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Questions swirl around Monday hearing, with Kavanaugh accuser not yet on board

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WASHINGTON — The scheduled hearing next Monday featuring testimony from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford appeared to be in some doubt Tuesday, as senators said the woman who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school had not yet agreed to appear.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Tuesday morning that he had extended invitations for both Kavanaugh and Ford to testify on Monday, but that Ford had not yet responded.

“We have reached out to her in the last 36 hours, three or four times by email and we’ve not heard from them, so it kind of raises the question, do they want to come to the public hearing or not?” Grassley said on The Hugh Hewitt Show radio show.

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Responding to the uncertainty around the hearing and Ford’s lack of a response, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters Tuesday, “That’s very puzzling to me…I really hope that she doesn’t pass up that opportunity.”

Kavanaugh returned to the White House Tuesday, according to a White House official, after spending about nine hours there on Monday.

Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said Tuesday that Democrats decided not to participate in a phone call Monday with Kavanaugh. “Our staff reached out to Dr. Ford’s lawyer with multiple emails yesterday to schedule a similar call and inform her of the upcoming hearing, where she will have the opportunity to share her story with the Committee,” he said. “Her lawyer has not yet responded.”

Democrats, meanwhile, blasted Republicans for how they arranged the hearing.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning that it would be unacceptable for senators to hear from witnesses just a day or two before being asked to vote on the nomination.

He also called it “inadequate” for the committee to hear from only two witnesses on Monday and that Mark Judge — who Ford said was a witness to the incident — should also testify.

“Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the Anita Hill hearings,” Schumer said. “Let’s call all the relevant witnesses.”

Feinstein blasted Grassley Tuesday for only inviting two witnesses.

“Chairman Grassley today said there would be only two witnesses invited to testify at the Kavanaugh hearing next week on sexual assault allegations. Compare that to the 22 witnesses at the 1991 Anita Hill hearing and it’s impossible to take this process seriously,” Feinstein said in a statement. “What about other witnesses like Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge? What about individuals who were previously told about this incident? What about experts who can speak to the effects of this kind of trauma on a victim?”

Earlier in the day, Feinstein criticized the FBI and White House on Tuesday for “failing to take even the most basic steps” to invite Ford’s allegation.

Feinstein also drew comparisons between the current situation and how allegations made by Anita Hill 27 years ago were handled after Hill came forward with sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, accusing the Judiciary Committee in both instances of “rushing the process.”

“What’s worse at that time, President Bush asked the FBI to do its job and perform an investigation looking into Anita Hill’s allegations, which it did. Now, under the Trump administration, Republicans want to do even less by blocking any investigation into Dr. Ford’s allegations,” she added. “I’m disappointed the FBI and White House are failing to take even the most basic steps to investigate this matter.”

Several Democrats on the Judiciary Committee said that their panel should wait until the FBI conducts and completes an investigation before holding a public hearing.

The FBI, however, isn’t likely to conduct any investigation into the veracity of Ford’s claims, unless the White House asks for it. Several current and former Department of Justice and FBI officials told NBC News that has always been the practice.

But President Trump indicated Tuesday that he did not currently plan to make that request.

“I don’t think the FBI should be involved because they don’t want to be involved,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “If they wanted to be, I would certainly do that.”

Hill, in an op-ed published by The New York Times Tuesday morning, also compared her ordeal to the present scenario.

“It’s impossible to miss the parallels between the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing of 2018 and the 1991 confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas,” she wrote. “In 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court. It failed on both counts.”

Hill recommended that the Judiciary Committee “demonstrate a clear understanding that sexual violence is a social reality to which elected representatives must respond,” conduct a “fair, neutral and well-thought-out” process and “not rush these hearings.”

The statements both came less than a day after Feinstein’s committee announced that it would hold a public hearing Monday in which Kavanaugh and Ford will be able to testify.

In a Washington Post story published Sunday, Ford alleged that Kavanaugh and another person drunkenly “corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers” in the suburbs of Maryland one summer in the 1980s. “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” she said of Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh denied the incident had occurred. “This is a completely false allegation,” he said in a statement in which he offered to speak to the Judiciary Committee again to “defend my integrity.”

“I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday,” he said.

Ford’s allegations came to light in a letter sent to two California Democrats, Feinstein and Rep. Anna Eshoo, and were reported in The New Yorker. In The New Yorker’s article, Ford asked not to be identified, but she later told The Post that she decided she wanted to be the one to tell her story.

A spokesperson for Feinstein said Friday, before The Post published its story with Ford speaking out, that the senator had been “given information” about Kavanaugh “through a third party and “took these allegations seriously and believed they should be public.”

“However, the woman in question made it clear she did not want this information to be public. It is critical in matters of sexual misconduct to protect the identity of the victim when they wish to remain anonymous, and the senator did so in this case,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, however, tweeted Tuesday that “none of this was necessary had these accusations been given to the FBI 6 weeks ago for an apolitical investigation out of public eye.”

“But because Republicans and Kavanaugh himself first heard them in the media there really was no alternative,” he added. Hatch told NBC News Monday that Ford is “mixed up,” and called Kavanaugh “honest” and “straightforward.”

Back in 1991, Hatch had said he felt there was “no question” Hill had lied during the hearing and that her story was “too contrived.”

“There’s no question in my mind she was coached by special interest groups,” he said in an October 1991 interview. “Her story’s too contrived. It’s so slick it doesn’t compute.”

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