Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, wants the FBI to investigate her allegation as a “first step” before she testifies in front of the Senate judiciary committee – a demand Republicans appear unwilling to meet.
In a letter to the committee on Tuesday night, Ford’s attorneys in effect eliminated the possibility that she will appear at a high-stakes public hearing scheduled for Monday that will likely determine the fate of Kavanaugh’s nomination.
The attempt to postpone the hearing injected further confusion into an already chaotic and bitterly partisan process, setting the stage for an extraordinary showdown over Donald Trump’s second supreme court nominee.
Ford’s lawyers wrote in a letter to the panel on Tuesday night: “A full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions.”
In response, committee chairman Chuck Grassley stressed his position that Ford “deserves to be heard” and that the invitation to testify on Monday “still stands”.
However, he said in this statement: “Dr Ford’s testimony would reflect her personal knowledge and memory of events.
“Nothing the FBI or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr Ford tells the committee, so there is no reason for delay.”
Though Ford’s letter does not explicitly state whether she would appear before the committee on Monday, it raises concerns that she would face an unfair “interrogation by senators who appear to have made up their minds that she is ‘mistaken’ and ‘mixed up’”. In an appearance on CNN on Tuesday evening, one of her lawyers, Lisa Banks, sidestepped several direct questions about whether her client would appear at the Monday hearing but strongly suggested she would not.
“She’s not prepared to talk with them at a hearing on Monday,” Banks said, adding: “This is going to take some time. There shouldn’t be a rush to a hearing here. There’s no reason to do that.”
Ford, a research psychologist at Palo Alto University in northern California, has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her more than 30 years ago, at a high school party when both were teenagers. He has categorically denied the accusations.
The letter comes as Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill clashed fiercely over the shape and scope of Monday’s hearing. Grassley has said Kavanaugh and Ford will be the only witnesses, prompting pushback from Democrats who demand an FBI investigation first and believe more witnesses and experts should be called to testify.
Republicans, who are already incensed that Kavanaugh’s confirmation has been delayed by allegations that they say were “kept secret until the 11th hour”, insisted that Monday was Ford’s opportunity to tell her story, either in public or in private.
It is unclear if the hearing would take place without her, but Republicans indicated they would move forward with a vote to advance his nomination by the end of next week regardless of whether she appears.
Senator Orrin Hatch, a senior Republican on the committee, said in a tweet on Tuesday night: “The FBI does not do investigations like this. The responsibility falls to us.” He concluded: “We should proceed as planned.”
Hatch, who played an important role in the Anita Hill hearings, was promptly reminded by others on Twitter that the FBI had investigated her claims against then Supreme Court nominee Thomas.
Ford’s attorneys say she has been inundated by “vicious harassment and even death threats” since she shared her story in the Washington Post on Sunday. They said her family was forced to relocate for security reasons and that her email was hacked and she was being impersonated online.
“While Dr Ford’s life was being turned upside down, you and your staff scheduled a public hearing for her to testify at the same table as Judge Kavanaugh in front of two dozen US senators on national television to relive this traumatic and harrowing incident,” the lawyers wrote. A spokesman for Grassley said the claim was unfounded and never a part of the plan.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the committee, who has pushed Republicans to allow time for an investigation before holding a public hearing said she agreed with Ford “100%” and said senators should “honor” Ford’s wishes and grant a delay.
“I agree with her 100% that the rushed process to hold a hearing on Monday has been unfair and is reminiscent of the treatment of Anita Hill,” Feinstein said, referring to the woman who accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his supreme court confirmation hearing in 1991.
Republicans, meanwhile, are working furiously to save Kavanaugh’s confirmation. On Tuesday, Trump repeatedly defended his nominee, calling him a “great gentleman” and lamenting that his wife and “beautiful young daughters” had to endure a public airing of the accusations.
The president said earlier Tuesday that Kavanaugh was “anxious” to testify. “I don’t know about the other party,” he told reporters at the White House.