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Senate Sets Hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, Accuser Christine Blasey Ford

WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Monday to hear testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, the college professor who came forward with accusations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.

Kavanaugh also will testify, setting up a dramatic moment in his confirmation process that has drawn comparisons to the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings in 1991.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that “anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has done deserves to be heard.”

The White House issued a statement on Monday afternoon, saying that “Judge Kavanaugh looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation. He stands ready to testify tomorrow if the Senate is ready to hear him.”

Earlier in the day, President Donald Trump praised Kavanaugh as “one of the finest people that anybody has known” and a person who “never even had a little blemish on his record.” But he said that the Senate “will go through a process and hear everyone out.”

Ford came forward on Sunday with her claim that a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her down, groped her and attempted to take off her clothes at a party around 1982. Her attorney, Debra Katz, said on Monday that her client considers the incident an attempted rape, and that she would be willing to testify.

The new hearing delays a planned Judiciary Committee vote on Thursday on Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The full Senate was expected to take up his nomination next week.

The situation has parallels to the confirmation process for Clarence Thomas, who in 1991 seemed to be on his way to confirmation until Anita Hill, who worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Education, accused him of sexual harassment. The Judiciary Committee re-opened hearings to hear from her and Thomas, an event that riveted the country and drew huge TV audiences.

Thomas was confirmed, but the hearings had huge political ramifications. The next year, a record number of women were elected to the Senate, after a backlash over the treatment that Hill faced before an all-male panel of senators.

Taking place in the midst of the MeToo and Time’s Up movements and just weeks before the midterms, the Judiciary Committee hearing will be closely scrutinized, not just for what Kavanaugh and Ford say, but in the way that the senators handle the allegations.

The Judiciary Committee held four days of confirmation hearings earlier this month, over the objections of Democrats who said that the process was rushed, and despite protests from hundreds of demonstrators in and out of the hearing room. Still, Kavanaugh emerged from the hearings with the sense that his confirmation was all but assured.

But that changed on Thursday, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced that she had referred a letter to the FBI, in which an allegation had been made against Kavanaugh. Details of the nature of the allegation quickly leaked, and Ford said that she decided to come forward to The Washington Post after receiving inquiries from media outlets.

She had initially contacted the Post’s tip line in July, as Kavanaugh was still being considered among other potential nominees. She also met with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) to tell her about the allegations, and later wrote a letter that Eshoo forwarded to Feinstein’s office.

Grassley and other Republicans on Monday complained that Feinstein had withheld the letter until now.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that  “now an accusation of 36-year-old misconduct dating back to high school has been brought forward at the last minute in an irregular manner. It is an accusation of which Judge Kavanaugh has completely and unequivocally denied.”

Some key Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), urged the committee to schedule another hearing. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), a member of the Judiciary Committee, on Sunday said that he would not vote for the nomination until they heard from Ford.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), another member of the committee, said that the FBI needed to investigate the allegations first.

“If we fail to do it before the hearing, we are going to be shooting in the dark,” Blumenthal told MSNBC.

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