WASHINGTON—An attorney for the California college professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers said she would be willing to testify next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, an offer that could break a partisan logjam over whether the FBI should investigate her allegations.
Christine Blasey Ford isn’t willing, however, to go before the panel by Monday, when a hearing is now scheduled, her lawyer wrote in an email Thursday to committee staff members. “She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety,” wrote the lawyer, Debra Katz, who added that Dr. Ford had been receiving death threats.
Ms. Katz spoke with Senate Judiciary Committee staff Thursday, but the two sides didn’t reach an agreement, congressional aides said. Ms. Katz raised logistical questions about security and what media would be present. They also discussed other sticking points such as additional witnesses. Dr. Ford has asked for Judge Kavanaugh to testify first. Her camp is also pushing to hold the hearing on Thursday, according to congressional aides.
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The conversations are expected to continue, the aides said. Ms. Katz cancelled two planned television appearances Thursday night, citing the effort to make progress with the committee.
A spokesman for committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) issued a statement later saying Mr. Grassley would confer with other senators about the hearing. “He remains committed to providing a fair forum for both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh,” the statement said.
The Palo Alto University psychology professor has alleged that at a high-school party in the 1980s, Judge Kavanaugh groped her and tried to remove her clothes after he and a friend pulled her into a room. Judge Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.
Before Thursday, Dr. Ford had said she wanted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to reopen a background investigation into Judge Kavanaugh before she testified, an idea rejected by Republicans. In Thursday’s message, Ms. Katz said that continues to be Dr. Ford’s “strong preference,” but it doesn’t appear to be an unconditional demand.
Sen. Grassley had scheduled a hearing Monday and invited both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh to testify. Late Thursday, Judge Kavanaugh sent a letter to Mr. Grassley formally accepting an invitation to appear at the hearing.
“From the moment I first heard this allegation, I have categorically and unequivocally denied it,” Judge Kavanaugh wrote in the letter.
Democrats said an FBI investigation was needed to provide a neutral set of facts and that additional witnesses should testify as well. GOP lawmakers said that was unnecessary, noting that the FBI has already investigated Judge Kavanaugh at length before the latest allegations.
Prof. Christine Blasey Ford recently accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school. The WSJ's Gerald F. Seib looks at the three senators who could delay the vote on the nominee. Photo: Getty
Meanwhile, Democrats continued on Thursday to cite Dr. Ford’s request for an FBI investigation as an indication she was confident the facts would support her assertions.
“Who is not asking the FBI to investigate these claims? The White House,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.). “Judge Kavanaugh has not asked to have the FBI to review these claims. Is that the reaction of an innocent person? It is not.”
The FBI could reopen its background investigation of Judge Kavanaugh, but it would be up to President Trump, a Republican, to direct them to do so. He has dismissed the idea, saying it is unnecessary given that the judge has undergone previous background checks.
Ms. Gillibrand and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) said they had received a letter Thursday from more than 1,000 alumnae of Holton-Arms School, from which Dr. Ford graduated in 1984, supporting Dr. Ford. The letter said in part that her “experience is all too consistent with stories we heard and lived while attending Holton,” adding, “Many of us are survivors ourselves.”
A public appearance by Dr. Ford could change the political calculus for both parties. Aides and strategists from both parties believe her absence would make it easier for Judge Kavanaugh to get confirmed.
Several Republicans have urged her to appear. Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), considered a pivotal vote, said earlier this week it would be unfair of Dr. Ford to make these accusations without answering questions under oath.
“There are these very serious allegations hanging over the head of a nominee who has emphatically denied them,” Ms. Collins told a Maine radio show Wednesday. “It’s not fair to Judge Kavanaugh for her not to come forward and testify. Both of them need to testify under oath.”
In her email Thursday, Ms. Katz wrote that Dr. Ford and her family have relocated from their northern California home amid the death threats and online intimidation.
Judge Kavanaugh’s wife, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh, also has faced threats, which are being investigated by the U.S. Marshals Service, a senior administration official said Thursday.
She has received two profane notes on her work email account in recent days, the official said. Both notes, which have been reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, were sent from the same email address. One of the notes to Mrs. Kavanaugh, a town manager in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., reads, “May you, your husband and your kids burn in hell.” The other, whose subject line reads, “Hi, Ashley,” says she should tell her husband to “put a bullet in his…skull.”
One person close to the confirmation process said that while Mrs. Kavanaugh is upset by the attacks on her husband, she doesn’t want him to withdraw. Judge Kavanaugh himself hasn’t considered withdrawing, according a person familiar with his thinking.
“He’s absolutely intending to go forward,” this person said, and is determined “to reiterate his strong and categorical denial, to clear his reputation and move forward in the process.”
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, announced Thursday that he opposed the Kavanaugh nomination. Mr. Walker is a former Republican, but it’s not clear whether his position will affect Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), a key vote in the confirmation process.
Republicans have an advantage of 11-10 on the Judiciary Committee and 51-49 in the full Senate, meaning they cannot afford to lose more than one vote, assuming all Democrats vote against Judge Kavanaugh. In case of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence could cast a vote to confirm him.
Democrats believe a hearing could strengthen opposition to Judge Kavanaugh if Dr. Ford’s testimony is compelling. It could also create political risks for Republicans, they said, if GOP senators appear to be menacing in their questioning of her.
“It seems likely having her testify would redound to the benefit of the Democrats, but I don’t think it’s certain,” said Matt Bennett, senior vice president at Third Way, a center-left think tank.
If Judge Kavanaugh is effective in denying the allegations, however, or Democrats’ attacks on him appear unfair, that could bolster his case, political analysts said.
If the two sides can’t strike a deal on the conditions, it is unclear if Republicans would still hold a hearing with Judge Kavanaugh as the sole witness. That would enable him to tell his story, but would also give Democrats another shot at questioning him.
Although some Democrats have said their attendance would give such a hearing undeserved credibility, boycotting it would mean Judge Kavanaugh would only face easy questions from Republicans, aides said.
Dr. Ford’s absence could also prompt Mr. Grassley to hold a Judiciary Committee vote on Judge Kavanaugh more swiftly, leaving Democrats with few ways to delay the subsequent vote by the full Senate. Mr. Grassley must provide three days’ notice before scheduling a vote, aides said.
Mr. Grassley hasn’t set a new date for the committee vote, which was initially scheduled for Thursday. Time is running short ahead of the new Supreme Court session, which begins Oct. 1, by which time the GOP wants Judge Kavanaugh confirmed.
More important to both sides is the approaching midterm congressional election on Nov. 6. If Democrats retake the Senate, which strategists on both sides say is unlikely but not impossible, they would seize control of the confirmation process.