Kavanaugh accuser reaches deal to testify Thursday

Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, has agreed to give Senate testimony on Thursday.
by Frank Thorp V, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Rebecca Shabad /  / Updated 

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WASHINGTON — Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school, has reached an agreement to publicly testify on Thursday, her lawyers confirmed on Sunday.

"We committed to moving forward with an open hearing on Thursday Sept 27 at 10:00 am.," Ford's lawyers said in a statement 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."

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Sunday added the hearing to its official schedule.

Ford's attorneys Debra Katz, Lisa Banks and Michael Bromwich noted in the statement that they had consented to the hearing, despite the GOP-led Judiciary Committee's refusal to subpoena other witnesses "who are essential for a fair hearing that arrives at the truth about the sexual assault."

Some aspects of the hearing remained unresolved, according to a Republican and Democratic source familiar with the negotiations.

The biggest sticking point was who would question Ford on the Republican side. Republicans want to maintain the option of using an outside litigator, preferably a woman, or female staff of the committee. It’s an alternative to avoid the potentially damaging optics of 11 Republican men questioning her. Ford would like the senators to question her.

Ford is also hoping to continue negotiations on the testimony of outside witnesses. While they agreed that the other person allegedly in the room, Mark Judge, or any other potential corroborators would not be subpoenaed, Ford would like trauma experts and the person who conducted a polygraph test to testify.

According to one Democratic and one Republican source who are familiar with the agreement, Ford's attorneys and a bipartisan Judiciary Committee staff agreed to the following:

  • Open hearing to the public
  • Breaks will occur every 45 minutes and on request
  • Ford will have dedicated security
  • Ford will testify first, Kavanaugh will testify second
  • Mark Judge, who Ford said interrupted the alleged assault, will not be subpoenaed
  • Democratic senators will ask questions
  • Ford will have two counsels at the table with her during her testimony

An initial tentative deal was struck on Saturday after lawyers for Ford conditionally accepted a GOP offer for her to give Senate testimony next week, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

The first tentative deal was reached in a short phone call between both Republican and Democratic staff on the Judiciary Committee and attorneys for Ford, the sources said. The call did not touch on the other conditions being negotiated, and additional details will be discussed Sunday, the sources said.

"Dr. Ford accepts the Committee's request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh's sexual misconduct next week," attorneys Katz and Banks wrote in an email to Judiciary Committee Republicans Saturday afternoon, though they added that aspects of the GOP's offer were "fundamentally inconsistent with the Committee’s promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations."

"[W]e are disappointed with the leaks and the bullying that have tainted the process" but "are hopeful that we can reach agreement on details," they wrote.

The hearing would come the week before the Supreme Court's next term begins. Republicans had aimed to confirm Kavanaugh before the high court met again.

White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec in a statement Saturday night tried to cast doubt on Ford’s account. "One week ago, Dr. Christine Ford claimed she was assaulted at a house party attended by four others. Since then, all four of these individuals have provided statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee denying any knowledge of the incident or even having attended such a party," Kupec said.

One of the four who denied it was Kavanaugh, the White House said.

The attorney for Leland Keyser, one of the four people the White House statement referred to, said in an email to Republican investigators that she "has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present, with, or without, Dr. Ford." Her attorney, Howard Walsh, confirmed the email to NBC News.

Katz, Ford's attorney, responded that the statement from Keyser was “not surprising” and that Ford did not share her story for years following the alleged incident involving Kavanaugh.

"It’s not surprising that Ms. Keyser has no recollection of the evening as they did not discuss it,” Katz said. "It's also unremarkable that Ms. Keyser does not remember attending a specific gathering 30 years ago at which nothing of consequence happened to her. Dr. Ford of course will never forget this gathering because of what happened to her there."

The tentative agreement came after several days of negotiations—talks that followed a standoff between both sides after the committee scheduled both witnesses to testify on Monday without consulting Ford first.

Republicans had originally given Ford until Friday morning to make a decision. They granted an extension through that evening, then again through Saturday afternoon, as requested by Ford’s legal team.

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. Her lawyers also laid out a set of conditions for her appearance.

In response, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday said that it made a counter-offer to Ford and her attorney that called for the hearing being held on Wednesday of next week. Under the terms of that 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 to 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.

President Trump on Friday expressed doubt about Ford’s account, tweeting, "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."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. Friday morning that he believes the Senate will wind up confirming Kavanaugh.

"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."

Ford revealed her identity in a story published by The Washington Post last weekend in which she described the alleged assault.

Earlier Saturday, a press adviser who had helped lead the response to Ford’s allegations for Republicans on the Judiciary Committee stepped down amid evidence that he was fired from a previous political job partially due to a sexual harassment complaint.

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