It’s official: Christine Blasey Ford will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday regarding her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were teenagers. Ford committed to testify after she and her lawyers reached a deal with Committee aides on Sunday. Some details still need to be resolved ahead of the hearing, Ford’s lawyers said, but nothing that would prevent her from testifying. Kavanaugh, who has repeatedly denied Ford’s accusation, will also testify this week.
Ford’s public testimony will come just 11 days after she came forward with her allegation and upended what had seemed to be a sure-thing confirmation for the ultra-conservative Kavanaugh. Since then, Kavanaugh’s allies have tried to discredit Ford, an effort which has included outlandish conspiracy theories, a right-wing smear campaign, a Twitter attack from President Trump, and more than one self-serving suggestion that men like Kavanaugh should not have to face any consequences for whatever they did as teenage boys.
Ford received death threats after she came forward, forcing her and her husband and two children to move out of their home. Kavanaugh and his wife have received death threats as well, though he has already been living under the protection of U.S. Marshalls since being nominated in July. The raging debate over Ford’s accusation and its implications has led to wall-to-wall news coverage, and polls have subsequently showed that the already unpopular Kavanaugh has become even less desirable in the eyes of voters as a result.
As far as the remaining details both sides need to work out, the most notable one is who will question Ford during her testimony. Ford wants to be questioned by the senators on the Committee themselves, while Republicans on the Committee, all men, reportedly want to assign outside counsel to take their place, like female staff attorneys, in order to avoid the optics of a sexual assault survivor being publicly interrogated by an all-male group of Republican senators less than two months before the midterms. Ford’s lawyers have objected to that possibility, since outside counsel would be more likely to treat Ford as if she were being prosecuted.
Democrats on the Committee, a group that includes four women, say they will take the opportunity to question Ford themselves.
Ford’s lawyers have also continued to insist that Mark Judge, the prep school friend of Kavanaugh’s who Ford says was an accomplice in the alleged attack, be subpoenaed. There is also the matter of who would question her during the hearing. Senate Republicans have reserved the right to call outside witnesses next week, but there is no indication that Judge will be among them, and he has said he has no desire to testify.
Other details under negotiation include whether or not Ford testifies before or after Kavanaugh, with her lawyers insisting she go second, and how many media cameras will be allowed into the hearing. An earlier demand from Ford’s legal team and Senate Democrats — that an FBI investigation be conducted on the matter before Ford testified — seems to have been abandoned.
The deal to ensure Ford’s testimony followed days of contentious back and forth between her lawyers and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley.
For his part, Grassley spent the last few days setting and re-setting deadlines for Ford and her legal team. He originally set a Friday morning deadline for them to accept the Committee’s offer to have her testify, then extended it to Friday night, adding that he was scheduling a Committee vote on Kavanaugh for Monday that would go forward if Ford didn’t agree to his terms. That ultimatum didn’t work, and Ford’s lawyers sent Grassley and the Committee a scathing letter rejecting his timeframe late Friday. The senator then extended his deadline once again to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, and fired off some Friday night tweets complaining about the process.
Less than fifteen minutes before the Saturday deadline, Ford’s lawyers sent a letter to the Committee informing them that she had accepted the offer to come testify, and would do so “next week,” but that they hoped to enter into further negotiations to work out the details. The White House, via unnamed senior official comments, rejected the letter as a stalling tactic, but negotiations between the Ford team and the Committee seem to have proceeded fruitfully anyway.
The letter from Ford’s lawyers put Grassley in the difficult position of having to either delay the process even further, or reject the Ford team’s overture as too little, too late, and plow ahead with the Committee vote on Monday. Not accommodating Ford, however, would lead to Grassley and many other GOP lawmakers spending the run-up to the midterms articulating a rationale for dismissing Ford’s willingness to testify without signaling that they didn’t want to hear from her in the first place.
In addition, there wasn’t a guarantee the White House and Senate Republicans would have been able to obtain the votes they needed confirm Kavanaugh without hearing from Ford first. They probably had them before Ford emerged with her allegations last Sunday, but not after. The allegation and high profile aftermath also meant that Republicans could not depend on the support of any of the Senate’s more conservative Democrats.
Ford’s attorneys, Debra S. Katz and Lisa Banks, reiterated their ongoing displeasure with the entire process in their letter on Saturday, noting that “although many aspects of the proposal [Grassley] provided via email, on [Friday] are fundamentally inconsistent with the committee’s promise of a fair, impartial investigation into [Ford’s] allegations, and we are disappointed with the leaks and the bullying that have tainted the process, we are hopeful that we can reach agreement on details.”
Ford’s legal team also expanded on Saturday with the addition of former Justice Department inspector general Michael Bromwich (who currently represents former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, as well).
Some senior White House officials made it anonymously clear on Saturday afternoon that they didn’t accept Ford’s agreeing to testify as anything more than an attempt to further delay the process. And while President Trump was somehow convinced to keep his thoughts on the matter off Twitter on Saturday, the Trump team maintained its stance that Kavanaugh, not Ford, was the real victim in the ordeal:
Republican leaders and Trump administration officials had reportedly gotten frustrated with the failed attempts to accommodate Ford and her lawyers demands, as well as with the failed attempts to salvage Kavanaugh’s nomination. According to “one official close to the discussions” who spoke with the Times, however, there has been ongoing concern within the GOP about how Republican voters would respond to an attempt to push through Kavanaugh in spite of Ford’s allegation. On the other hand, there is also some anxiety over how voters and donors will respond if the GOP fails to confirm Kavanaugh and secure the ideological majority on the Supreme Court that the party has been chasing for decades.
Kavanaugh, meanwhile, spent much of last week at the White House preparing for his own testimony before the committee. The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the 53-year-old judge has, according to White House sources, practiced condemning sexual assault and avoiding the questioning of Ford’s credibility, though he “grew frustrated when it came to [mock] questions that dug into his private life, particularly his drinking habits and his sexual proclivities.”
This post has been updated throughout.