Kavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week

Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, has agreed to testify before the Senate next week, her lawyer said Saturday.

The exact terms and timing of her testimony remain unclear, as negotiations between Ford's lawyers and staff for the Senate Judiciary Committee remain ongoing.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Five takeaways from the court decision striking down ObamaCare The Year Ahead: Tough tests loom for Trump trade agenda MORE (R-Iowa) had given Ford's lawyers until Saturday at 2:30 p.m. to decide on whether she would proceed with testifying.

Debra Katz, a lawyer for Ford, said in an email shortly before the deadline that Ford "accepts the Committee's request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh's sexual misconduct next week."

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But Katz added that she wanted to continue negotiations with Grassley's staff and that they still need to work out an "agreement on the details."

The email didn't specifically say that Ford was agreeing to a Wednesday hearing date, which is what the Judiciary Committee has proposed.

"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.

Staff for GOP Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander won't seek reelection Hatch walks back remarks that he didn't 'care' if Trump broke the law MORE (Utah) echoed the White House, saying in a tweet that "this is exactly where we were on Monday morning— without agreeing to a date, time, and terms."

Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Judiciary member Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote MORE (R-Utah), tweeted, "Dr Ford has accepted nothing. This is a rejection of the committee’s offer to testify Wednesday."

A person briefed on talks between the Judiciary Committee and Ford's lawyers told told the Associated Press that they had reached a tentative deal for a hearing on Thursday but talks would continue into Sunday.

Spokespeople for Grassley didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about Katz's email or if he will postpone a vote scheduled for Monday without a concrete agreement between his staff and Ford's lawyers. 

White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement on Saturday evening that Kavanaugh "unequivocally" denies the allegation and "remains ready, willing and eager to testify as soon as possible."

Both sides have been wrangling over the exact day and conditions for Ford's testimony, talks that spilled out into the open on Friday when Grassley's staff set a 10 p.m. deadline for Ford to respond to their latest offer.

The Judiciary Committee has pushed for Ford to appear on Wednesday, not Thursday as her lawyers proposed, and agreed to limit television coverage of the hearing, provide adequate police security and have timely breaks.

However, Grassley rejected a request from Ford’s lawyers that outside witnesses, such as Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge, be called to testify.

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

"The 10:00 p.m. deadline is arbitrary. Its sole purpose is to bully Dr. Ford and deprive her of the ability to make a considered decision that has life-altering implications for her and her family," said Katz.

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

Ford has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a high school party in the early 1980s, allegations that he has flatly denied. He has said he wants to appear at a hearing “as soon as possible” to “clear my name.”

The professor's legal team announced Saturday that former Justice Department inspector general Michael Bromwich, a former federal prosecutor, would join her team amid the ongoing negotiations over her testimony.

Ford's willingness to testify Saturday comes a day after President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate MORE shifted in his response to her 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 tweet.

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

Trump’s tweets broke with days of relatively muted responses to the allegations and come as Senate Republicans have tried to position themselves as willing to hear out Kavanaugh’s accuser.

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.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellIsrael boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate Schumer blasts GOP request for immigration 'slush fund' Trump: 'Too early to say' if shutdown will be averted MORE (R-Ky.) 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 CollinsGOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling The Hill's Morning Report — No deal in sight as shutdown looms Bipartisan senators doubt ruling striking down ObamaCare MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill When is a deal not a deal? When there’s a wildlife refuge to be exploited House funding bill scraps Arctic icebreaker program MORE (Alaska), have yet to say if they will vote for Kavanaugh and have clamored to hear from Ford.

Ford had initially said earlier this week that she would testify, before pulling back and insisting that the FBI first investigate her allegations. Her lawyers have since been locked in negotiations with the Judiciary Committee. 

Democrats praised Ford's decision Saturday as an acceptance to testify despite Republicans trying to establish the hearing as a "kangaroo court."

"Next week’s hearing, as currently contemplated, will be a kangaroo court, because the Republicans have done everything in their power to prevent the consideration of any outside evidence," said Democratic Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDems ask if Trump aide Bill Shine is breaking ethics laws Senators want assurances from attorney general pick on fate of Mueller probe Dems vs. Trump: Breaking down the lawsuits against Whitaker MORE (R.I.), a member of the committee. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) added that Ford was deciding to testify "in the face of an impossible choice and vile bullying by Republican leadership. I will support her steadfast bravery against the arbitrary, unfair, irrational constraints set by Chairman Grassley."

A public hearing would set up a high-stakes, televised test for Kavanaugh, who is the latest major figure to face sexual misconduct allegations in recent years.

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

– Alexander Bolton contributed

Updated: 5:35 p.m.