Senate Panel Considers Options For Brett Kavanaugh Accuser's Testimony

Sep 21, 2018
Originally published on September 22, 2018 1:40 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Up until now, President Trump has appeared relatively restrained when he's referred to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. She claims Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school. This morning, though, the president is raising questions about Ford's credibility. I'm joined now by NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: The president was on Twitter this morning. What did he say?

HORSLEY: He challenged Ford's account of being assaulted by Kavanaugh at a high school house party back in the early 1980s. He suggested if the attack were as bad as Ford says, she or her parents would have filed charges immediately with local police. And the president demanded that Ford present those reports as some sort of corroborating evidence. Now, in fact, a majority of such assaults go unreported. According to the Justice Department, less than a quarter were reported in 2016. The stats in the early '80s among 15-year-olds were probably even lower.

MARTIN: Right.

HORSLEY: This does reflect a change in tone for the president, though. Up until now, he has focused on defending Kavanaugh while being respectful of Ford. And that's been the tone set by others at the White House as well, in contrast to his usual MO. And in a way, this is a return to form for the president, who is known as a counterpuncher and someone who attacks hard when someone tackles him or his agenda.

MARTIN: So we also heard from Ford's lawyers last night. They say that Monday's not going to work. It's far too soon. She's not going to come testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee then. But under certain conditions, she may speak under oath later. What do we know?

HORSLEY: They say she is willing to testify before the committee provided that a setting can be arranged that is fair and that protects her safety. Since Ford first attached her name to this story last weekend, she has been receiving death threats. Her lawyers say she and her family have been hounded out of their home. So her safety is certainly a concern. And as you mentioned, they say the timing of the hearing will have to be after Monday. That was the date that the committee Republicans had set. Ford's attorneys called that an arbitrary deadline.

MARTIN: And, of course, the reason the president is tweeting about an FBI investigation is because this had been basically a precondition that Christine Blasey Ford's lawyers had articulated earlier. They said that she would come testify if the FBI looked into this allegation. If they're saying now that she could be appearing next week at some point, does that mean they don't require an FBI inquiry anymore?

HORSLEY: That's right. They still say that it is Ford's strong preference to have this allegation thoroughly investigated before the committee has a hearing, but that's no longer an absolute precondition. And that's really been the big development in the last day or so. Up until yesterday, Ford was demanding that the FBI investigate first. Committee Republicans were saying that's not going to happen, that the FBI had completed its work.

And that sort of opened the door for Brett Kavanaugh to skate through to a committee vote and perhaps a full Senate vote without these allegations being fully aired. The committee had tentatively scheduled a vote for next Wednesday. That's now up in the air. And remember, the Supreme Court begins its fall term a week from Monday.

MARTIN: So what is going to happen on Monday?

HORSLEY: Well, we don't really know what's going to happen Monday or at some later date next week if Ford does come to testify.

MARTIN: But Kavanaugh's going to show up, right?

HORSLEY: Well, Kavanaugh has said he'll be there Monday if there's a hearing, but it's possible they'll settle on some date later in the week. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of that committee, has said he's consulting with his colleagues to figure out where they go from here. He says he is committed to setting up a venue that is fair to both Ford and Kavanaugh. What we don't know is what that might look like.

For example, will it be just these two who testify, or will the committee hear from other witnesses, other people who Ford has said were at the house party and can speak to that? The committee has already talked to some of those people. And we'll see if they hear from others. Another question is, will the Republican senators do their own questioning? They're all men. Or will they bring in an outside counsel to assist in that, perhaps a woman for the sake of appearances? So we don't know what that's going to look like. That's up in the air right now.

MARTIN: All right. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thanks so much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.