The Republican leader of the Senate Judiciary Committee said on Monday he would convene remarkable new public hearings in a week’s time after sexual assault allegations emerged against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Both Kavanaugh and the woman who has accused him of physical and sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, will testify before the panel, setting up a blockbuster event that could decide Kavanaugh’s fate.
The announcement, made under pressure from lawmakers to fully examine the new claims, will delay what had been a glide path toward confirmation for President Donald Trump’s nominee. The political stakes for the White House and members of Congress are enormous as the #MeToo movement galvanizes women ahead of key congressional elections in November.
Kavanaugh spent more than nine hours at the White House Monday, huddling behind closed doors with his confirmation team.
An official working closely with his team described Kavanaugh as “shaken, but focused,” with the conversation revolving around “defending his integrity.”
Whether Kavanaugh becomes the newest Supreme Court justice will depend largely on his and Ford’s performances in front of the Judiciary panel and a national television audience. Before the hearings were announced, both indicated they were willing to testify about the allegations.
“Judge Kavanaugh looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation. He stands ready to testify tomorrow if the Senate is ready to hear him,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement Monday.
The dueling testimony could threaten Trump’s attempt to install a conservative in the place of frequent swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, potentially altering the balance of the court for a generation.
At the White House, Trump said he’s open to a delay in order to keep the process going and eventually confirm Kavanaugh.
“Judge Kavanaugh is one of the finest people that I’ve ever known. He is an outstanding intellect and outstanding judge respected by everybody. Never had even a little blemish on his record,” Trump said. “If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay.”
White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters Monday that Ford “should not be ignored or insulted; she should be heard.”
In a statement earlier on Monday, Kavanaugh called the allegation by Ford, who is a college professor, “completely false.”
“I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone,” Kavanaugh said. “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.”
Kavanaugh’s statement came shortly after Ford said through her attorney that she would be willing to speak with Congress to tell her side of the story.
According to multiple sources, Kavanaugh also has hired Beth Wilkinson, of the law firm Wilkinson Walsh and Eskovitz, to be his attorney. Wilkinson has not returned calls from CNN seeking comment.
SOURCE: Ariane de Vogue and Eli Watkins