Senate hearing planned for Brett Kavanaugh and accuser

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Republicans have laid plans for a Senate committee hearing at which US Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh and the woman alleging he sexually assaulted her decades ago will testify publicly.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley said his panel would hold a hearing next Monday with both Mr Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.

“To provide ample transparency, we will hold a public hearing on Monday to give these recent allegations a full airing,” Mr Grassley said in a statement.

Just hours earlier, Mr Grassley had said he would seek telephone interviews with Mr Kavanaugh and Ms Ford, winning plaudits from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for planning to handle the episode “by the book”.

Democrats rejected that plan, saying the seriousness of the charges merited a full FBI investigation.

Republicans had also displayed no willingness to delay a Judiciary panel vote that Mr Grassley had planned for this Thursday to advance the nomination, setting the stage for full Senate confirmation of Mr Kavanaugh by the end of the month, in time for the new Supreme Court session.

Thursday’s vote will not occur.

President Donald Trump telegraphed earlier on Monday that that schedule might slip. He told reporters at the White House: “If it takes a little delay, it will take a little delay.”

If the Judiciary committee’s timetable slips, it would become increasingly difficult for Republicans to schedule a vote before the November 6 elections.

With fragile Republican majorities of just 12-11 on the Judiciary committee and 51-49 in the full Senate, Republican leaders had little room for defectors without risking a humiliating defeat of Mr Trump’s nominee to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Among the Republican defectors was Senator Jeff Flake, a Judiciary Committee member who has clashed bitterly with Mr Trump and is retiring from the Senate.

Mr Flake said he told number two Senate Republican leader John Cornyn on Sunday that “if we didn’t give her a chance to be heard, then I would vote no”.

Supreme Court Kavanaugh
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh (Alex Brandon/AP)

Ms Collins said both Mr Kavanaugh and Ms Ford should testify under oath to the committee. Neither she nor Ms Murkowski face re-election this autumn.

Senator Bob Corker, another retiring Trump critic who is not on the committee, also said he favoured delaying Thursday’s panel meeting.

Some Democrats raised questions about whether Mr Grassley’s plan was sufficient.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, told reporters that “there needs to be some investigation first, and I’m not that sure this allows for that”.

Another Democrat on the panel, Senator Richard Blumenthal said staging the hearing without the FBI investigation would make it a “sham”.

Underscoring the raw political divisions prompted by the Kavanaugh fight, Ms Feinstein said she had only learned of the hearing on Twitter.

Earlier, Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said it would be “a deep insult to the women of America” if Mr Grassley did not postpone Thursday’s meeting.

Mr Kavanaugh and Ms Ford had each indicated earlier on Monday a willingness to testify to the Judiciary committee.

Debra S Katz, Ms Ford’s lawyer, said on NBC’s Today show that Ms Ford was ready to testify publicly to the Judiciary panel, but she did not respond on Monday evening to efforts to learn whether she would appear.

Mr Kavanaugh, 53, whose confirmation had seemed to be on a smooth trajectory, went to the White House on Monday.

Mr Trump said he did not meet with his nominee and declined to say whether Mr Kavanaugh had offered to withdraw, dismissing the question as “ridiculous”.

Ms Ford, now a psychology professor at California’s Palo Alto University, told The Washington Post that an intoxicated Mr Kavanaugh corralled her into a bedroom at a Maryland party when she was around 15 and Mr Kavanaugh was about 17, held her down on a bed, tried to undress her and held his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream.

She said she got away when a companion of Mr Kavanaugh’s jumped on him.

Mr Kavanaugh said in a statement distributed by the White House on Monday that he wanted to “refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity”.

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