Kavanaugh calls allegations 'completely false'

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh released a statement in response to physical and sexual assault allegations dating back to the early 1980s.

Posted: Sep 18, 2018 6:31 AM
Updated: Sep 18, 2018 6:38 AM

It will be a public reckoning of a woman's courage, a man's character and the capacity of Washington's leaders to show that some things matter more than politics.

An extraordinary American moment is scheduled to unfold next Monday, when the accused, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and his accuser, California professor Christine Blasey Ford, are due to appear before a Senate committee to address accusations that he sexually assaulted her in the 1980s.

If it goes ahead as planned, the hearing will become a human drama that will be agonizing for Ford, as she reveals the most intimate, painful details of an alleged assault. It will be grueling for Kavanaugh, as he defends his reputation over an incident he is adamant never took place.

The showdown will be played for the highest political stakes -- and will decide whether Kavanaugh takes his place on the Supreme Court and cements the majority toward which the conservative movement has been working for decades.

It will be a vital moment for Donald Trump, whose ailing presidency cannot allow Kavanaugh to be the win that got away ahead of midterm elections that make next Monday's encounter even more politically significant.

The Supreme Court is an almost existential issue for the administration, since the promise of cementing a right-leaning majority was the glue that put the conservative coalition behind Trump in 2016.

Though the President has everything invested in the hearing, there's little he can do to influence an event that will help shape his own political legacy.

Given the acute political sensitivity of the hearing, the best thing he can do is maintain the discipline he showed Monday in speaking about the crisis that has enveloped Kavanaugh's candidacy. But that's a tough ask, given the President's propensity to lash out on Twitter when alone in the White House.

Republican leader Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, under heavy political pressure on his 85th birthday, scheduled what will likely be one of the most closely watched congressional hearings in years at the end of a day of political maneuvering and escalating ill feeling between the parties.

GOP leaders attempted to show they acknowledge the gravity of the allegations while trying to ensure they do not indefinitely delay or doom Kavanaugh's nomination.

"To provide ample transparency, we will hold a public hearing Monday to give these recent allegations a full airing," Judiciary Chairman Grassley said in a statement.

There was no immediate reaction from Ford's legal team. Democrats may yet try to force an investigation before the hearing.

Next Monday's committee meeting will recall the hearing during the contentious confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, when senators confronted attorney Anita Hill, who accused her former boss of sexual harassment.

There were signs on Monday that GOP leaders were learning the lessons of the Thomas hearings as they also gingerly navigated the politics of the #MeToo era.

Trump's own unusual reticence on Monday reflected the political stakes, and perhaps his own challenged credibility on the issue, given that he has denied accusations of sexual harassment by a number of women.

He mostly held his tongue, apparently following the televised advice from his counselor Kellyanne Conway on Fox News that Ford should not be insulted.

"If it takes a little delay, it'll take a little delay," said Trump at the White House.

A test of tone

The outcome of the hearing could hinge on how Ford and Kavanaugh are treated.

Republicans will be scrutinized for any sign that they are bullying Ford or not treating her with the utmost respect, despite the doubts many of them appear to have about her allegations.

The sight of 11 middle-aged and elderly men ganging up on a woman at the most exposed, vulnerable moment of her life would be a disaster for a party already in deep trouble with female voters.

But Democrats would also face a test of tone. Several potential 2020 presidential candidates -- including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey -- grilled Kavanaugh in his confirmation hearings earlier this month, and their questions may be rougher still in the new context.

One CNN commentator, the conservative author Amanda Carpenter, suggested both sides could benefit from asking legal professionals to conduct their questioning.

If the hearing does take place, it will represent a fearsome test for Ford and Kavanaugh.

Ford will walk out in front of the American people for the first time to discuss an alleged episode that she has said caused her to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and that she revealed in couples' therapy years later.

By coming forward, after initially making her accusations anonymously, Ford has walked into a political firestorm. Every aspect of her life, from her romantic history and her mental health to her character, is certain to be scrutinized by activists who support Kavanaugh. CNN's MJ Lee reported on Monday that the Ford family has already left their home to avoid media scrutiny.

Ford may never know true privacy again.

But if she repeats the story she told The Washington Post on Sunday, of an assault in which she alleged a drunken Kavanaugh forced himself upon her at a house party for high school kids and tried to rip off her clothes, it will be a deeply harrowing moment for her, and it could affect the course of history.

Kavanaugh spent all day Monday at the White House, battling to keep his confirmation hopes alive.

A source who knows him well told CNN's Ariane de Vogue that the judge was absolutely "flabbergasted" at the accusations. Kavanaugh repeated his categorical denial that he had ever treated Ford -- or any other woman -- in such a way.

"Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday," Kavanaugh said in a new statement issued by the White House.

Ultimately, he must convince two Republicans who were already seen as possible votes against him, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

"Obviously, if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened that would be disqualifying," Collins said Monday, but added that she had spoken to the judge on the phone Friday and he had emphatically denied the allegations.

Nervous time for the White House

The week before the scheduled hearing will be a fraught period that will see investigative journalists scan the backgrounds of the two protagonists. So more revelations could arise.

That is one reason why the White House finds itself at a disadvantage as it tries to shield a nomination that had appeared to be a glide path to confirmation.

It is hard to overstate how much the Kavanaugh pick means to Trump.

A source told CNN's Jim Acosta on Monday that the court is the "one issue" conservatives have entrusted to the president.

"They put up with all the other character flaws for the sake of the high court," the source said.

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