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GOP hires female attorney to question Kavanaugh accuser

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley told Christine Blasey Ford that he is “committed to fair and respectful treatment of you” during Thursday’s make-or-break hearing on her claim against Kavanaugh. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senate Republicans have hired an attorney to use as a questioner of Christine Blasey Ford at Thursday’s high-stakes hearing on sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh but are declining to name her.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told POLITICO on Tuesday as he entered the Capitol for a weekly GOP meeting that “we aren’t announcing the name for her safety.” Asked if Republicans have received any indication of threats to the attorney they’re preparing to use, Grassley said: “I don’t know, but I guess we’re just being cautious.”

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Grassley responded Monday to a personal letter he received from Ford over the weekend in which she vowed that “fear will not hold me back from testifying,” Grassley told the 51-year-old California-based professor that he is “committed to fair and respectful treatment of you” during Thursday’s make-or-break hearing on her claim against Kavanaugh.

Although Ford’s attorney wrote to Grassley on Monday night that his staff “still has not responded to a number of outstanding questions” about the hearing, including more details on how the female attorney would be engaged to speak on behalf of Judiciary Republicans’ all-male roster, the Iowan made clear that he views the hearing as locked in.

Heeding Ford’s desire to avoid a “circus-like environment,” Grassley said, he has agreed to limit the press presence in the hearing room and give her security protection through the Capitol Police. “I don’t know what else we can do,” Grassley said, adding that “I don’t know of any problem” remaining.

GOP leaders signaled on Tuesday that the Senate may stay in session over the weekend to confirm Kavanaugh quickly. The new Supreme Court term starts on Oct. 1

“There’s no reason to delay this more, unless something new comes out of the hearing on Thursday,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas. “As you can tell, people are coming out of the woodwork making incredible, uncorroborated allegations and i think you can just expect that kind of nonsense to continue.”

Their comments come as President Donald Trump and White House officials launched a blistering attack on Democrats over the misconduct claims against Kavanaugh, calling them a “con game.”

President Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh

Trump and Senate Republicans have lambasted Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, for not coming forward sooner with the allegation made by Christine Blasey Ford against Kavanaugh. Feinstein knew of Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her back in July, yet Republicans say they were not told of the accusation until it was reported in the press two months later.

Now, with Ford set to appear before the Judiciary Committee this week, Trump on Tuesday mocked claims by a second Kavanaugh accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who told the New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself while they were both students at Yale University more than 30 years ago.

During an appearance at the United Nations General Assembly with Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez, Trump launched into a defense of Kavanaugh and called the allegations against him “unsubstantiated.

“Charges come up from 36 years ago that are totally unsubstantiated? I mean, you as watching this, as the president of a great country – Colombia – you must say, ‘How is this possible?’ Thirty-six years ago? Nobody ever knew about it? Nobody ever heard about it? And now a new charge comes up,” Trump said.

“And [Ramirez] said well it might not be him and there were gaps and she said she was totally inebriated and she was all messed up. And she doesn’t know it was him, but it might’ve been him. ‘Oh gee, let’s not make him a Supreme Court judge because of that.’ This is a con-game being played by the Democrats.”

With Kavanaugh’s nomination in trouble, the White House P.R. offensive is designed to shift the blame for the Kavanaugh debacle onto Democrats while trying to shore up GOP support. Yet right now, Kavanaugh doesn’t have the votes to be confirmed, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the White House know full well.

“Both families have been drug through the mud when they didn’t have to be because Dianne Feinstein could have done this in a much structured process and instead waited until the 11th hour and is playing political games with people’s lives,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of Ford and Kavanaugh during a Tuesday appearance on “Good Morning America.”

Sanders singled out Feinstein for harsh criticism, blaming the California Democrat for the entire controversy. “I find that to be disgraceful and disgusting, and she certainly needs to shoulder a lot of the blame for what’s going on right now,” she said. Sanders’ comments followed a tweet by Trump on Monday night rejecting claims of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh brought by Ford and Ramirez.

But despite Trump’s tweet, Sanders said the White House is open to Ramirez testifying. Senate Republicans have said they will determine the witnesses and said repeatedly they would limit it to Ford and Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh himself gave an extraordinary interview to Fox News on Monday night, an unprecedented move for a nominee still under consideration by the Senate.

Yet with his selection for the nation’s highest court in serious trouble, the White House banked that Kavanaugh’s appearance could help rally conservatives to his cause. Feinstein, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats have countered the GOP push on Kavanaugh by demanding the White House should allow the FBI to investigate Ford’s allegations, which the Trump administration has refused to agree to.

The FBI has also said it has completed its background investigation of Kavanaugh and has no further role in this nomination fight.

“There is one simple way to get to the bottom of this, without the he-said, she-said, without the finger-pointing and name-calling: a quiet, serious, thorough background check by the FBI. That’s the logical way to go,” Schumer said on Monday. “The FBI is not biased. The FBI is professional. It’s a crime to lie to them so people have a large incentive to tell the truth.”

With the partisan attacks from party leaders continuing — and likely to get even more pointed as Thursday’s hearing gets closer — key questions about Ford’s appearance still remain, with the identity of the GOP’s outside questioner chief among them. The use of that outside counsel or staffer to ask questions of Ford and Kavanaugh won’t preclude GOP lawmakers from also asking questions, Republicans have said.

On Tuesday morning, Democrats said they hoped to find out what the rules of the hearing on Thursday will be, including how long they would be allowed to question Ford and Kavanaugh. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) decried the secrecy shrouding the GOP’s use of an outside or staff attorney as part of the majority’s “stonewalling.”

Democrats said they were unsure whether they would have as few as five minutes to ask questions or as many as 20. And some are still running down new leads about Kavanaugh as they prepare for the landmark hearing.

“We got a phone call yesterday morning, ‘there’s another hot tip’. We’re trying to be careful. So you basically say: We need more before we consider it credible,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Ford attorney Michael Bromwich wrote in his Monday night letter to Grassley that the hearing “is not a criminal trial for which the involvement of an experienced sex crimes prosecutor would be appropriate.”

“Neither Dr. Blasey Ford nor Judge Kavanaugh is on trial. The goal should be to develop the relevant facts, not try a case,” Bromwich wrote, demanding an opportunity for Ford’s legal team to meet with the unknown attorney on Tuesday.

With all that jockeying going on around Thursday’s hearing, Senate Republicans have quietly begun to game out how soon there could be a floor vote on Kavanaugh — if it actually happens. The earliest that confirmation vote on Kavanaugh could take place would be Tuesday of next week, according to GOP lawmakers and aides. That would require the Senate to stay in session over the weekend. Otherwise, the vote would slip to later in the week.

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