Kavanaugh and accuser ‘agree to testify on Thursday’

Negotiators have reached a tentative agreement for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hear testimony on Thursday from Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault from decades ago, according to two people briefed on the matter.

Lawyers for Ms Ford and bipartisan representatives of the committee came to the tentative agreement after a short phone call, said one of the people. The person said Mr Kavanaugh would also appear.

Some details of the hearing, such as the order of their appearance, remained in negotiation. Talks were expected to continue on Sunday.

The tentative accord could bring to a close days of high-stakes brinkmanship that have roiled Washington ahead of midterm elections and threated to jeopardize Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court.

Tensions have been running on overdrive since Ms Ford, a 51-year-old college professor in California, went public with her allegation that Mr Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were at a house party in high school.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (Andrew Harnik/AP)">
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Mr Kavanaugh, 53, an appellate court judge, denied the allegation and said he wanted to testify as soon as possible to clear his name.

Ms Ford initially indicated she wanted to tell her story to the committee, but talks dragged on as her lawyers negotiated terms of her appearance.

Republicans grew frustrated as Ms Ford’s lawyers insisted on a hearing next Thursday rather than Monday or even Wednesday and made other requests, some of which the committee chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley rejected.

Democrats, against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, countered that Ms Ford should be shown respect and given accommodation to tell her story.

As the talks continued, Mr Grassley countered that he would end the stand-off by scheduling a Monday vote on whether to recommend Mr Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate.

Meanwhile, Republicans viewed Ms Ford’s requests as a way to delay voting on President Donald Trump’s nominee.

Earlier on Saturday, a senior official at the White House said Ms Ford’s requests amounted to “a clever way to push off the vote Monday without committing to appear Wednesday”.

In a single tweet on Friday, Mr Trump broke his silence to cast doubt on Ford’s story in ways Republicans had been carefully trying to avoid.

Ms Ford’s lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks had said that many aspects of Mr Grassley’s latest offer were “fundamentally inconsistent” with the committee’s promise of a “fair, impartial investigation”.

They said they remained disappointed by the “bullying” that “tainted the process”.

Earlier on Saturday, vice president Mike Pence called Mr Kavanaugh “a man of integrity with impeccable credentials”.

He expressed confidence that Republicans “will manage this confirmation properly with the utmost respect for all concerned” and said he expected Mr Kavanaugh to join the high court soon.

Patience among Republicans was running thin. The GOP has faced enormous pressure from its base of conservative leaders and voters to swiftly approve Mr Kavanaugh, who would become the second of Trump’s nominees to sit on the nation’s highest court.

Mr Grassley had set a Friday night deadline for Ms Ford to agree to the committee’s latest terms for her appearance.

Mr Grassley said that if she missed that deadline, he would scrap the hearing and his committee would vote on sending Mr Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate.

Ms Ford’s lawyers asked for another day. In a tweet aimed at Mr Kavanaugh shortly before midnight, Mr Grassley said he was giving them additional time.

“She shld decide so we can move on. I want to hear her. I hope u understand. It’s not my normal approach to b indecisive,” Grassley wrote.

In backing away from deadlines and demands, Mr Grassley underscored the sensitivity with which Senate Republicans have tried handling Ms Ford.

Ms Katz had called Mr Grassley’s original deadline “arbitrary” and said its “sole purpose is to bully Dr Ford and deprive her of the ability to make a considered decision that has life-altering implications for her and her family”.

On Friday, Mr Grassley had rejected concessions Ms Ford wanted if she is tell her story publicly before the committee.

Mr Grassley turned down Ms Ford’s request that only senators, not lawyers, be allowed to ask questions.

The committee’s 11 Republicans — all men — have been seeking an outside female attorney to interrogate Ms Ford.

He also rejected her proposal that she testify after Mr Kavanaugh.

Mr Grassley’s stance reflected a desire by Mr Trump and Republican leaders to usher Mr Kavanaugh on to the high court by the October 1 start of its new session and before the November elections.

- Press Association

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