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Battle lines are drawn in Kavanaugh hearings as schedule shapes up for next week

The battle lines are shaping up for an epic week of hearings in Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination saga.

Kavanaugh confirmed in a new letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley that he will appear to testify before the committee as requested on Monday.

‘I will be there,’ Kavanaugh wrote. ‘I continue to want a hearing as soon as possible, so that I can clear my name.’

‘Since the moment I first heard this allegation, I have categorically and unequivocally denied it,’ he wrote. ‘I remain committed to defending my integrity.’ 

Meanwhile, Christine Blasey Ford, who accuses Kavanaugh of trying to rape her when they were both in high school, has indicated she may testify next week under certain conditions, with Thursday said to be the likely date.

Ford has contended that in the early 1980s at a house party in Washington’s Maryland suburbs, a drunken Kavanaugh tried undressing her and stifling her cries on a bed before she fled. 

The accusation has jarred the 53-year-old conservative jurist’s prospects for winning confirmation, which until Ford’s emergence last week had seemed all but certain. 

Ford appears to have backed off an earlier demand that the FBI investigate her allegation before she testifies – a request that fizzled when it became clear that the FBI lacked jurisdiction, and which was viewed by some as a stalling tactic to delay the confirmation vote until after the midterm elections.

On Thursday night, Ford’s lawyers talked to Judiciary Committee staff to discuss the terms for her testimony.

Notably, Ford’s attorneys seemed open to the idea of a public hearing, after the committee offered her the opportunity to testify in private. 

They also asked the committee to subpoena Mark Judge, whom Ford has named as the other teen in the room at the time. Judge has told the committee he does not recall the incident and does not want to speak publicly. 

What are Ford’s terms for testifying before the Judiciary Committee?

Ford’s attorneys spoke with Senators Chuck Grassley and Diane Feinstein on Thursday night. Among the terms they reportedly requested are:

  • The hearing may be public, but only one camera would be allowed
  • Brett Kavanaugh must testify first and can’t be in the room when Ford does
  • No outside counsel can question Ford – the Senators themselves must
  • The committee must subpoena alleged witness Mark Judge, who has said he has no knowledge of her allegations and does not want to speak publicly
  • The committee must assure Ford the protection of the US Capitol Police 

Among the terms were that Kavanaugh must be questioned first and that Kavanaugh cannot be in the room when Ford testifies, two sources told Politico.

Ford also asked that only one camera be allowed in the room, and that she only be questioned by members of the committee – not outside counsel.

The Republicans on the committee, who are all men, had considered bringing in a female attorney to pose questions to Ford in a bid to soften the optics of the hearing.  

Ford’s lawyers also discussed security concerns, and were offered assurances about U.S. Capitol Police protection. 

Katz said anew that Ford, 51, a psychology professor in California, has received death threats and for safety reasons has relocated her family.

‘She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety,’ Katz wrote in an email to the committee earlier on Thursday.

The phone call, between Ford lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, Grassley and ranking committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein, ended without any formal agreement to testify, the sources said.

Protesters opposed to Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, are arrested outside the office of Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Thursday

Protesters opposed to Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, are arrested outside the office of Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Thursday

Should Ford testify, especially in public, it would pit the words of two distinguished professionals against each other as television close-ups capture every emotion. 

Assessing them would be not just the committee’s 21 senators -only four of whom are women, all Democrats – but also millions of viewing voters. 

If Ford opts not to participate, Republicans could well dispense with the hearing to avoid giving Democrats a forum for peppering Kavanaugh with embarrassing questions. 

They would argue that they’d offered Ford several options for describing her accusation, but that she’d snubbed them. 

Kavanaugh was spotted entering the White House on Thursday, likely to prepare for the committee hearing.

President Donald Trump told Fox News on Thursday, ‘I think it’s a very sad situation’ but added ‘you can’t delay it any longer’. 

President Donald Trump told Fox News on Thursday that 'you can delay it any longer'

President Donald Trump told Fox News on Thursday that ‘you can delay it any longer’

He said Kavanaugh’s accuser should ‘have her say and let’s see how it all works out. But I don’t think you can delay it any longer. They’ve delayed it a week already.’ 

As the week has proceeded, Republicans have seemed to regain momentum toward approving Kavanaugh though his prospects have remained uncertain.

Even moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said it would be ‘unfair’ to Kavanaugh if Ford decides to not appear, and others were urging leaders to proceed quickly to a vote. 

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski came under increasing pressure over the vote on Thursday, after her state’s Independent governor announced his opposition to Kavanaugh.

On the other hand, if the confirmation vote takes place before the midterms, there are several Democrat senators facing tough reelections who may be forced to support Trump’s Supreme Court pick. 

The bare 51-49 Republican majority means they can lose one vote and still approve Kavanaugh even if all Democrats vote no. Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie.