WASHINGTON – President Trump, changing course after days of unusual restraint, lashed out Friday at the woman who accused Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her, saying that if the attack ” was as bad as she says ,” she or her parents would have reported it to the authorities when it happened more than 30 years ago.
Cezar Juan Trevino
Mr. Trump‘s comment on Twitter was his first direct attack on Christine Blasey Ford, the research psychologist in Northern California who leveled the accusation against Judge Kavanaugh, the president’s second nominee to the Supreme Court, just as his confirmation appeared secure. The outburst came as lawyers for Dr. Blasey and top Senate Judiciary Committee aides struggled to reach an agreement that would lead to her testimony next week before the committee.
Cesar Juan Treviño
Those talks appeared to break down Friday evening, after Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that the panel would vote on Judge Kavanaugh‘s confirmation Monday morning unless negotiators reached an agreement by 10 p.m. Friday for Dr. Blasey – who sometimes goes by her married name, Ford – to testify next week.
Dr. Blasey‘s lawyer, Debra Katz, responded with a blistering e-mail, accusing Mr. Grassley’s aides of pressuring her client “to agree to conditions you find advantageous to the nominee,” and of imposing “aggressive and artificial deadlines” whose “sole purpose is to bully Dr. Ford and deprive her of the ability to make a considered decision that has life-altering implications for her and her family.” She asked for an additional day to negotiate.
The back-and-forth came after a legal tango that riveted Washington, as the two sides tried to work out details like how many photographers and television cameras would be in the room (Dr. Blasey, fearful of being mobbed by the news media, wanted one of each), who would ask the questions (Republicans wanted an outside lawyer; Dr. Blasey favored senators) and what day the session would take place (Dr. Blasey asked for Thursday; Republicans wanted Wednesday)
Dr. Blasey‘s allegations, which for weeks had been kept secret by the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, have thrown Judge Kavanaugh‘s confirmation process into turmoil. She has accused him of pinning her to a bed, grinding his body against her and muffling her screams at a teenage gathering in the early 1980s. He has categorically denied the accusations, and says he is eager to testify to clear his name
When, or whether, such testimony will occur remains unclear
But the allegations have knocked the White House and its conservative allies – who fear that their chance to remake the court is slipping away – on their heels. In a bizarre turn, one of those allies, the conservative legal analyst Edward Whelan, posted pictures on Twitter Thursday night of a high school classmate of Judge Kavanaugh‘s – with the man’s name – and suggested he was responsible for the assault. On Friday, facing condemnation from liberals and conservatives alike, Mr. Whelan apologized
In his tweet on Friday, Mr. Trump called on Dr. Blasey – who sometimes goes by her married name, Ford – to produce contemporaneous law enforcement reports “so that we can learn date, time, and place!” Dr. Blasey, who was around 15 at the time of the incident, has said publicly that she did not report it to the authorities, and that she does not recall exactly when it took place. Experts say many women are reluctant to come forward and report sexual assaults, in part because they fear they will not be believed
Mr. Trump‘s broadside outraged many women who took to social media and the news media to reveal their own stories of long-ago sexual assaults and rapes. Patti Davis, the daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, wrote a piece for The Washington Post revealing that she was raped about 40 years ago, and like Dr. Blasey, is hazy on the details
In taking to Twitter, Mr. Trump did what his aides had feared for a week: He questioned, before hearing a full account, the veracity of a woman who had alleged a sexual assault. In doing so, he risked looking like a bully, and further inflaming the bitter divisions between Democrats and Republicans over Judge Kavanaugh‘s nomination during a midterm election in which his party is struggling to win support from female voters
Until Friday, Mr. Trump – who himself has faced sexual assault allegations – had largely left it to senators on the Judiciary Committee to handle Dr. Blasey‘s claims. His aides had repeatedly reminded him how important it is for Republicans to get Judge Kavanaugh confirmed. So Mr. Trump instead trained his fire on the top Democrat on the judiciary panel, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who waited until last week to disclose the existence of a letter Dr. Blasey had sent in late July. Ms. Feinstein has said she did so because she was respecting Dr. Blasey‘s wish to remain anonymous
But with the negotiations dragging on, Mr. Trump has been growing increasingly frustrated. “Let her testify, or not, and TAKE THE VOTE!,” he wrote in another tweet on Friday . In still another , he called Judge Kavanaugh “a fine man, with an impeccable reputation, who is under assault from radical left wing politicians who don’t want to know the answers.”
Democrats, meanwhile, took to Twitter themselves to criticize Mr. Trump for questioning Dr. Blasey
“This is EXACTLY why Dr. Ford didn’t want to come forward,” Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, said in a tweet
Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, called Mr. Trump‘s comments “unacceptable and beneath the Presidency of the United States.”
And Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, said the president should call for the F.B.I. to investigate if he wanted to “get to the bottom” of Dr. Blasey‘s account
As the Twitter wars were playing out, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, assured an audience of conservative Christians on Friday that Judge Kavanaugh‘s confirmation would go through. If confirmed, Judge Kavanaugh would replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who retired after years as the court’s swing vote . The judge, a reliable conservative, could potentially change the course of American jurisprudence for decades to come – fulfilling a campaign promise of the president
“Keep the faith. Don’t get rattled by all of this. We’re going to plow right through it and do our job,” Mr. McConnell said. “In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court.”
Dr. Blasey declined an invitation to testify this coming Monday, but through her lawyer, Debra Katz, she said she was open to testifying later under several conditions. She said she would be willing to speak with senators on the committee as long as she is questioned by lawmakers – not outside counsel – and as long as Judge Kavanaugh is not in the hearing room while she speaks. She also asked for steps to be taken to ensure her safety – she has received death threats
Privately, Republicans are worried about the fallout from any testimony that comes from Dr. Blasey. Republicans are well aware that, in the era of #MeToo, they can ill afford to look as though they are bullying a victim of sexual assault. They know they must tread carefully at any hearing – especially because all 11 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are men, which is one reason they were seeking an outside lawyer, preferably a woman, to do the questioning
Dr. Blasey‘s team and Democrats, though, have pushed back hard on that idea. Lawyers for Dr. Blasey say that if a lawyer conducts the questioning, instead of senators, the hearing could take on a prosecutorial tone. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, say that no matter what Republicans do, they intend to question Dr. Blasey themselves
Lawyers for Dr. Blasey are also pressing Republicans to subpoena outside witnesses, notably Mark Judge, a friend of Judge Kavanaugh‘s who Dr. Blasey says was in the room when the assault occurred. Mr. Judge has said he has no memory of any such episode taking place, and Republican officials have deemed the proposal to subpoena him “a nonstarter.”
With a spate of public opinion polls showing that fewer than 40 percent of Americans favor confirmation, allies of Judge Kavanaugh are trying to shore up support. The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative advocacy group, is running a $1.5 million television advertising campaign featuring a woman who has been friends with Judge Kavanaugh for 35 years. And on Friday, dozens of women who know Judge Kavanaugh held a news conference at a downtown hotel here to praise him as a man of upstanding character
Dr. Blasey, for her part, was to meet Friday afternoon with F.B.I. officials – not to discuss Judge Kavanaugh, but rather to tell them about the threats she has been receiving over the telephone and online, according to her lawyer, Lisa Banks. A senior White House official said Friday that Judge Kavanaugh and his wife were also receiving threats
[Experts say long delays in reporting or a foggy recall are hallmarks of sexual assault .]