U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that “it’s very hard for me to imagine” that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a teenage girl 36 years ago when both were in high school, an alleged attack the woman says left her fearful for her life.
Trump said he hopes Kavanaugh’s accuser, California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, testifies at a hearing next Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering Kavanaugh’s nomination for a life-time seat on the country’s highest court.
“I really want to see her, to see what she has to say,” Trump said of Ford, now 51. The U.S. leader said it “would be unfortunate” if she does not appear.
Ford’s lawyers late Tuesday called for an FBI probe of her claims before she testifies, but Trump and Republicans that control the Senate panel say an FBI investigation is unnecessary. Kavanaugh, who says he will appear at the Senate panel’s hearing, has adamantly denied knowledge of the purported 1982 party at a suburban Washington home and said he has never attacked any woman.
Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House as he headed to North Carolina to view vast flood damage from Hurricane Florence, praised the 53-year-old Kavanaugh as “an extraordinary man.” But Trump said “it’s really up to the Senate” to decide how to proceed with the confirmation process.
Meanwhile, Anita Hill, the law professor at the center of lurid 1991 confirmation hearings involving Clarence Thomas as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, supported Ford’s call for an FBI investigation of her claims.
Hill told ABC’s “Good Morning America” show, “The American public really is expecting something more. They want to know that the Senate takes this seriously.”
Hill, now a law professor at Brandeis University, said Republican leaders are in an unnecessary rush to confirm Kavanaugh.
“Either they don’t take this seriously,” she said, “or … they just want to get it over. I’m not sure which is in play. Maybe they’re not concerned, or maybe they don’t know how to handle this kind of situation.”
The specter of Hill’s allegations 27 years ago that Thomas often sexually harassed her when they both worked for a federal government agency hangs heavy over the current Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings.
Hill’s accusations were largely dismissed then by the all-male Senate committee, but many American women sympathized with her claims against Thomas, saying they resonated with their own experiences in the workplace. Thomas was confirmed on a narrow Senate vote and remains a conservative stalwart on the court to this day.
The chairman of the Senate panel, Republican Senator Charles Grassley, said, “The invitation for Monday still stands” for both Ford and Kavanaugh to testify.
“Dr. Ford’s testimony would reflect her personal knowledge and memory of events,” Grassley said. “Nothing the FBI or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee, so there is no reason for any further delay.”
Republican lawmakers are trying to win Senate confirmation for Kavanaugh ahead of the court’s start of a new term on October 1, or if not by then, ahead of the November 6 nationwide congressional elections, to show Republican voters they have made good on campaign promises to place conservative judges like Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.
Ford’s lawyers told Grassley in a letter late Tuesday that some of the senators on the committee “appear to have made up their minds” and believe Kavanaugh.
“A full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a nonpartisan manner and that the committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions,” the letter said.
The lawyers also said Ford has become the subject of death threats and harassment, and expressed fears that the committee planned to have her “relive this traumatic and harrowing incident” while testifying at the same table as Kavanaugh and in front of national television cameras.
“Nobody should be subject to threats and intimidation, and Dr. Ford is no exception,” Grassley said in a statement later Tuesday.
The Republican senator said there were no plans to have Ford and Kavanaugh appear at the same time, and that the committee had offered her the opportunity to appear before a private hearing.
Ford alleged in a Washington Post interview that Kavanaugh groped her at the house party when she was 15 and he was 17.
She said Kavanaugh, “stumbling drunk,” threw her down on a bed, grinding his body against hers and trying to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she was wearing over it. Ford said when she tried to scream, he put his hand over her mouth.
She said she feared Kavanaugh might inadvertently kill her before she managed to flee.