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With Kavanaugh allegations, Democrats warn of repeating mistakes of Anita Hill hearings

President Trump defended Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh again on Tuesday from allegations by psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her while drunk at a party 36 years ago. Meanwhile, senators jousted over a hearing set for Monday to question Kavanaugh and Ford. Judy Woodruff talks with Lisa Desjardins and Marcia Coyle from the National Law Journal.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We begin with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the allegation that he sexually assaulted someone in high school.

    Senators jousted today over plans for a public hearing next week. And the president weighed in as well.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Honestly, I feel terribly for him, for his wife, who is an incredible, lovely woman, and for his beautiful young daughters. This is not a man that deserves this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump defended his Supreme Court nominee at a news conference with the president of Poland. Earlier, Mr. Trump said Brett Kavanaugh is ready to defend himself.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Judge Kavanaugh's anxious to do it. I don't know about the other party. But Judge Kavanaugh's was very anxious to do it. And a delay is certainly acceptable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The other party is Christine Ford, a psychology from professor at Palo Alto University in California. She says a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party 36 years ago.

    The judge flatly denies it and says he is ready to testify on Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Republican Chuck Grassley, chair of the panel, said this morning that Ford has not yet agreed to testify. Democrats pressed for more time.

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for a full FBI investigation into the allegations and for more witnesses.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    There must not be a hearing on Monday and then a possible vote on the nominee a day or two after. This morning, Chairman Grassley said there would be only two witnesses. That's simply inadequate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Justice Department said last night that Ford's allegations do not involve a federal crime. The FBI won't reopen the background check on Kavanaugh.

  • Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii:

    Not only do women like Dr. Ford who bravely come forward need to be heard, but they need to be believed. They need to be believed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On Capitol Hill today, female Democratic senators accused Republicans of trying to discredit Ford. They compared it with GOP attacks on Anita Hill in 1991, when she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

    In an op-ed today for The New York Times, Hill wrote of Judge Kavanaugh — quote — "The weight of the government shouldn't be used to destroy the lives of witnesses who are called to testify."

    Senator Dianne Feinstein, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the Hill-Thomas hearings did show why it is vital to have more than just the two antagonists testify.

    She said in a statement, "Compare that to the 22 witnesses at the 1991 Anita Hill hearing, and it's impossible to take this process seriously."

    For their part, Republican leaders questioned Democrats motives, but said they will allow a public hearing to proceed.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    It's pretty obvious this is all about delaying the process. But the accuser certainly does deserve a right to be heard.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But two Republican women may have a big say in what happens next. Senator Susan Collins of Maine says she is uncommitted on Kavanaugh so far. In a letter today to Judiciary Committee leaders., she called for Kavanaugh's and Ford's attorneys to be allowed to ask questions during the hearing.

    And Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, also undecided on Kavanaugh, said Congress should take time to hear both sides.

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    Some had hoped it would have been a process that was wrapped up by now. It's not. Monday will tell us — tell us a lot more.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All of this as the Supreme Court makes ready to begin its fall term October 1.

    Here now to help us digest another whirlwind day of developments on this story is our own Lisa Desjardins, who was reporting on Capitol Hill for most of the day, and "NewsHour" regular Marcia Coyle, who covers the Supreme Court for "The National Law Journal."

    And hello to both of you.

    So, Lisa, you have spent the day on the Hill. What is the latest in terms of these senators coming together on this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republicans and Democrats are farther apart on what this hearing should look like Monday.

    We know a hearing is scheduled to happen now. We do not know if Christine Blasey Ford will appear. As of just a few minutes ago, checking my e-mail, the committee Republicans have not had a response from her or her attorney yet.

    We also do not know if the — this will be entirely public or some portions of this hearing could be in private. It depends on what she wants, if she's willing to testify Monday. We do know that Mark Judge — that is the friend of Mr. Kavanaugh — Judge Kavanaugh's, he has said he doesn't want to testify, and Republicans are not going to force him to testify.

    So Republicans are full steam ahead with two witnesses only for Monday, should Ms. Ford want to appear. Meanwhile, the Republicans are putting out phone calls gathering information. Democrats are not participating in that. They refuse to. On the other hand, Democrats are saying they would like an outside investigation, a background investigation by the FBI.

    Republicans are refusing to put that in motion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So two — clarifying things, number one, Republicans are calling all the shots on this? Do Democrats have any say in what happens?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    No. Republicans do control the committee and they control exactly the format for Monday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in terms of what Republicans are doing, you said they're putting out calls. But they're not conducting the kind of investigation that Democrats are saying is necessary?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    They are doing calls with potential witnesses, prominently Judge Kavanaugh and also his friend, Mark Judge. They were trying to call him, but they ended up exchanging e-mails with him instead. Those are calls for which those people can be held — it's not quite under oath, but they can be considered some — kind of a form of perjury if you lie on those calls.

    Usually, Democrats and Republicans are both — staff members on those calls. In this case, just Republicans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Marcia Coyle, you — in fact, I was also around at the time of the Thomas — Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings in 1991.

    What parallels do you see with that time?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Well, I think in terms of similarities, you have obviously two women making serious claims against Republican Supreme Court nominees.

    You — I actually think the differences are stronger, but another similarity would be that both women that have taken polygraph tests. I know that they're not respected much in a court of law. But, on the other hand, it's a good-faith gesture in trying to show that you are somewhat credible.

    But in terms of the differences, they're rather stark. The claim being made by Dr. Blasey is much more serious than what Professor Hill accused Clarence Thomas. Professor Hill was bringing a sexual harassment claim. There was no evidence of any violence, physical touching or anything like that, whereas Dr. Blasey — I think that's how she says her name — she is making the claim of attempted rape. And that's several degrees more serious.

    Also, in terms of differences, Professor Hill had quite a lot of corroborating evidence, in terms of witnesses to whom she had spoken about what was happening in the office with Clarence Thomas.

    Dr. Blasey, she — her corroboration comes much later, in 2012, after the incident. And that's to her therapist and to her husband. And there's also the length of time between the actual event and coming forward.

    With Anita Hill, it was, I think, even not quite 10 years. But with Dr. Blasey, it's much longer. So there are pretty stark differences.

    And I will say, too, Judy, that the context is very different. When Anita Hill made her claims, sexual harassment wasn't something that was talked about a lot. Women knew about it happening in the workplace, but it wasn't a big issue.

    This claim, this charge is being made during the — in the middle of the MeToo movement. And certainly everybody is aware of what has been happening with charges made against very powerful men and how they have fallen because of those charges.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa, we're being reminded by Marcia that there was corroborating evidence back then. There's not that much of it now.

    There are some people who Professor Blasey Ford has talked to in the last year or two, including therapy sessions with her husband six years ago, but, beyond that, not a great deal.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, one thing is, we don't really know, because there haven't been really many investigators pursuing this, except for the Washington Post reporter who was on the story.

    And I had several Democrats tell me today we're left with the press being the main investigators at this point. This is why Democrats want the FBI. And, now, they're not calling for a criminal investigation. Some people are getting this confused.

    They know there will not be a criminal investigation. They want the FBI to do a background investigation, which is standard procedure here. And the FBI is choosing not to.

    Now, I think there are also questions as well…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On what grounds?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is part of just a background check of a nominee, which is something that Mr. Kavanaugh has gone through those six times. And when a file is updated, the FBI can be asked to pursue a new question about this nominee.

    As I think Marcia can say, that happened with Anita Hill. When the allegation were raised, the FBI looked into that matter, not as a criminal matter, but as a background matter.

    And I think we're also getting into strange waters here, as we see Senator Collins calling for not just senators to ask questions, but opposing counsel, a trial, in effect. That seems unlikely at this time.

    But, Judy, I asked a Senate historian. That has happened in the past, not often, but occasionally.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Judy, one other thing…


  • Marcia Coyle:


    One other thing I was going to say is, the timing here — I went back to look at the time frame of the Hill hearings and what's happening now. The news of Anita Hill's claim broke the weekend before the Senate Judiciary Committee actually held the hill-Thomas hearings.

    And in that week, they were able to put together 22 witnesses, almost an equal number on each side. And it's a very similar — well, it's actually — this hearing is going to be held less than a week after we have really heard everything.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, again, not a lot of witnesses.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    And only two witnesses.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Not a lot of witnesses at this point.

    Just quickly, though, in terms of the questions that were asked then — and you have been talking to lawyer — the legal team for Anita Hill.

    What are they saying are the kinds of questions we should look for this time?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    If it is just going to be Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey Ford, there's going to be questions for details.

    How much can the doctor recall about the incident? Try to be as specific as possible. What was the room like? She said she hid in a bathroom afterwards. What was that like? How much can she recall?

    And for Judge Kavanaugh, expect questions about his high school days. Did he do a lot of drinking? What about his yearbook page that everybody is showing now, where there seem to be he and others who really did participate in a lot of drinking?

    So I think we should look for that. And something else too I think we should look at, how does the Senate Judiciary Committee handle this? In 1991, it was an all-male, all-white committee. This time, you have four women, only on the Democratic side.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Marcia Coyle:

    This is as much a judgment of how this committee handles this as it is of the two witnesses.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ten men on the Republican — 11 men, I think, on the Republican side.

    All right, Marcia Coyle, Lisa Desjardins, we will certainly continue to watch this. Thank you both.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Pleasure, Judy.

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