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Republicans extend deadline for Kavanaugh accuser to respond to hearing offer

Lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford had originally been given until 5 p.m. ET Friday to respond to the GOP's counter-offer regarding ground rules for her testimony.
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By Adam Edelman, Rebecca Shabad and Frank Thorp V

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday gave the lawyers for the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her an extension to respond to their counter-offer that would push back the scheduled Monday hearing.

But on Friday, just before a 10 p.m. deadline, an attorney for accuser Christine Blasey Ford sent an email to committee staffers requesting an additional day to decide.

"The 10:00 p.m. deadline is arbitrary," the email from lawyer Debra Katz, which was obtained by NBC News, reads. "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."

Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, tweeted Friday night, "I just granted another extension" to the accuser to decide if she wants to testify.

Earlier in the day, Grassley explained his 10 p.m. deadline in a statement.

"I’m extending the deadline for response yet again to 10 o’clock this evening," he said. "I’m providing a notice of a vote to occur Monday in the event that Dr. Ford’s attorneys don’t respond or Dr. Ford decides not to testify."

Grassley had originally given the lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford until 5 p.m. ET Friday to respond to the GOP's counter-offer regarding the ground rules for her testimony. Republicans said that they'd like to schedule the hearing for Ford and Kavanaugh to testify on Wednesday next week — even though Ford's lawyers said the earliest she would be able to appear would be Thursday. Grassley said they'd also "make every effort to guarantee [Dr. Ford's] safety."

"Some of your other demands, however, are unreasonable and we are unable to accommodate them," the chairman said.

The GOP wants Ford to testify first and Kavanaugh second so he has an "opportunity to respond." Ford had asked to appear after Kavanaugh.

Ford also requested that only senators ask questions, an option Grassley ruled out. “We reserve the option to have female staff attorneys, who are sensitive to the particulars of Dr. Ford’s allegations and are experienced investigators, question both witnesses,” he said.

Grassley's deadline extension comes after President Donald Trump on Friday appeared doubtful of Ford's claim that she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh, when they were both in high school, marking the first time the president has publicly questioned the truthfulness of 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,” Trump said on Twitter Friday morning.

"The radical left lawyers want the FBI to get involved NOW. Why didn't someone call the FBI 36 years ago?" he added in a third tweet on the issue.

In an earlier post, Trump lauded Kavanaugh as "a fine man, with an impeccable reputation, who is under assault by radical left wing politicians who don’t want to know the answers."

Later Friday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., spoke about Kavanaugh at the Value Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. in which he suggested the Senate will wind up confirming him.

"President Trump has nominated a stunningly successful individual," he said. "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.

"Keep the faith. Don’t get rattled by all of this. We’re gonna plow right through it and do our job,” he told the crowd.

Trump later suggested the timing of the controversy had been a deliberate Democratic attempt to derail the confirmation process.

Feinstein has said the existence of the letter was not revealed earlier because Ford had requested her story not be made public.

At a campaign stop in Springfield, Mo., Friday night, Trump used the nomination fight to slam Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, R-Mo., who is fending off a tough challenge from Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley.

"She just announced that she won't vote for him," Trump said of McCaskill's position on Kavanaugh. "Can you believe it?"

He went on to praise the jurist as coming from "central casting" and being "born for the U.S. Supreme Court," adding that Kavanaugh's confirmation is "going to happen."

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday said that it has agreed to make a counter-offer to Ford and her attorney that would call for the hearing being held on Wednesday of next week. Under the terms of the offer, Ford would testify first, followed by Kavanaugh, according to a GOP senator on the committee. No other witnesses would be called, and Republicans would pick their own lawyer do questioning, rather than senators doing it themselves.

The senator said that the counter-offer by the committee would accommodate Ford's other requests: limited pool coverage, a guarantee for her safety and not having Kavanaugh and Ford in the same room at the same time.

After the committee made contact with Ford's lawyers Thursday, Republican and Democratic sources told NBC News that the earliest Ford could appear would be next Thursday.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., ranking member on panel, slammed Republicans in a statement Friday evening for not honoring Ford's request to testify on Thursday at the earliest, releasing a statement accusing them of "bullying a survivor of attempted rape."

“Brett Kavanaugh could serve on the court for 40 years, what’s another 24 hours to make sure we get this right?” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. echoed the point in a Friday night tweet. "Dr. Ford says she can testify Thursday, but Republicans can’t wait that long," he wrote. "What is 1 extra day for serious allegations and a lifetime appointment? They clearly don’t want a hearing, like they don’t want an FBI investigation."

All 10 Democratic members of the committee on Friday outlined steps the panel should take such as inviting outside witnesses and providing transcripts of interviews Republicans did with witnesses referred to in Ford's original letter.

Kavanaugh has come under mounting scrutiny in the days since Ford accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh at the Georgetown Preparatory School outside of Washington, D.C., and Ford at nearby Holton-Arms.

Kavanaugh has vehemently denied the accusation.

Trump's posts marked the first time that he had sought to undercut Ford's credibility regarding the accusation she'd made about Kavanaugh. Trump had previously defended Kavanaugh and urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to advance his nomination, but had stopped short of criticizing Ford directly.

Just as Trump tweeted about Ford Friday morning, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters that the "president doesn't need anybody to tell him" not to attack Kavanaugh's accuser.

"He does the right thing," Conway said.

Trump's claim about having "no doubt" that charges would have been filed in the alleged incident involving Ford and Kavanaugh contradicts what leading sexual assault victim advocacy groups know about reporting levels of incidents.

Democratic lawmakers quickly attacked Trump for his morning comments.

“The most powerful man in the world just used his position and platform to attack a sexual assault survivor. This is the same man who has been credibly accused of more than a dozen cases of sexual assault or harassment — who has bragged about committing sexual assault on tape!” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y, said in a four-tweet response in which she also called on Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to “denounce” the president’s “vile attack.”

“This is the same man who protected a domestic abuser on his staff and campaigned for a credibly accused pedophile,” Gillibrand also wrote, apparently referring to Rob Porter, Trump’s former staff secretary who resigned in February amid reports alleging he had physically and verbally abused his two ex-wives.

“Senate Judiciary Republicans should denounce this vile attack immediately, or be culpable in the smearing of a citizen, a sexual assault survivor, by the president,” she added.

Schumer called Trump’s response to the Ford-Kavanaugh situation “a highly offensive misunderstanding of surviving trauma.”

“1000s & 1000s of strong women have kept being assaulted to themselves for a variety of understandable reasons. The president doesn't even try to understand trauma survivors—he'd rather use their pain for political purposes,” Schumer tweeted.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., tweeted that, “There are endless reasons a survivor of sexual assault wouldn’t file a report right away, not least of which is the fear of retribution, doubt, and character attacks—a fear which Trump and many members of the GOP are instilling anew in millions of women and girls. Shame on them.”

A key Republican also blasted Trump.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine — whose vote Republicans need to get Kavanaugh confirmed — said she was sharply critical of the president's remarks, according to the Associated Press and local media.

“I was appalled by the president’s tweet,” Collins said at an event in Maine, according to the Portland Press Herald. “First of all, we know that allegations of sexual assault — I’m not saying that’s what happened in this case — but we know allegations of sexual assault are one of the most unreported crimes that exist. So I thought that the president’s tweet was completely inappropriate and wrong.”

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo responded to Trump's Friday morning tweet, citing the widespread expert consensus that sexual assaults are dramatically under-reported.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, just 310 of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police, which would mean that roughly two out of every three cases are not. RAINN bases its assessment on an an aggregation of data from the Justice Department and other federal government surveys.

Sandra Ford Mendler, Ford's sister-in-law, said Friday Trump's tone should have reflected gratitude, not skepticism.

“When a citizen comes forward and says, ‘This is difficult but I think you need to know,’ the leader of this country should say, “Thank you, we’ll look in to it,’” Mendler said on MSNBC. “She’s participating in our process and she should be thanked for coming forward and it should be investigated fully.”

“There’s no reason why she would fabricate this," she added. "I feel a hundred percent certain that she is sharing a difficult and painful memory, and is being very careful to be accurate with everything that she says.”

Trump’s statements came as the Senate Judiciary Committee was working with Ford’s lawyers to come to an agreement as to the time and location she might testify.

On Friday morning, Ford appeared to miss an earlier deadline set this week by Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who had previously told Ford’s lawyers in a letter that they would have to submit Ford’s information to the committee by Friday at 10 a.m. if she intended to testify before the committee at a hearing on Monday.

But discussions to arrange that appearance resumed on Thursday, as her lawyers laid out to the committee the necessary conditions for her appearance before the panel, including not being in the hearing room with Kavanaugh, and assurances for her safety. Republican and Democratic sources told NBC News that the earliest Ford could appear would be next Thursday, though the hearing originally planned for Monday remains on the schedule.

Meanwhile, Kavanaugh said Thursday that he intends to attend the hearing Monday.

"Thank you for the invitation to appear before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Monday, September 24. I will be there. I look forward to the opportunity to testify before the Committee," Kavanaugh said in a statement. "I continue to want a hearing as soon as possible, so that I can clear my name."

Trump, on Thursday night, had warned that it was time for the Senate Judiciary Committee to "get on with it" regarding the efforts to schedule a hearing.

"I don’t think you can delay it any longer," Trump said in an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity just before a campaign rally in Las Vegas. "They’ve delayed it a week, and they have to get on with it."

Trump, who was in Nevada in large part to boost the re-election hopes of Sen. Dean Heller, told the crowd during his stump speech that Heller's vote "is more important than mine because he’s gotta help Brett get in." And, he added, "we're gonna get Brett."

Ali Vitali, Lauren Egan, Garrett Haake, Dartunorro Clark and Dennis Romero contributed.
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