WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday the White House and Republican supporters of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination would have to “make a decision” on going forward if the woman accusing him of a long-ago sexual assault delivers a compelling account to senators considering confirmation.
But amid uncertainty over Kavanaugh’s fate and even whether next Monday’s scheduled hearing would occur, Trump cast fresh doubt on whether the alleged 1980s attack even happened.
“Look, if she shows up and makes a credible showing that’ll be very interesting,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House to survey flood damage in North Carolina. “We’ll have to make a decision. But I can only say this: He is such an outstanding man. Very hard for me to imagine that anything happened.”
Republicans have set a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Monday that is supposed to feature Kavanaugh and his accuser, California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford. Backed by Democrats, Ford has said she wants the FBI to first investigate the alleged incident, in which she says Kavanaugh pinned her on a bed and tried taking off her clothes during a high school party.
Only the White House can order the FBI to get involved, since Ford is not accusing Kavanaugh of a federal crime. The FBI could interview Ford, Kavanaugh and others about the allegation if Trump asked the bureau to reopen its background investigation, but the president has rejected that idea, saying the FBI has already done its work.
The FBI was involved originally since it handles part of the background checks for presidential nominations of Supreme Court justices.
Republicans are hoping to win committee and full Senate approval for Kavanaugh this month, before the new Supreme Court session begins, and have shown no taste for slowing that process. A substantial delay could push confirmation past the November elections — when Democrats have a shot at winning Senate control — plus allow more time for unforeseen problems to pop up.
“I’d really want to see her. I really would want to see what she has to say,” Trump said Wednesday. “If she shows up that would be wonderful. If she doesn’t show up that would be unfortunate.”
While most Republicans have expressed support for Kavanaugh, they’ve largely been careful to not criticize Ford’s assertions about what she says happened. That underscores a desire to avoid antagonizing female voters at a time when the #MeToo movement has made sexual abuse a major political dynamic.
Signaling that the GOP remained determined to move ahead, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., accused Democrats of using their calls for an FBI investigation as a ploy.
Those demands are “not about finding the truth, but delaying the process until after the midterm elections,” Graham, a Judiciary panel member, said in a statement. “It is imperative the Judiciary Committee move forward on the Kavanaugh nomination and a committee vote be taken as soon as possible.”
One other witness the Democrats want to hear from is Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge, who Ford said was in the room when she was assaulted. Kavanaugh has denied Ford’s allegation, and Judge says he doesn’t remember any such thing. Judge says he won’t appear before the committee.
Late Tuesday, Ford’s attorneys wrote to the Judiciary Committee that she wants to cooperate. But in the days since she publicly accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her at a party 35 years ago, the lawyers said, she has been the target of “vicious harassment and even death threats.” Her family has relocated, they said.
An FBI investigation “should be the first step in addressing the allegations,” the lawyers wrote.
In the Senate, the issue of when and if Ford might testify has ignited a furor, especially among Democratic women. Democrats in general are complaining that the process is being rushed, but some women are seeing a deeper — and possibly insidious — narrative, especially if Republicans go ahead with Monday’s hearing without Ford.
“I think we all know when a situation is stacked,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, told CNN on Wednesday. “This is a situation that is stacked. … She’s already been attacked, had to move out of her house.”
In a tweet Tuesday night, Trump wrote: “The Supreme Court is one of the main reasons I got elected President. I hope Republican voters, and others, are watching, and studying, the Democrats Playbook.”
Republicans say Ford will have one chance to testify, and one chance only.
“Monday is her opportunity,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. McConnell expressed confidence that Kavanaugh would be confirmed: “I’m not concerned about tanking the nomination.”
The GOP chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said an FBI investigation wouldn’t have bearing on Ford’s testimony so “there is no reason for further delay.”
Grassley said the committee offered Ford “the opportunity to share her story” in a public or a private hearing, or staff interviews, “whichever makes her most comfortable. The invitation for Monday still stands.”
The furious jockeying over Ford’s testimony underscores the political potency so close to an election that will decide control of the House and the Senate, not to mention the confirmation of a conservative justice likely to serve on the high court for decades.
Democrats complain that Ford was not consulted before the hearing was announced. They also want more witnesses besides Kavanaugh and Ford, hoping to avoid what they said would turn into merely a “he-said-she-said” moment.
Anita Hill, whose allegation Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her prompted a similar hearing in 1991, told ABC on Wednesday that the Judiciary Committee could be holding “just a sham proceeding” next week without the FBI investigation Ford wants. Thomas denied Hill’s account and was confirmed to the Supreme Court.
Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, told MSNBC on Tuesday that the White House should request an FBI investigation of the sexual-assault accusation and any refusal to do so by Republicans would amount to rushing to confirm him.
Clinton said that makes it difficult to “avoid the appearance of insult” against Ford.
The Associated Press wrote this report. Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick, Juliet Linderman and Catherine Lucey contributed from Washington.