IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Senate to hold hearing allowing Kavanaugh and his accuser to testify publicly

Earlier in the day, President Donald Trump said that he was willing to accept that it might take longer to get a vote on Kavanaugh's nomination

WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing next Monday in which the woman who’s accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school will be able to testify, and Kavanaugh will have the opportunity to respond.

“As I said earlier, anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has done deserves to be heard. My staff has reached out to Dr. Ford to hear her account, and they held a follow-up call with Judge Kavanaugh this afternoon," Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, announced in a statement Monday evening.

"Unfortunately, committee Democrats have refused to join us in this effort. However, to provide ample transparency, we will hold a public hearing Monday to give these recent allegations a full airing,” he added.

While his statement didn't mention a cancellation of the Kavanaugh nomination vote that was scheduled for this Thursday, the scheduled hearing means that vote is almost certain to be postponed.

The White House released a statement praising the announcement. "Judge Kavanaugh looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation," it said. "He stands ready to testify tomorrow if the Senate is ready to hear him.”

Several Democrats on the Judiciary Committee said that their panel should instead wait until the FBI conducts and completes an investigation before holding a public hearing.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters, “I think there does need to be a public hearing there’s no question about that but I do think there needs to be some investigation first and I’m not sure this allows for that.”

"There is only one path forward and it’s absolutely crystal clear: a complete FBI investigation. If there’s a hearing before that investigation, the committee is going to be shooting in the dark," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters. "That’s why going ahead on Monday without an FBI investigation is just a sham and a charade."

The hearing announcement came after President Donald Trump said that he was willing to accept that it might take longer to get a vote on Kavanaugh's nomination, though he added that it was "ridiculous" to ask whether Kavanaugh had offered to withdraw.

"If it takes a little delay, it'll take a little delay," Trump told reporters at the White House, adding: "I think he's on track."

Kavanaugh, who has denied the allegation made by Christine Blasey Ford, made calls to key senators during a visit to the White House that lasted roughly nine hours, according to a White House official, as the fate of his nomination hung on lawmaker reaction.

The official described Kavanaugh's outreach to the Hill as “positive,” including a 5:30 p.m. call with Republican committee members, during which Kavanaugh reiterated that he was eager to testify. A second White House official described Kavanaugh as “chomping at the bit” to testify.

Another White House source said that the call did not preclude a future committee hearing focused on Ford's allegations — but that it did not guarantee one either.

Trump said Monday that he hadn't spoken to Kavanaugh, but praised the nominee as "one of the great intellects and one of the finest people."

"I wish the Democrats could have done this a lot sooner," Trump said at the White House of the allegations Feinstein passed on to the FBI last week. "But with all of that being said, we want to go through the process."

Earlier in the day, Kavanaugh had said he was willing to testify publicly in response to the claim.

“This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone," Kavanaugh said in a statement released by the White House. "Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday.

"I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.”

Ahead of the announced hearing next Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., weighed in publicly on the latest allegations for the first time Monday afternoon on the Senate floor, in which he bashed Democrats for "mishandling" the information and bringing it forward at the "eleventh hour," 70 days after the president nominated Kavanaugh.

"In the Senate, and around the country, almost everyone who went into his process with an open mind has come away impressed," he said. "But now, that accusation of 36-year-old misconduct dating back to high school has been brought forward at the last minute in an irregular manner."

McConnell did not say at the time whether he'd like to hear testimony from Ford and Kavanaugh on the alleged assault and he did not say whether he'd like the Judiciary Committee to delay its vote on Thursday on Kavanaugh's nomination. He only said that he's "glad" Grassley is following standard practice and regular order in holding background calls.

Afterward, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., lambasted McConnell on the Senate floor for his "unmitigated gall" in not supporting a slowing down of the process after he delayed the nomination of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court for over a year.

"For too long, women have made serious allegations of abuse and have been ignored or dragged through the mud," Schumer said, adding that Grassley should provide Ford the forum for Americans to hear her story, saying of Republicans, "What are they afraid of? Are they afraid that she might be persuasive?"

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told NBC News outside his Capitol Hill office Monday that Ford is "mixed up," and called Kavanaugh "honest" and "straightforward." The senator's aide said that Hatch had just spoken by phone to Kavanaugh, who had denied even attending the party in question.

A White House official confirmed to NBC News that Kavanaugh says he wasn't at the party in question.

Kavanaugh arrived at the White House just after 10 a.m. Monday morning, and was still there as of early afternoon. A source close to the process told NBC News that White House counsel Don McGahn wants Kavanaugh to fight, suggesting that he will not imminently withdraw his nomination.

The lawyer for Ford, 51, had said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” that Ford was willing to publicly testify about the experience.

Ford is “willing to do whatever it takes,” said her attorney, Debra Katz. Ford revealed her identity in an article published online Sunday in The Washington Post.

Katz added that her client believes Kavanaugh's actions were "attempted rape" and she's willing to testify publicly about it.

"She believes that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped," Katz said on "Today."

The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Thursday, but Democrats had been calling for a postponement pending an investigation into the allegations. Two Senate Republicans — Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee — had also called for a pause, saying that they’d like to hear from Ford.

Flake told reporters Monday, “Obviously these are serious charges and if they’re true they are disqualifying," and added, “I may conclude afterwards that, you know, he should go on and fill that seat, I may not, a lot will depend on that hearing.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, considered a swing vote on Kavanaugh, said in a tweet Monday that both Ford and Kavanaugh should testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Collins, who is not a member of that committee, spoke to Kavanaugh by phone on Friday about the allegations for an hour, she told reporters Monday afternoon.

Asked by reporters if she believes Ford, Collins said, "I don't know enough about Dr. Ford and her allegations yet to reach that kind of judgment."

But she added, "Obviously if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying."

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who is not a member of the committee, told Milwaukee radio station WTMJ Monday that "this woman is willing to come forward and tell her story and we should listen to her," saying the panel should hear from both her and Kavanaugh.

Several red state Democrats facing tight re-election races, who have been considered potential Kavanaugh votes, said Monday that they want the allegations thoroughly investigated.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said in a statement posted on Twitter Monday that Ford's allegation is "serious."

"Ford should be given an opportunity to testify before the Committee and she is willing to do so. Judge Kavanaugh has also expressed his willingness to discuss the issue with the Committee," Heitkamp said. "It takes courage for any woman to speak up about sexual assault, and we need to respect Prof. Ford by listening to her and hearing her story."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., echoed Heitkamp. “I am deeply troubled by these allegations," she said in a brief statement. "They should be examined thoroughly and fairly by the Judiciary Committee without any artificial timeline.”

GOP leaders have been aiming to have Kananaugh confirmed before the Supreme Court's new term begins in October. And they are crunched for time this week because the Jewish High Holy Day of Yom Kippur means the Senate will be out on Wednesday.

In a letter Monday morning to Grassley, all 10 Democrats on the panel requested that he postpone Thursday’s scheduled vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination in light of the new allegations.

“All Senators, regardless of party, should insist the FBI perform its due diligence and fully investigate the allegations as part of its review of Judge Kavanaugh’s background,” they wrote. “Staff-level examination of these allegations should not go forward until the FBI’s career professionals with the requisite investigative expertise have completed their review.”

A group of Senate Democrats on the panel — who already oppose Kavanaugh — have also filed a lawsuit hoping to compel the National Archives and CIA to turn over Kavanaugh documents.

The conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which has been airing ads in support of Kavanaugh, said Monday that it will announce a new $1.5 million TV ad blitz for both broadcast and cable, featuring a 35-year friend of Kavanaugh’s.

"We are not going to allow a last-minute smear campaign destroy a good and decent man who has an unblemished personal record," a Judicial Crisis Network spokesperson says.

Ford alleged in the Post’s story that Kavanaugh and another person drunkenly "corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers" in the suburbs of Maryland one summer in the early 1980s. "I thought he might inadvertently kill me," she said of Kavanaugh. "He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing."

Schumer indicated Sunday that he would like to see the investigation conducted by the FBI. Feinstein said last week that she had referred the information from Ford about Kavanaugh to the FBI.