President Trump offered a robust defense of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh on Wednesday, saying it was “very hard for me to imagine anything happened” with the woman who has accused the Supreme Court nominee of sexually assaulting her when both were teenagers.
The president’s assessment came as it remained uncertain whether Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, would testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, and as Republican senators grew increasingly impatient and implored her to appear.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Ford’s attorneys to respond by Friday on whether she plans to appear before his panel. While Grassley has been flexible on some aspects of her testimony — such as whether she wants to speak in private or publicly — he and other Republicans have not budged from the Monday schedule, nor are they willing to accommodate her request for an FBI investigation before she testifies.
“I have reopened the hearing because I believe that anyone who comes forward with allegations of sexual assault has a right to be heard, and because it is the committee’s responsibility to fully evaluate the fitness of a nominee to the Supreme Court,” Grassley wrote to Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, who are Ford’s lawyers. “I therefore want to give Dr. Ford an opportunity to tell her story to the Senate and, if she chooses, to the American people.”
Grassley is also willing to send his staff to California to speak to Ford if she prefers, committee spokesman Garrett Ventry said. Ford is a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, located northwest of San Jose in northern California.
The standoff over Ford’s testimony persisted as Trump, in his most effusive defense of Kavanaugh yet, praised him as “an extraordinary man” with “an unblemished record,” and said what he is experiencing is “unfair.”
Still, the president also said that Ford deserves to be heard by the Judiciary Committee.
“If she shows up and makes a credible showing, that will be very interesting, and we’ll have to make a decision,” he told reporters as he left the White House for North Carolina to survey hurricane damage.
Lawyers for Ford told the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that she wants the FBI to investigate her allegations before she testifies, leaving it unclear whether she will appear Monday.
Republican senators are signaling that they are prepared to forge ahead with a committee vote for Kavanaugh sometime next week — if not the high-stakes hearing itself.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a pivotal swing vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, both urged Ford to speak to senators on Monday. And Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who like Flake also pushed the Senate to hit pause on Kavanaugh’s nomination until lawmakers heard from the professor, said: “If we don’t hear from both sides on Monday, let’s vote.”
Collins said Wednesday that Ford has a few ways she can detail her story to the committee by Monday, including in a public or private session that would be videotaped; or an interview conducted by congressional investigators.
“I don’t think she can reject, having made all of these serious allegations, I don’t think that she can reject all those options,” Collins said in an interview with WVOM radio in Maine. “Otherwise, there are these very serious allegations hanging over the head of a nominee who has emphatically denied them. And that’s just not a good way for us to end.”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, dismissed calls to reopen an FBI background investigation of Kavanaugh as a delaying tactic and pushed the Senate to hold a committee vote “as soon as possible.”
Grassley left open the possibility that the hearing could occur Monday with only Kavanaugh present.
“We don’t have any problem with Kavanaugh coming, the only problem we have with making it a fruitful hearing is to hear from both sides,” he said.
Trump told reporters that the FBI has investigated Kavanaugh six times for federal jobs and suggested that it is unnecessary to do so again.
There is precedent for the FBI stepping in late in the process of a Supreme Court nomination. In 1991, when law professor Anita Hill alleged that now-Justice Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her, the FBI was called in to investigate.
In tweets late Wednesday morning, Grassley said committee investigators are following up on Ford’s allegations and “No other OUTSIDE investigation is necessary.” And the FBI reiterated Wednesday that it had included information about the allegations in Kavanaugh’s background file, and that it is now up to the White House to decide what to do with it.
A criminal inquiry is essentially out of the question, because what is alleged does not constitute a federal crime.
The FBI would do more background investigating — such as interviewing Ford and other witnesses — if the White House requested that, said a person familiar with the matter, although the end result probably would not end the controversy.
The FBI wouldn’t compile a report offering an opinion, one way or another, on the credibility of the allegations. Rather, it would provide the White House reports on the interviews and other evidence agents gathered, and again leave it to the White House to decide what to do with Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Ford has alleged that while she and Kavanaugh were at a house party in the early 1980s, when the two were in high school, Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed, groped her and put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams as he attempted to take off her clothes.
Trump said that senators have been patient with Ford and that he hopes she will testify Monday.
“If she shows up, that would be wonderful. If she doesn’t show up, that would be unfortunate,” he said.
The president also directed fresh criticism toward Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, for not making an issue of Ford’s accusations after she received a letter detailing them in July. Feinstein has said she respected Ford’s wish to remain anonymous, which changed once her name leaked out.
“Why did they wait until everything was finished and then bring it up?” Trump asked. “That doesn’t look good.”
Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.