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Kavanaugh accuser set to testify Thursday

Kavanaugh accuser set to testify Thursday
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Christine Blasey Ford is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning about her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the early 1980s.

Ford's scheduled appearance was announced Sunday after negotiations slipped into the weekend amid a standoff between her lawyers and staff for Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyDems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October American Bar Association dropping Kavanaugh review Clinton's security clearance withdrawn at her request MORE (R-Iowa). 

Ford’s legal team said they were “committed” to attending a public hearing on Thursday at 10 a.m. and had made “important progress” during a call with Judiciary Committee staff on Sunday.

“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,” they said in a statement. 

"A number of important procedural and logistical issues remain unresolved, although they will not impede the hearing taking place," according to attorneys Debra Katz, Lisa J. Banks, and Michael R. Bromwich. 

Grassley officially scheduled the Thursday hearing with Ford and Kavanaugh on Sunday afternoon and cancelled a committee vote on Kavanaugh's nomination that had been scheduled for Monday in the event that they didn't get a deal on a hearing. 

Spokespeople for Grassley didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but the committee officially scheduled the Thursday hearing with Ford and Kavanaugh on Sunday afternoon.

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Lawyers for Ford and Judiciary Committee staff from both parties spoke for approximately an hour on Sunday morning, according to a source familiar with the conversation, who characterized it as a “productive round of negotiation.”

The hearing will include 45 minute breaks and Ford will be given dedicated security and have two counsels sitting with her, according to the source.

The source said that Ford wants Kavanaugh to testify first but will accept second and that Democrats are planning to ask their own questions.

During the Sunday call, Ford’s legal team reiterated that they want to subpoena Mark Judge and also would like to have the individual who conducted Ford’s polygraph test and two trauma experts as witnesses. 

But Grassley's staff in an email to Ford's legal team after the call appeared to close the door to subpoenaing Judge or allowing additional witnesses to be called.

"As with any witness who comes before the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee cannot hand over its constitutional duties to attorneys for outside witnesses," Grassley's staff said in the email.

"The Committee determines which witnesses to call, how many witnesses to call, in what order to call them, and who will question them. These are non-negotiable," they continued.

Republicans have so far declined the requests, but a source said it was still an open question.

The agreement between Ford and the Judiciary committee is the latest twist involving the sexual assault allegation that has roiled Kavanaugh's nomination, which had appeared a lock for confirmation as recently as last week.

The negotiations with Ford's team to hear out her allegations have dragged out over the past week. The talks came after Ford's lawyers opened the door on Thursday to her testifying publicly sometime next week—but not Monday, the originally set day for a hearing. 

Grassley initially set a 5 p.m. and then a 10 p.m. deadline for making a deal with Ford on Friday, warning that without a deal the committee would proceed with a vote on Kavanaugh's nomination on Monday.  

Ford's lawyers countered shortly before the 10 p.m. deadline Friday—which they called "arbitrary" and "aggressive"—saying that Ford wanted another day to consider testifying.

Grassley ultimately agreed to extend the deadline to Saturday, saying in a late-night tweet that Ford should "decide so we can move on."

He added, "I want to hear her."

By Saturday night, the Judiciary Committee had agreed to Ford's requests for limited camera access, timely breaks, Capitol Police protection and not allowing Kavanaugh to be in the same room.

Republicans and the White House vented throughout the weekend as the talks stretched past deadline after deadline, arguing Ford was getting more time to negotiate without guaranteeing she would appear.

"This is an ask to continue 'negotiations' without committing to anything. It's a clever way to push off the vote Monday without committing to appear Wednesday," a senior White House official said Saturday. 

"We are no closer to hearing from Dr. Ford then we were when her lawyers said Dr. Ford was willing to testify during their media tour," they added. 

The deal also comes after President TrumpDonald John TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration MORE on Friday shifted his response to Kavanaugh's accuser and appeared to cast doubt on her allegation.

“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!” Trump said in a string of tweets. 

He added in a subsequent tweet that, “let her testify, or not, and TAKE THE VOTE!”

Trump’s tweets broke with days of a relatively muted response to the allegations and come as Senate Republicans have tried to position themselves as willing to hear out Kavanaugh’s accuser. Several media outlets, including CNN, reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellJuan Williams: Trump’s policies on race are more important than his rhetoric It’s Mitch McConnell’s Washington – and we’re just living in it Trump makes new overtures to Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) asked Trump not to continue his criticism of Ford, reportedly calling it unhelpful.

With several Republicans still undecided, the public hearing will mark Kavanaugh’s biggest test to date as he tries to succeed Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

McConnell appeared confident on Friday that Kavanaugh would ultimately get the 50 votes needed to be confirmed.

"You've watched the fight, you've watched the tactics, but here's what I want to tell you: In the very near future Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court," McConnell said while speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.

But several key senators, including GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret Collins'Suspicious letter' mailed to Maine home of Susan Collins The Kavanaugh debate was destructive tribalism on steroids: Here’s how we can stop it from happening again Conservative group launches ad campaign thanking Collins after Kavanaugh vote MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiEx-Florida lawmaker leaves Republican Party Murkowski not worried about a Palin challenge Flake on Kavanaugh confirmation: To see GOP 'spiking the ball in the end zone' doesn't seem right MORE (Alaska), have yet to say if they will vote for Kavanaugh and have clamored to hear from Ford.

Democrats were deeply critical of the GOP's handling of the lengthy negotiations over a public hearing, comparing it to a "kangaroo court." They warned that Republicans had not learned from the 1991 Anita Hill hearings. Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in very public testimony.

“We fear that rather than learning from the past, Senate Republicans and the Trump Administration are repeating this Committee’s previous mistakes and making new ones. Up to this point, the Committee majority’s treatment of Dr. Ford has unquestionably been worse than the disgraceful treatment that Anita Hill received 27 years ago,” Judiciary Democrats wrote in a letter to Grassley on Friday.

Kavanaugh is the latest figure to face sexual misconduct allegations in recent years. Several politicians, both on and off Capitol Hill, have been toppled in the “Me Too” era. And the accusation against Kavanaugh as Republicans are fighting to keep control of Congress in November amid concerns that female voters in key states won’t support their candidates. 

Kavanaugh denies wrongdoing and said in a letter to Grassley on Thursday that he wanted a hearing “as soon as possible” to “clear my name."

But Ford, going public with her accusation for the first time, told The Washington Post in an interview published Sunday that Kavanaugh pinned her down and tried to remove her clothing during a party in the early 1980s when they were both in high school.

-Updated 3:41 p.m.