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Sen. Coons: Republicans may be going for ‘prosecutorial’ tone in Kavanaugh hearing

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., says the Judiciary Committee should treat Thursday’s hearing with Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford not as a trial but as a job interview. Coons joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the news that Republicans have hired outside counsel to conduct the questions, as well as President Trump’s shift on the allegations and the need for an FBI probe.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to our lead story, the confirmation now in question of President Trump's Supreme Court pick.

    Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, is a member of the Judiciary Committee and is set to question Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, this Thursday.

    Senator, what do you expect to happen on Thursday?

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    Well, what I hope happens, Judy, is that the Senate Judiciary Committee will show that we have learned some lessons since the hearing with Professor Anita Hill and Justice Thomas 27 years ago.

    I hope that there will be respectful and open and appropriate questions as of Dr. Ford and of Judge Kavanaugh, and that we will conduct this not as a trial, but as a job interview where we're trying to get to the truth of the allegations brought forward by Dr. Ford.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, as you know, the Republicans are saying they brought in — are going to bring in an outside counsel, lawyer, who is experienced in prosecuting sex crimes to do the questioning.

    What are Democrats going to do?

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    Well, Judy, I expect that all the Senate Democratic Judiciary Committee members will do our job, that we will question Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford, and try and provide the sort of open and level or fair environment that will help us get to the truth.

    I'm concerned by press reports that Republicans are hiring a prosecutor specialized in prosecuting sex crimes, and instead of doing their job in questioning the witnesses, will hide behind this prosecutor.

    That also implies that they may be going for a tone that is more prosecutorial of Dr. Ford, which I think will simply discourage other victims of sexual abuse from coming forward with their allegations in other contexts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump is already weighing in, as you know, on this, today, saying that it's a con game that Democrats are playing, that he's referred repeatedly to false accusations being made by not just Dr. Blasio Ford, but Deborah Ramirez, another woman who knew Brett Kavanaugh, she says, at Yale.

    How much a concern is it that Republicans seem to have made up their minds? The Senate majority leader has already said that Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed.

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    And the Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, also denounced Dr. Ford as being part of a smear campaign against Brett Kavanaugh.

    It's striking to me how much the tone has changed. Last week, President Trump, to my surprise, said that he welcomed an open and fair hearing, and in the first couple of days had stayed quiet on this matter. A number of Republican senators, Senators Flake and Murkowski and Collins, have called for there to be a fair and open hearing, where Dr. Ford was heard out.

    That tone has now changed sharply. And, as you noted, President Trump is now denouncing the whole process of trying to hear these allegations of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think there's a chance the committee will also hear at any point from Deborah Ramirez, this other woman, the second woman?

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    I think we should be hearing from Mark Judge, who is alleged to be in the room during Dr. Ford's alleged assault. And we should hear from Debbie Ramirez.

    Frankly, Judy, more importantly, the FBI should be conducting a prompt, but thorough background investigation of all the different allegations and witnesses who've been mentioned or brought forward.

    I will remind you that, when Professor Anita Hill was in front of the Judiciary Committee, the then Bush administration directed the FBI to do this. And, in a matter of a few days, they came forward with 20 different witnesses who testified to the committee at that point.

    If the Trump administration had followed through and had the FBI do their job, that would already be completed, and the hearing this Thursday would be a much fuller and more appropriate hearing of allegations against Judge Kavanaugh.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about the Republican pushback on that, that he's already had six FBI investigations?

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    He's had background investigations, but not ones in which there were allegations of sexual assault.

    I have spoken to folks who've done FBI background investigations in other contexts, and they say they have a sort of typical script that they follow. They look into standard questions.

    It is not a standard question to say, when you were in high school, when you were in college, did you engage in drunken sexual assault? So that may very well have not been part of the previous background investigations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can your committee, the Judiciary Committee, get to the truth on Thursday?

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    I think we can, if we have a broader range of witnesses and if the members of the committee or the outside counsel retained by the Republicans conduct themselves in a fair, measured, and appropriate way.

    It's my concern, Judy, that that's not what's going to happen, and this will be more about political theater and rushing forward with a confirmation vote than it will be about getting to the truth.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    Thank you, Judy.

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