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Lawmakers react to Trump's Supreme Court nomination of judge Brett Kavanaugh

Thursday hearing for Kavanaugh accuser stuck on last details

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By LISA MASCARO, MARY CLARE JALONICK and JONATHAN LEMIRE , Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Plans to hold a high-stakes hearing next week with testimony from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, teetered with uncertainty Sunday as a Senate panel scrambled to resolve potentially make-or-break details, such as potential witnesses who could corroborate her decades-old sexual assault claim.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said lawyers for Ford are contesting two GOP conditions of the proposed 10 a.m. Thursday hearing — that Ford and Kavanaugh will be the only witnesses and that an independent counsel will ask the questions.

"If they continue to contest those two things, there won't be a hearing," Graham said. "We're not going to let her determine how many people we call" and on outside counsel. "I hope she comes."

A final accord could bring a close days of brinkmanship that have roiled Washington ahead of midterm elections and threatened to jeopardize Kavanaugh's confirmation to the court, even as some Republicans say the additional hearings may do little to change their support for him.

Graham, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," promised a fair hearing in which both Ford and Kavanaugh "will be challenged" but said "unless there's something more" to back up her accusation, then he's "not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh's life over this."

"I want to listen to her, but I'm being honest with you and everybody else. ...What am I supposed to do? Go ahead and ruin this guy's life based on an accusation?" Graham asked, explaining his dilemma over an allegation of a 1980s incident that is past the statute of limitations for criminal charges. "But she should come forward. She should have her say."

Lawyers for Ford and bipartisan representatives of the committee came to a tentative agreement for a Thursday hearing after a short but productive phone call late Saturday, said a person briefed on the matter, who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

But unresolved is who would question the 51-year-old California college professor and other potential witnesses. Ford wants an appearance by Mark Judge, a Kavanaugh friend who Ford asserts was in the room when the incident occurred. Meanwhile, the committee's 11 Republicans — all men — have been seeking an outside female attorney to interrogate Ford, mindful of the election-season impression that could be left by men trying to pick apart a woman's assertion of a sexual attack.

Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat on the committee, said Sunday he believed Ford's requests have been "reasonable" and that she deserves a fair hearing to determine whether her allegations are "serious" enough to vote down Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination.

He acknowledged that lawmakers will "probably not" be able to know the truth of Ford's decades-old accusation that Kavanaugh assaulted her at a house party when they were teenagers. But Durbin left little doubt that that Democrats will go after Kavanaugh's drinking history to help shed light on the matter. Ford has alleged Kavanaugh was "stumbling drunk" when it happened.

"There have been a lot of things said about the alcohol that was consumed by the judge as well as by others in his school. That has to be part of any relevant questioning," he said.

Durbin told ABC's "This Week" that some Republicans "reached out to Democratic senators and assured them that they are looking to this as kind of a determination as to how their final vote" on Kavanaugh is cast.

Tensions have been running on overdrive since Ford went public last week with her allegation that Kavanaugh assaulted her when they in high school. Kavanaugh, an appellate court judge, denied the allegation and said he wanted to testify as soon as possible to clear his name.

Republicans had grown frustrated as Ford's lawyers insisted on a hearing next Thursday rather than Monday or even Wednesday and made other requests, some of which the committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, rejected. Democrats, against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, countered that Ford should be shown respect and given accommodation to tell her story.

Republicans viewed Ford's requests as a way to delay voting on President Donald Trump's nominee.

The White House is approaching Ford's potential testimony with trepidation, nervous that an emotional performance might not just damage Kavanaugh's chances but could further energize female voters to turn out against Republicans in November against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement.

Moreover, the West Wing aides who had urged Trump to remain muted in his response to the accusations worried about how the president might react to an hourslong, televised hearing. In tweet Friday, Trump broke his silence to cast doubt on Ford's story in ways Republicans had been carefully trying to avoid.

Trump mused to confidants that the "fake" attacks against his nominee were meant to undermine his presidency, according to a White House official and a Republican close to the White House. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.

The lawyers for Ford wrote to the committee on Saturday that she "accepts the Committee's request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh's sexual misconduct next week."

Attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks said that many aspects of Grassley's latest offer were "fundamentally inconsistent" with the committee's promise of a "fair, impartial investigation." They said they remained disappointed by the "bullying" that "tainted the process." Yet they remained "hopeful that we can reach agreement on details."

Patience among Republicans, though, is running thin. The GOP is facing enormous pressure from its base of conservative leaders and voters to swiftly approve Kavanaugh, who would become the second of Trump's nominees to sit on the nation's highest court, ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

___

Lemire reported from Bridgewater, New Jersey. Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Hope Yen in Washington contributed to this report.

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