WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next week on a professor’s allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school.
Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the committee, announced the committee will hold a public hearing Sept. 24 involving Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. Ford says Kavanaugh forced her into a bedroom, pinned her down and attempted to remove her clothes at a high school party in the 1980s, allegations Kavanaugh has denied multiple times in the days since they became public.
“As I said earlier, anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has done deserves to be heard,” Grassley said in a statement Monday. “My staff has reached out to Dr. Ford to hear her account and they held a follow-up call with Judge Kavanaugh this afternoon. Unfortunately, committee Democrats have refused to join us in this effort. However, to provide ample transparency, we will hold a public hearing Monday to give these recent allegations a full airing.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters the committee made “a good decision” to publicly hear from both Kavanaugh and Ford.
Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said a majority of senators at a meeting Monday evening on how to proceed with the nomination felt the need to publicly hear from Ford, though he said there was some “discomfort” with how the allegations came to light.
He also did not rule out ultimately voting against Kavanaugh, depending on what is revealed at the hearing next week.
“If you believe the charges are true, then you vote no,” Flake told reporters. “And all you can do is have the hearing. I felt all along that as soon as she came out, as soon as it was no longer anonymous, she deserved to be heard. And she will be.”
Democrats have called for Republicans to pause Kavanaugh’s nomination until the FBI reopens and completes a new background investigation into Kavanaugh to include the new allegations.
In a letter sent to the White House on Monday, committee Democrats asked President Donald Trump to direct the FBI to reopen the background investigation. The letter notes Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., referred Ford’s allegations to the FBI but has not heard back on whether the agency has done anything with the referral.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., did not say whether his fellow committee Democrats could boycott the hearing when asked Monday night, but said he hopes there is “bipartisan accord” that the FBI must finish its investigation before Kavanaugh’s nomination moves forward.
Blumenthal downplayed the difficulty of the FBI investigating the 30-year-old allegations.
“As a former United States attorney and someone who has followed the Department of Justice for a long time, they have the skill and expertise to do an investigation,” Blumenthal said Monday night. “I’m not prejudging what it will show, but as I was saying earlier, I believe Dr. Ford, the survivor, here. I have every reason to believe her. I have a lot of reasons to disbelieve Judge Kavanaugh.”
The news comes on the heels of a CBS Morning News appearance Monday by Ford’s attorney, Katz, Marshall and Banks attorney Debra Katz, in which she said Ford hopes to help the committee get a more complete picture of her allegations against Kavanaugh, which have suddenly imperiled what once seemed to be an inevitable confirmation.
“My client will do whatever is necessary to make sure that the Senate Judiciary Committee has the full story and the full set of allegations to allow them to make a fully informed decision,” Katz said Monday morning.
Ford, who works as a professor at Palo Alto University, initially asked the letter detailing the alleged assault remain confidential, but she came forward to The Washington Post on Sunday after multiple outlets reported on the letter.
Kavanaugh vehemently denied Ford’s accusations.
“This is a completely false allegation,” Kavanaugh said in a statement Monday. “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes – to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday. I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.”
Ford’s allegations have put a fog over the future of Kavanaugh’s nomination. Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the committee, worked to set up follow-up calls with Kavanaugh and Ford, though Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, has rejected this idea.
The Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Thursday.
After Ford came forward to The Washington Post, a wave of Republicans expressed concerns about going forward with Thursday’s vote without first hearing from both Kavanaugh and Ford.
Flake told Politico he would not be “comfortable voting yes” if the committee voted without hearing more about the allegations. If Flake were to vote no with all Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, Kavanaugh’s nomination would not be reported favorably to the floor.
Senators Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, expressed concerns similar to Flake’s. In a tweet Monday, Maine Senator Susan Collins, a key Republican vote in the Senate, said Ford and Kavanaugh “should both testify under oath” before the Judiciary Committee.
Responding to shouted questions from reporters Monday, President Donald Trump appeared open to delaying a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination if senators find it necessary.
“I want him to go in at the absolute highest level,” Trump said, according to a White House pool report. “And I think to do that you have to go through this. If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay.”
In a floor speech earlier Monday afternoon, McConnell said the allegations were brought up in an “irregular manner,” citing the fact that Feinstein has been in possession of the letter for weeks but did not bring it up during either Kavanaugh’s marathon public hearing or in the committee’s closed session with the nominee.