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Trump challenges Kavanaugh accuser’s credibility, dividing Republicans

After days of measured talk, President Trump fired off sharp words Friday about Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Trump tweeted that if the attack was “as bad as she says,” charges would have been filed. Ford has talked to the FBI about receiving death threats, as her lawyers negotiate potential testimony. Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The struggle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and sexual assault allegations is intensifying on two fronts tonight.

    one involves when and how to hold a public hearing. The second involves the president challenging Kavanaugh's accuser.

    Congressional correspond — correspondent, rather, Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    After measured talk for most of the week, President Trump today fired out sharp words about accusations from Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980s in high school.

    Today on Twitter, the president went after Ford by name, writing "If the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed."

    Also on Twitter today and at a rally in Las Vegas last night, the president stepped up his defense of Kavanaugh.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Brett Kavanaugh is one of the finest human beings you will ever have the privilege of knowing or meeting.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But the president's challenge to Ford's credibility unsettled at least one key Republican. Maine Senator Susan Collins told reporters in her home state that she was appalled by the president's tweet.

    She noted that allegations of sexual assault are often unreported and called the tweet completely inappropriate.

    Asked about the president's tweet on MSNBC, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the president and lashed out at Democrats.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    I regret that this rose at the end. This was, unfortunately, sat on by a United States senator for weeks, as best I understand that. I think the president has said pretty clearly we hope the process will move forward fairly and efficiently.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Mr. Trump's shift came as Ford's lawyers began negotiating with the Senate Judiciary Committee on whether she will testify and under what conditions.

    Her lawyers said that Ford wants to testify no sooner than Thursday, that she doesn't want to be in the same room as Kavanaugh, and she wants him to testify first.

    They also want senators, not lawyers, to do the questioning.

    Sources tell "NewsHour" that Senate Republican today issued their counteroffer to Ford. She would testify on Wednesday, speaking first, with Kavanaugh to follow in a separate session. And Republicans would like an independent lawyer, not Republican senators, to question her.

    At a news conference, 75 women who knew Kavanaugh in high school, in college and professionally rallied in his defense.

  • Meghan McCaleb:

    The acts of which Brett is accused represent a stark departure from the behavior my friends and I have witnessed for more than four decades.

  • Laura Cox Kaplan:

    It seems anyone can launch an allegation without corroboration or evidence and dismantle a person's career and their life and the lives of their family members. This is wrong.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a definitive statement of confidence.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    So, my friends, keep the faith. Don't get rattled by all of this. We're going to plow right through it and do our jobs.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But Democrats, like Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, fired back.

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan, D, N.H.:

    It doesn't matter to him or to the Senate Republicans whether Judge Kavanaugh assaulted a woman, a crime, committed a crime. It doesn't matter to them what happened.

    Nobody has a right to a United States Supreme Court appointment.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Former Vice President Joe Biden said again he hopes the committee treats Ford better than when he chaired it and Anita Hill appeared in 1991. She accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    She shouldn't have to go through what Anita Hill went through. The woman should be given the benefit of the doubt and not be — not be abused again by the system.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And, tonight, Blasey Ford, we're told, is talking to the FBI, but not about her accusations against Judge Kavanaugh, instead about the threats that she herself has been receiving.

    And, also, we have got some late-breaking news. This Republican offer that they made today to her, I was just told by a top Republican source that her team has said they will not respond by the deadline, which was close of business today, basically, a few minutes ago. And, in fact, they may not respond tonight.

    That's very frustrating for Republicans. So, still, all this is in limbo.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, the timeline changing as we speak too.

    So, you mentioned that Republican offer, right? What exactly is it that they're offering Ford?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    Well, what they like about this offer is that they want just two witnesses. They want a chance, they say, to hear her story, and they want Judge Kavanaugh to be able to respond. However, they're not giving a lot of ground on the main — the tougher points. She wants more witnesses, for example, and they don't seem willing to go that direction.

    They want a separate independent counsel for a few reasons, one of which is optics, Amna. The House — the Senate Republicans are all white men, and if a woman attorney was asking those questions on the Senate behalf, they think that it might be more positive for them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And what about the Democrats? We have heard them saying they want a full investigation. They want Dr. Ford to be heard.

    Are they coordinating with Ford's lawyers?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's an important point. A top source tells me no, that they're not in very much contact, that the messages you hear from Democrats are political, that they are not coming from Dr. Ford's camp.

    And I think, overall, Amna, that's what to keep in mind here. This has turned into a political battle.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned the questions with the timeline ahead. Republicans are already off the timeline they wanted, right? So what is next?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's think about this.

    Now, we could have a hearing Wednesday or Thursday next week. Thursday was supposed to be the final Senate vote for this — for this nominee. Instead, we're delayed. We don't know how long. And that's something Democrats want. They seem to have achieved it. But we will see how far Republicans let that go.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You have been talking to your sources all week, all day today. Tell me a little bit about the atmosphere on Capitol Hill right now.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Even for the past year-and-a-half, which has been a very intense year, this is the most toxic environment that I have sensed on the Hill.

    We have seen not just kind of partisan rhetoric, but real threats, death threats, to Susan Collins, threats to Senator Dianne Feinstein, to Judge Kavanaugh's family, also to Dr. Ford. And I think we're also seeing this spill into how some candidates on the — in the field are speaking about this, sometimes too cavalierly.

    I think it's a very dangerous and risky atmosphere for everyone.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A very dangerous atmosphere, a lot at stake as well.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Lisa Desjardins, thanks for staying on top of it for us.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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