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OUR VIEW

Senate should agree to Ford's conditions for testifying

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

After bottling up his real feelings about Christine Blasey Ford and her 36-year-old allegations of sexual assault against his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, for nearly a week, President Trump decided Friday he just couldn’t bite his tongue and hide his anger and annoyance any longer.

In a series of tweets, the president dropped what had been his up-to-now civil tone and took direct aim at Ford, calling her out by name, questioning her truthfulness and then blaming Democrats for concocting the controversy to destroy Kavanaugh’s reputation and block his confirmation to the highest court in the land.

Trump tweeted Friday that “if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says,” she and her “loving family” would have brought charges against Kavanaugh at the time they allegedly happened, in 1982. Trump went on to claim Kavanaugh “is under assault by radical left wing politicians who don’t want to know the answers” but instead “just want to destroy and delay.” He claimed “facts don’t matter” to these politicians.

Of course it’s rich for Trump — almost certainly the most fact-challenged president in modern times — to claim that “facts don’t matter” to those seeking to find out the truth about what happened at a teen house party in Maryland more than 30 years ago between the then-15-year-old Ford and the then-17-year-old Kavanaugh. Ford, now a college psychology professor, claimed in a Washington Post interview a week ago that during the party, an inebriated Kavanaugh forced her onto a bed, forcibly tried to remove her clothing and held his hand over her mouth to try and prevent her from screaming. She managed to escape the assault, but didn’t report it at the time.

Trump’s claim that facts don’t matter is also rich given his own refusal to ask the FBI to reopen its background investigation into Kavanaugh to vet Ford’s charges — something he clearly could do if it were facts he was after. Many have pointed out the precedent set in 1991 for reopening a Supreme Court nominee’s background check when Anita Hill made her allegations of sexual misconduct against then court-nominee Clarence Thomas. It took only about three days for the FBI to investigate Hill’s claims against Thomas prior to her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

One would think Kavanaugh, who has denied Ford’s claims and claims the assault never happened, would be urging Trump to reopen the FBI probe. If he really wants to clear his name, as he has claimed, he would do this. He has not, however.

Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he plans to hold a hearing on Ford’s claims on Monday. However, it was not clear Ford would agree to attend a hearing then. According to her attorney, she would agree to attend a hearing if Grassley’s committee held one on Thursday. Ford’s attorney was also negotiating at week’s end other terms of her appearance, including her request that she be allowed to testify first; that Kavanaugh not be in the room when she testifies; and that Ford not be questioned by an outside counsel but instead by senators themselves. It was not clear late Friday which, if any, of Ford’s conditions would be agreed to.

Grassley, who claims he “remains committed to providing a fair forum” for both Kavanaugh and Ford, should agree to all of Ford’s conditions, including the one not to use outside counsel to ask Ford and Kavanaugh questions. Bringing in one will make Ford’s and Kavanaugh’s appearances before the committee less a fact-finding mission and more of a trial.

Ford’s allegations clearly have upset what had seemed like Kavanaugh’s smooth glide path to confirmation to the Supreme Court. Recognizing that, Trump and Senate Republicans have claimed that Democrats’ only motivation for supporting Ford is their desire to delay that confirmation.

What we can’t understand are Trump and Senate Republicans’ annoyance with any delay in Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote. If they are as comfortable with his nomination as they claim, they should be willing to hear out both Kavanugh and Ford next Thursday and examine any other evidence that arises before taking a vote. This is after all a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

Also, this is the same group that declined to hold any hearing at all on President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. Senate Republicans delayed voting on filling the court vacancy Garland was nominated for for more than a year — until after Trump was elected and could make his appointment. Surely they can wait a week to find out whether the person they’re being asked to elevate to the nation’s highest court committed a serious crime in his past.

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