US Supreme Court nominee, accuser to testify in Senate

The confirmation of Mr Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, would seal a 5-4 conservative majority that could dominate the court for decades after Mr Trump has left office.
The confirmation of Mr Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, would seal a 5-4 conservative majority that could dominate the court for decades after Mr Trump has left office.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Public hearing to question judge Kavanaugh on alleged sex assault

WASHINGTON • US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who accused him of a 1982 sexual assault will be called to testify in the Senate next Monday, complicating what had appeared to be a smooth confirmation process.

With Mr Kavanaugh's once-safe nomination for a lifetime job on the top US court now appearing in jeopardy, the conservative federal appeals court judge nominated by President Donald Trump had meetings at the White House earlier on Monday and called the assault allegation "completely false".

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley said the committee would hold a public hearing with Mr Kavanaugh and his accuser, California university professor Christine Blasey Ford, next Monday.

"As I said earlier, anyone who comes forward as Dr Ford has done deserves to be heard. My staff has reached out to Dr Ford to hear her account, and they held a follow-up call with Judge Kavanaugh this afternoon," Mr Grassley said.

The hearing would delay a planned vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow to advance Mr Kavanaugh's confirmation.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants to hold a full Senate vote on Mr Kavanaugh before the Oct 1 start of the Supreme Court's new term. It was unclear whether that goal would have to be adjusted.

The White House appeared eager to resolve the matter quickly. "Judge Kavanaugh looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation. He stands ready to testify tomorrow if the Senate is ready to hear him," the White House said before Mr Grassley's announcement.

Speaking to reporters at the Senate on Monday, Mr Lindsey Graham, a senior Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said: "I'm a very fair-minded guy and I'm going to be fair to her (Dr Ford) and I'm going to be fair to him (Mr Kavanaugh). But I'm not going to look at one thing in this guy's life," Mr Graham said of next Monday's hearing.

Asked if it was possible for him to believe Dr Ford's story and still conclude that Mr Kavanaugh was qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, Mr Graham said: "I'd have a hard time putting somebody on the court that I thought tried to rape somebody."

The confirmation fight comes just weeks before the Nov 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are seeking to take control of Congress from Mr Trump's party and work to stymie the President's agenda. Republicans control the Senate by a narrow margin, meaning any defections could sink the nomination and deal a major setback to Mr Trump, who has been engaged in a so-far successful effort since becoming president last year to move the Supreme Court and broader federal judiciary to the right.

Democrats, already fiercely opposed to Mr Kavanaugh, had demanded a delay in the committee's vote to let the FBI investigate. The FBI said in a statement on Monday night that it received a letter dated July concerning the allegation last Wednesday, and forwarded it to the White House counsel. It added that the allegation "does not involve any potential federal crime".

Dr Ford has accused Mr Kavanaugh of trying to attack her and remove her clothing while he was drunk 36 years ago in a Maryland suburb outside Washington when they were students at different high schools.

In careful remarks at the White House in which he did not offer his view on the actual allegation against his nominee, Mr Trump called for the Senate to go through a "full process" and accepted a small delay. "I think he's very much on track," Mr Trump said of Mr Kavanaugh.

Mr Trump picked Mr Kavanaugh to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who sometimes sided with the court's liberal wing. Without Mr Kennedy on the court, the justices are split 4-4 between liberals and conservatives.

REUTERS

SEE OPINION: US Supreme Court caught up in #MeToo proxy war

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2018, with the headline 'US Supreme Court nominee, accuser to testify in Senate'. Print Edition | Subscribe