Pres. Trump says we'll make decision if Kavanaugh accuser credible

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who accuses him of sexually assaulting her decades ago (all times local):

Kavanaugh accuser Christine Ford willing to testify before Senate / Photo: PBS / Photo: researchgate.net / (MGN)

3:35 p.m.

A Democratic senator who is undecided on whether to confirm Brett Kavanaugh says the process for handling Christine Blasey Ford's sexual assault allegation against the Supreme Court nominee has "gone off the rails."

Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama said Wednesday that "it's unreasonable" for the Senate Judiciary Committee to "force her hand without doing the appropriate investigation."

Kavanaugh denies Ford's accusation that he assaulted her decades ago when they were teens. Both Kavanaugh and Ford were called to testify before the committee on Monday, but Ford says she wants an FBI investigation first.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa says an FBI investigation isn't needed. He says the committee's investigation of Ford's claim is sufficient.

But Jones says the FBI is well-equipped to conduct a quick investigation and interview potential witnesses.

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1:45 p.m.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is offering in a letter to lawyers for Brett Kavanaugh's accuser to have his panel's investigators interview her wherever she wants.

That includes having aides interview Christine Blasey Ford in California, where she lives, according to a person speaking anonymously because they weren't authorized to discuss the plans publicly.

Chairman Chuck Grassley is also setting deadlines. His letter to Ford's lawyers says his committee's hearing on her allegations of sexual abuse will begin Monday morning. He says if she intends to testify, she must submit written testimony by Friday morning.

Ford has said she wants the FBI to investigate her accusation before she would testify.

Grassley writes that his panel "cannot commandeer an Executive Branch agency" and ask them to do more work.

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12:10 p.m.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley says the FBI does not need to look into the sexual-assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh because Republicans are conducting their own investigation.

California college professor Christine Blasey Ford wants the FBI to investigate her claim Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were teenagers, something Kavanaugh denies. Ford says the investigation should happen before a Monday hearing at which she and Kavanaugh are invited to testify.

Grassley rejected that idea Wednesday. The Iowa senator says "no other outside investigation is necessary."

President Donald Trump also has refused to get the FBI involved.

Republican staffers on the Judiciary panel have interviewed Kavanaugh and sought an interview with Ford. Grassley didn't provide further details on their investigation.

Committee Democrats have not participated and want FBI involvement.

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President Donald Trump said Wednesday the White House and Republican supporters of Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination would have to "make a decision" on going forward if the woman accusing him of a long-ago sexual assault delivers a compelling account to senators considering confirmation.

But amid uncertainty over Kavanaugh's fate and even whether next Monday's scheduled hearing would occur, Trump cast fresh doubt on whether the alleged 1980s attack even happened.

"Look, if she shows up and makes a credible showing that'll be very interesting," Trump told reporters as he left the White House to survey flood damage in North Carolina. "We'll have to make a decision. But I can only say this: He is such an outstanding man. Very hard for me to imagine that anything happened."

Republicans have set a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Monday that is supposed to feature Kavanaugh and his accuser, California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford. Backed by Democrats, Ford has said she wants the FBI to first investigate the alleged incident, in which she says Kavanaugh pinned her on a bed and tried taking off her clothes during a high school party.

Only the White House can order the FBI to get involved, since Ford is not accusing Kavanaugh of a federal crime. The FBI could interview Ford, Kavanaugh and others about the allegation if Trump asked the bureau to reopen its background investigation, but the president has rejected that idea, saying the FBI has already done its work.

The FBI was involved originally since it handles part of the background checks for presidential nominations of Supreme Court justices.

Republicans are hoping to win committee and full Senate approval for Kavanaugh this month, before the new Supreme Court session begins, and have shown no taste for slowing that process. A substantial delay could push confirmation past the November elections — when Democrats have a shot at winning Senate control — plus allow more time for unforeseen problems to pop up.

"I'd really want to see her. I really would want to see what she has to say," Trump said Wednesday. "If she shows up that would be wonderful. If she doesn't show up that would be unfortunate."

While most Republicans have expressed support for Kavanaugh, they've largely been careful to not criticize Ford's assertions about what she says happened. That underscores a desire to avoid antagonizing female voters at a time when the #MeToo movement has made sexual abuse a major political dynamic.

Signaling that the GOP remained determined to move ahead, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., accused Democrats of using their calls for an FBI investigation as a ploy.

Those demands are "not about finding the truth, but delaying the process until after the midterm elections," Graham, a Judiciary panel member, said in a statement. "It is imperative the Judiciary Committee move forward on the Kavanaugh nomination and a committee vote be taken as soon as possible."

One other witness the Democrats want to hear from is Kavanaugh's high school friend Mark Judge, who Ford said was in the room when she was assaulted. Kavanaugh has denied Ford's allegation, and Judge says he doesn't remember any such thing. Judge says he won't appear before the committee.

Late Tuesday, Ford's attorneys wrote to the Judiciary Committee that she wants to cooperate. But in the days since she publicly accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her at a party 35 years ago, the lawyers said, she has been the target of "vicious harassment and even death threats." Her family has relocated, they said.

An FBI investigation "should be the first step in addressing the allegations," the lawyers wrote.

In the Senate, the issue of when and if Ford might testify has ignited a furor, especially among Democratic women. Democrats in general are complaining that the process is being rushed, but some women are seeing a deeper — and possibly insidious — narrative, especially if Republicans go ahead with Monday's hearing without Ford.

"I think we all know when a situation is stacked," Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, told CNN on Wednesday. "This is a situation that is stacked. ... She's already been attacked, had to move out of her house."

In a tweet Tuesday night, Trump wrote: "The Supreme Court is one of the main reasons I got elected President. I hope Republican voters, and others, are watching, and studying, the Democrats Playbook."

Republicans say Ford will have one chance to testify, and one chance only.

"Monday is her opportunity," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. McConnell expressed confidence that Kavanaugh would be confirmed: "I'm not concerned about tanking the nomination."

The GOP chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said an FBI investigation wouldn't have bearing on Ford's testimony so "there is no reason for further delay."

Grassley said the committee offered Ford "the opportunity to share her story" in a public or a private hearing, or staff interviews, "whichever makes her most comfortable. The invitation for Monday still stands."

The furious jockeying over Ford's testimony underscores the political potency so close to an election that will decide control of the House and the Senate, not to mention the confirmation of a conservative justice likely to serve on the high court for decades.

Democrats complain that Ford was not consulted before the hearing was announced. They also want more witnesses besides Kavanaugh and Ford, hoping to avoid what they said would turn into merely a "he-said-she-said" moment.

Anita Hill, whose allegation Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her prompted a similar hearing in 1991, told ABC on Wednesday that the Judiciary Committee could be holding "just a sham proceeding" next week without the FBI investigation Ford wants. Thomas denied Hill's account and was confirmed to the Supreme Court.

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, told MSNBC on Tuesday that the White House should request an FBI investigation of the sexual-assault accusation and any refusal to do so by Republicans would amount to rushing to confirm him.

Clinton said that makes it difficult to "avoid the appearance of insult" against Ford.

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Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick, Juliet Linderman and Catherine Lucey contributed from Washington.



 
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