Calls Grow To Delay Kavanaugh Vote After Accuser Goes Public
Updated at 9:41 p.m. ET
A vote on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court was at risk of delay on Sunday as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from both parties said allegations of sexual assault from 35 years ago may require additional review.
A vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled for this week, but Democrats on the committee called for the delay shortly after The Washington Post published a story naming the woman who says that Kavanaugh tried to sexually assault her when they were both teenagers. Democrats were joined by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who said the committee needed to examine the claims before moving forward. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), while expressing concern about the motives of committee Democrats, said he too was open to hearing more.
The woman, Christine Blasey Ford, spoke to the Post on the record and confirmed details that had previously been reported in other outlets, including The New Yorker.
Ford said that one night in the 1980s, when she was in high school, a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, attempted to pull off her clothing and covered her mouth as she tried to scream. She was able to flee after Kavanaugh's friend, Mark Judge, jumped on them.
"I thought he might inadvertently kill me," Ford told the Post. "He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing."
At first, she vowed to never speak of the incident, she said. But the trauma eventually drove her to seek therapy. She brought the incident up at a couples therapy session in 2012, she said.
"I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time," said Kavanaugh in a statement issued by the White House last week when the allegations began to surface.
But his words have not stemmed a wave of Democrats who are calling for his nomination to be delayed.
Calls for delay
"I support Mrs. Ford's decision to share her story, and now that she has, it is in the hands of the FBI to conduct an investigation," the committee's top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement. "This should happen before the Senate moves forward on this nominee."
On Friday, after the contents of the letter were first reported, an FBI official said the agency had not opened a criminal investigation.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to postpone the vote "until, at a very minimum, these serious and credible allegations are thoroughly investigated." He added, "To railroad a vote now would be an insult to the women of America and the integrity of the Supreme Court."
A spokesman for Grassley said the allegations should have been brought up earlier. Their timing and nature "raises a lot of questions about Democrats' tactics and motives to bring this to the rest of the committee's attention only now rather than during these many steps along the way."
One of Grassley's Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee left the door open to further hearings about Ford's allegations.
"If Ms. Ford wishes to provide information to the committee, I would gladly listen to what she has to say and compare that against all other information we have received about Judge Kavanaugh," said Sen. Graham in a statement. "If the committee is to hear from Ms. Ford it should be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled."
Sen. Flake, who also serves on the committee, told the Post that a vote on Kavanaugh needed to wait until senators had the opportunity to hear from Ford. "For me, we can't vote until we hear more," Flake said.
NPR has reached out to Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — both key votes on Kavanaugh's nomination in the narrowly divided Senate — but neither responded with any comment on the allegations by Ford. Collins spoke with Kavanaugh for an hour by phone on Friday after the then-anonymous allegation surfaced, but her office declined to provide any details on their conversation.
A Grassley spokesman said leaders on the Judiciary Committee "routinely" hold bipartisan staff calls with nominees when updates are made to their background files. "Given the late addendum to the background file and revelations of Dr. Ford's identity, Chairman Grassley is actively working to set up such follow-up calls with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford ahead of Thursday's scheduled vote," the spokesman said.
Feinstein said a call by committee staff would be unacceptable.
"I agree with Senator Flake that we should delay this week's vote. There's a lot of information we don't know and the FBI should have the time it needs to investigate this new material. Staff calls aren't the appropriate way to handle this."
Polygraph, therapist notes
During the judge's hearing, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) asked Kavanaugh if he had ever made unwanted sexual advances, or been verbally or physically since becoming a legal adult. Kavanaugh replied "no" to her questions. The allegations made against Kavanaugh would have taken place while he was still a minor.
"It took a lot of courage for Christine Blasey Ford to come forward to share her story of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh," Hirono said in a statement on Sunday. "This development is yet another reason not to rush Brett Kavanaugh's nomination."
Before Ford broke her silence, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said Sunday on Fox that Kavanaugh's nomination process was an "intergalactic freak show" and that "I don't know what our Democratic friends expect us to do" about the sexual assault allegation because of its secrecy. He predicted that every Republican would vote for Kavanaugh.
The Post reported that Ford, now a 51-year-old research psychologist and professor, contacted the paper in early July — after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his intention to retire and Kavanaugh was shortlisted as his potential replacement.
On the advice of civil rights lawyer Debra Katz, who specializes in sexual harassment cases, she even took a polygraph test, which reportedly demonstrated that her allegations were accurate. There are also therapist's notes that describe the incident.
She said, "Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation."