wrong”.

“I was appalled by the president’s tweet,” she said. “We know that allegations of sexual assault are one of the most unreported crimes that exist.”

Nonetheless, Republican senators on the judiciary committee have indicated they support Kavanaugh. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Fox News Sunday he would view Ford’s appearance “from a prism of being reasonable and fair to Judge Kavanaugh”.

He said: “Everything I know about Judge Kavanaugh goes against this allegation, goes against Dr Ford. I feel sorry for her, I think she’s being used here. People in my view are using her.”

Democrats have urged the FBI to investigate Ford’s allegations, pointing to sexual harassment allegations made against conservative judge Clarence Thomas in 1991 by a law professor, Anita Hill. The FBI conducted a brief investigation into Hill’s claims with bipartisan support during Thomas’s confirmation process. Thomas was confirmed to the supreme court, where he remains, in 52-48 vote.

Hill, who was a legal adviser to Thomas during his time in federal government, was called to the Senate to testify. She was publicly lambasted by a number of Republicans, some of whom are still on the judiciary committee. A number of Democratic senators have said they want Ford to avoid the same sort of hostile scrutiny.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure she can tell her story free of intimidation and the kind of threats she’s getting for coming forward,” Mazie Hirono of Hawaii told CNN on Sunday. Hirono is one of four female Democrats on the judiciary committee.

Ford alleges Kavanaugh was drunk at a house party in suburban Washington DC in 1982, and that he pulled her into a room, pinned her down on a bed and tried to take off her clothes. She also alleges he put his hand over her mouth to stop her screaming.

In an interview with the Washington Post, she said she was able to escape but remained traumatized by the incident into adulthood, describing it as a “rape attempt”.

According to a report in the Post on Saturday, Kavanaugh has been taking practice questions from White House aides. Citing anonymous sources, the paper reported that the judge grew frustrated by practice questions relating to his drinking habits and sexual experience, declining to answer some questions altogether.