Brett Kavanaugh’s Accuser Reaches Deal to Testify
The woman who has accused Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers has reached a final agreement with the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify on Thursday, although some details — including whether Republicans will use an outside lawyer to question her — remain unresolved, people involved in the talks said Sunday.
The agreement, reached after an hourlong negotiating session Sunday morning between her lawyers and committee aides, is the latest step in a halting process toward a potentially explosive hearing that will pit the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, against Judge Kavanaugh, President Trump’s second nominee to the Supreme Court. On Saturday, the two sides had reached a tentative agreement for Dr. Blasey to appear on Thursday.
“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,” her lawyers, Debra S. Katz, Lisa J. Banks and Michael R. Bromwich, said in a statement Sunday morning, adding that while some logistical and other details were not yet settled, “they will not impede the hearing taking place.”
The on-again, off-again talks — with an appointment to the nation’s highest court in the balance — have consumed official Washington, and thrown confirmation proceedings for Judge Kavanaugh, who has vigorously denied Dr. Blasey’s allegations, into turmoil. Until last week, Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation seemed all but assured; Dr. Blasey’s testimony has the potential to alter that.
At least one Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said Sunday that it was unlikely that Dr. Blasey’s testimony would change his mind. He accused Democrats of taking advantage of her.
“I want to listen to Dr. Ford. I feel sorry for her. I think she’s being used here,” he said on “Fox News Sunday,” adding, “I’m not going to play a game here and tell you this will wipe out his entire life, because if nothing changes, it won’t with me.”
The Blasey accusations carry unmistakable echoes of the 1991 confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexual harassment by the law professor Anita Hill. The Thomas hearings riveted the nation, and the hearing with Dr. Blasey promises a similar spectacle, one that will invariably explore Judge Kavanaugh’s upbringing in the exclusive world of prep schools in suburban Washington.
Both Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey attended private schools, and she has said that the judge and a friend of his were “stumbling drunk” when the assault occurred. Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said Sunday that questions about Judge Kavanaugh’s high school alcohol consumption were bound to come up.
“Well, it’s certainly relevant to the whole conversation,” Mr. Durbin said on the ABC program “This Week.” “Dr. Ford has said that they were stumbling drunk at the time that this occurred. And there have been a lot of things said about the alcohol that was consumed by the judge as well as by others in his school. That has to be part of any relevant questioning.”
The talks between the two sides on Sunday morning produced an agreement on the general shape of the hearing, a person briefed on the talks said. It will be open to the public; there will be breaks at 45-minute intervals, or on request; and while Dr. Blasey prefers that Judge Kavanaugh testify first, she will accept that she might have to go first. There will also be security for Dr. Blasey, who has received death threats, and she will have two lawyers at the witness table with her.
But other sticking points remain. One is whether the committee will subpoena Mark Judge, a high school friend of Judge Kavanaugh’s who Dr. Blasey has said was in the room at the time of the assault, or any others said to be at the gathering where the alleged assault occurred. Mr. Judge has said he knows of no such incident.
Two other potential witnesses identified by Dr. Blasey — who she says were not in the room at the time of the assault — have provided statements to the Judiciary Committee to the same effect. One man, Patrick J. Smyth, told committee Republicans in a letter last week that he had “no knowledge of the party in question.” And a woman, Leland Keyser, told the Republicans through a lawyer that she “does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present, with, or without, Dr. Ford.”
She later told The Washington Post that she believed Dr. Blasey’s story anyway. No one answered the door when a reporter knocked at Ms. Keyser’s suburban Maryland home on Saturday.
Republicans, including White House officials, have quickly seized on the potential witness statements in an effort to undercut Dr. Blasey’s testimony. But her lawyers argue that at least in the case of Ms. Keyser, the statement is all but meaningless; she was not in the room when Dr. Blasey says she was assaulted, they said, and Dr. Blasey did not tell her, or any others, about the matter at the time.
Republicans have been resisting calling additional witnesses. Dr. Blasey’s lawyers have also asked for outside witnesses, including two trauma experts and the former F.B.I. agent who administered a polygraph examination to Dr. Blasey, the person familiar with the call said. But those issues remain unsettled.
Dr. Blasey “has agreed to move forward with a hearing even though the committee has refused to subpoena Mark Judge,” her lawyers’ statement added. “They have also refused to invite other witnesses who are essential for a fair hearing that arrives at the truth about the sexual assault.”
But perhaps the biggest sticking point is whether senators on the Judiciary Committee will question Dr. Blasey themselves, or use an outside lawyer or a committee aide, most likely a woman.
All the Republicans on the panel are men. In a midterm election season where Republicans are already struggling to connect with female voters, party leaders desperately want to avoid images of an all-male panel ganging up on a woman who says she experienced a sexual assault. There are four women on the Judiciary Committee, but all are Democrats.
Lawyers for Dr. Blasey have strongly opposed having an outside questioner, arguing that it could give the hearing a prosecutorial tone. And Senate Democrats have indicated that, no matter whom Republicans choose to question Dr. Blasey, when she is questioned by Democrats, senators will be doing the talking.
“We were told no decision has been made on this important issue, even though various senators have been dismissive of her account and should have to shoulder their responsibility to ask her questions,” Dr. Blasey’s lawyers said in their statement. “Nor were we told when we would have that answer or answers to the other unresolved issues.”
Mike Davis, Mr. Grassley’s chief counsel for judicial nominations, wrote in his own message to the lawyers on Sunday that some of those concerns went against standard committee procedure.
“As with any witness who comes before the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee cannot hand over its constitutional duties to attorneys for outside witnesses,” he wrote. “The committee determines which witnesses to call, how many witnesses to call, in what order to call them, and who will question them. These are nonnegotiable.”
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Nicholas Fandos