WASHINGTON – Abandoning his previous restraint, President Donald Trump challenged the credibility of the woman accusing his Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault on Friday, declaring that if the alleged attack was so terrible she would have reported it to law enforcement.
Trump’s change in tone – and apparent shift in tactics – came as Christine Blasey Ford’s lawyers negotiated with the Senate Judiciary Committee on the terms for her possible testimony next week in a dramatic showdown over her accusation that threatens Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Trump tweeted: “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”
The president previously had avoided naming Ford or plainly casting doubt on her account. Ford alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than 30 years ago when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.
The accusation has jarred the 53-year-old conservative jurist’s prospects for winning confirmation, which until Ford’s emergence last week had seemed all but certain. It has also bloomed into a broader clash over whether women alleging abuse are taken seriously by men and how both political parties address such claims with the advent of the (hash)MeToo movement – a theme that could echo in this November’s elections for control of Congress.
With his comment, Trump went against the advice of advisers who had counseled him to stay out of the fray. But it was in keeping with his past defense of friends and other men against the claims of women.
Ford has said she didn’t tell anyone at the time about the incident, as is often the case with victims of sexual misconduct. She told The Washington Post that she told no one about the episode in detail until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband.
Trump’s tweet could weaken GOP support among women going into the midterm elections. It could also threaten Kavanaugh’s support with several Republicans — including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona — who have not declared their stances on his nomination. If two Republicans vote against Kavanaugh, his nomination could fail.
In another tweet, Trump, who was in Las Vegas for various events, wrote: “Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a fine man, with an impeccable reputation, who is under assault by radical left wing politicians who don’t want to know the answers, they just want to destroy and delay. Facts don’t matter. I go through this with them every single day in D.C.”
Ford is willing to tell her story – but only if agreement can be reached on “terms that are fair and which ensure her safety,” her lawyer said Thursday. She said Ford needs time to make sure her family is secure, prepare her testimony and travel to Washington.
Attorney Debra Katz said anew that Ford, 51, a psychology professor in California, has received death threats and for safety reasons has relocated her family.
Negotiations over the terms of her testimony are continuing. The discussions have revived the possibility that the panel will hold an electrifying campaign-season hearing at which both Ford and Kavanaugh can give their versions of what did or didn’t happen at a party in the 1980s.
Ford’s preference is to testify to the panel next Thursday and she doesn’t want Kavanaugh in the same room, her attorney told the panel’s staff in a 30-minute call that also touched on security concerns and others issues, according to a Senate aide. That aide wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
In addition to security, expected to be provided by Capitol Police, Ford has asked for press coverage of her testimony to be the same as for Kavanaugh. Reporters had assigned seating and were kept separated from the nominee, who was whisked to and from the room.
Ford’s attorney said Ford would like to testify first, but that might be complicated because Kavanaugh has already agreed to Monday’s scheduled hearing.
Ford has told the panel she would prefer the committee not use outside counsel to question her because that would make it seem too much like a trial, the attorney told the panel. All of the Republicans on the panel are men, and the committee is known to be concerned about the optics of having questions from the GOP side come only from men.
Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has scheduled a hearing for Monday morning, and he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have indicated it would be Ford’s only chance to make her case. Republicans are anxious to move ahead to a vote by the committee, where they hold an 11-10 majority, and then by the full Senate, which they control, 51-49.
Taylor Foy, spokesman for Republicans on the panel, said that Grassley “will consult with his colleagues on the committee. He remains committed to providing a fair forum for both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh.”
Ford has asked the committee to subpoena Mark Judge, who Ford has said was in the room at the time of the alleged incident. Judge has told the committee he does not recall the incident and does not want to speak publicly.
Kavanaugh, meanwhile, has said he is ready to appear Monday. He wrote to Grassley: “I continue to want a hearing as soon as possible, so that I can clear my name.” Kavanaugh was seen at the White House on Thursday.
Trump, who had been careful in recent days not to criticize Ford as he defends his nominee, told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday that he feels the nomination has been delayed long enough.
“I think it’s a very sad situation,” he said, asking, “Why didn’t somebody call the FBI 36 years ago? … What’s going on?”
He said Kavanaugh’s accuser should “have her say and let’s see how it all works out, but I don’t think you can delay it any longer. They’ve delayed it a week already.”
Ford has contended that at a house party in a Maryland suburb of Washington, a drunken Kavanaugh tried undressing her and stifling her cries on a bed before she fled.
As the week has proceeded, Republicans have seemed to regain momentum toward approving Kavanaugh though his prospects have remained uncertain.
Even moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said it would be “unfair” to Kavanaugh if Ford decides to not appear, and others were urging leaders to proceed quickly to a vote. Still, the bare 51-49 Republican majority means they can lose just one vote and still approve him if all Democrats vote no. Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie.
Democrats have tried using the issue to demonstrate that Republicans treat women unfairly, their eyes on upcoming elections in which suburban, anti-Trump female voters could be pivotal in many races. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a possible 2020 presidential candidate, said Republicans were “bullying” Ford by giving her a Monday deadline to testify.
Republicans have resisted all Democratic efforts to slow and perhaps block Kavanaugh’s confirmation. 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 crop up.
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