WASHINGTON (Circa) — Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have already started conducting interviews ahead of a hearing next week to consider the sexual assault allegation made against Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, but there are doubts as to whether the hearing will take place.
On Monday, Republican committee staff questioned Judge Kavanaugh, under oath, regarding the claim made by Dr. Christine Blase Ford that he attempted to rape her while drunk at a high school party some 36 years ago.
According to Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Dr. Ford has yet to respond to the committee's request for a similar interview. Moreover, Ford and her attorney have not confirmed whether she will attend the Sept. 24 hearing.
Sen. Grassley, speaking to radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday morning, said his staff had attempted to contact Ford's attorney "three or four times" over the past 36 hours. "It kind of raises the question, do they want to come to the public hearing or not?" Grassley said.
Senators were still considering how to proceed with the confirmation process, in light of the seriousness of the allegations, if Dr. Ford chooses not to testify.
The Republican leadership was growing impatient at the start of a new process in an already contentious Supreme Court confirmation battle. For weeks, Democrats have tried to slow Kavanaugh's nomination, arguing Republicans were rushing forward without adequate oversight.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., insisted Democrats were "playing politics" with the release of the sexual assault allegation.
"It's pretty obvious this is all about delaying the process," he told reporters. "But the accuser certainly deserves a right to be heard and we’re looking forward to hearing what she has to say on Monday."
The form that hearing will take is still being debated. Grassley announced the hearing would be public "to provide ample transparency."
After a closed-door meeting Tuesday afternoon, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee said they were willing to accommodate Dr. Ford and provide any format she found acceptable, even if it is not a public hearing.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, noted that if she prefers to testify in a closed setting, it is her choice. "We certainly hope that she takes advantage of this opportunity if she still would like to."
On Monday, Ford's attorney, Debra Katz, told a number of news outlets that her client wanted to testify but had not been contacted by anyone on the committee. Katz said her client was prepared to submit the results of a lie-detector test and notes from her psychologist in 2012 as evidence to support her claims about Kavanaugh.
Senators are also considering hearing from multiple witnesses. For example, Democrats have said they would like to hear testimony from Mark Judge, a former classmate of Kavanaugh who Ford said assisted in the alleged sexual assault.
Sen. Grassley's office said Tuesday that the committee made contact with other alleged witnesses based on The Washington Post's reporting of the incident, suggesting they reached out to Judge. Democrats have been invited to participate in the witness interviews but have reportedly declined.
There were also rumors on Capitol Hill that an independent third-party may be used to question the witnesses, rather than senators. That approach, used during the Watergate hearings, could minimize the political theatrics that were seen in the highly partisan, politicized confirmation hearings earlier this month.
Kenneth Starr, former independent counsel for the investigation of Bill Clinton, endorsed the approach in a Tuesday interview with C-SPAN.
To get at the truth, he said, "one of the best suggestions is for there to be a non-circus atmosphere. The best way to do that is to have professionals...very skilled lawyers doing the questioning."
The proposals for different formats were little consolation to Democratic senators who voiced concerns that the Ford will be walking into a hearing at a severe disadvantage.
"It's very reminiscent of Anita Hill," Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono told reporters. Hill came forward in 1991 during Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings to testify that he sexually harassed her during her time working for him.
An all-male Senate Judiciary Committee heard Hill's allegations during three days of public hearings that dealt with sensitive and sometimes humiliating details about their professional relationship. Hill was maligned in the press and the Senate was largely dismissive of her claims.
Before hearing similar testimony from other female accusers, the Senate proceeded to confirm Thomas with a narrow 52 -48 vote.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., warned against repeating the mistakes of the 1991 hearings in handling the allegation made by Christine Blase Ford.
"I hope all members of the committee take this seriously and do this in the right way," Murray told reporters. "Because it wasn’t done the right way with Anita Hill and we had a generation of women who said it’s not worth it coming forward."
Ford has already become a lightning rod for critics who question her sincerity, motivation and the legitimacy of sexual assault claims from more than 30 years ago.
Sen. McConnell argued that the incident is "completely at variance with the entirety of his [Kavanaugh] life’s history.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who took part in the Anita Hill hearings, said Monday that Ford may be "mixed up" about Kavanaugh assaulting her. After speaking with the judge, Hatch told reporters that he was not even at the party in question.
Democrats argued that Ford had much more to lose in speaking out than remaining quiet. "She has nothing to gain by all of this," Hirono said. "I commend her courage and I believe her."
With only days before the scheduled hearing, Democrats are demanding more time to allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to properly vet Dr. Ford's claims.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., appealed to the White House Tuesday to order the FBI to reopen its background investigation into Kavanaugh in light of the sexual assault allegation. It would involve the FBI interviewing witnesses and potentially corroborating Fords account. "At a minimum, this should be done," Durbin said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. insisted that the hearing should not be held until the FBI investigation is complete. "The idea that we'd go ahead with the hearing before the witness statements are done and the investigation is concluded is ludicrous. It is malpractice," he said.
Kavanaugh, who has worked in government for the past two decades, has been subjected to about a half-dozen FBI background investigations. None of them are believed to take into account the claims made public by Dr. Ford just this week.
Those on the Democratic and Republican side who would like to see the FBI delve into the allegation against Kavanaugh are being frustrated by the White House. Only the White House can order the FBI to reopen a background investigation and President Donald Trump has yet to do so.
It is not clear how long the FBI investigation would take. Republicans are eager to move ahead with a confirmation vote and have Kavanaugh seated before the Supreme Court session begins in October.
In 1991, it took less than three days for the FBI to investigate Anita Hill's claims and return a report to the Senate.