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Senate GOP makes counteroffer to Kavanaugh accuser with Friday deadline

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley (pictured), is giving Christine Blasey Ford attorney’s until the end Friday to work out terms of next week’s proposed hearing on her allegations against the Supreme Court nominee. | Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

UPDATE 1:33 p.m.:

The Senate Judiciary Committee is giving Christine Blasey Ford attorney’s until the end of the day Friday to work out terms of next week’s proposed hearing on Ford’s allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, according to a Republican senator.

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Senate GOP is offering to hold the hearing on Wednesday after Ford asked for a Thursday hearing and is meeting some of Ford’s requests but not others, the senator said.

“We’ll do it on Wednesday, we expect the accuser before the accused and we do intend to have the counsel do the questioning,” the senator said, summing up the Republicans’ stance. The party is OK with limiting the hearing to one camera as requested by Ford and has also “acquiesced” to Ford’s request that Kavanaugh not be in the same room as her, the senator said.

GOP members of the Judiciary Committee held a conference call on Friday morning to discuss how to respond to Ford’s requests on Thursday. And barring new revelations, the party plans to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination in Judiciary Committee shortly after hearing her testimony next week.

ORIGINAL STORY:

President Donald Trump and the GOP are hitting the panic button and launching into a heated defense of their Supreme Court nominee.

After a week of holding back, Trump disputed the credibility of Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh on Twitter on Friday. The comments panicked Republicans who had welcomed Trump’s restraint about a scandal that threatens to bring down his Supreme Court nominee, but they haven’t yet definitively soured the GOP on Kavanaugh.

Trump’s speculation about why Ford didn’t report her alleged high school-era assault if it “was as bad as she says” comes just hours after a close Kavanaugh ally sought to implicate another classmate of the nominee and Ford in the attack on her — a Kavanaugh exoneration theory hotly anticipated by the GOP that landed with a deafening thud.

The one-two punch of Trump and prominent conservative lawyer Ed Whelan’s unsuccessful attempts to undercut Ford and boost Kavanaugh leaves the GOP effort to confirm the 53-year-old appeals court judge in fresh peril. It caps a week of roller-coaster talks over whether his 51-year-old accuser, a California-based professor, will testify publicly.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) staff is in talks with Ford’s attorneys about a hearing sometime next week, but it’s not clear whether the GOP is ready to meet the conditions requested by her camp during a Thursday night call.

And Trump’s commentary may not help those negotiations with Ford’s camp.

“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents,” the president wrote on Twitter. “I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”

Trump had steered clear of passing judgment on Ford’s allegation all week, giving Judiciary Republicans political space to hear out Ford before pressing ahead, but then previewed his Friday morning line of attack on Thursday night.

“I don’t think you can delay it any longer. I think they have delayed it a week already,” Trump said of the committee’s confirmation process.

Republicans said that their party is now more likely to accommodate Ford’s attorney’s requests for testimony next week after the president’s broadside, given the lack of compassion it showed toward an alleged victim. She’s asked for one camera, subpoenas of other witnesses, to not be in the same room as Kavanaugh and to testify after him.

“The issue is that the compassion component Is now turned on its head because you have the president filling the airwaves with something that is not compassionate,” said a plugged-in former Republican leadership aide. “People will go out of their way now to be much more accommodating to unreasonable requests than they were yesterday.”

That Republican said he was still confident Kavanaugh will be confirmed but admitted it just became more challenging for GOP leaders: “It obviously makes their job more difficult, but I think they are capable of doing it.”

But a Republican close to the confirmation process described Trump’s comments as a necessary shift of tone to put the White House back on offense for Kavanaugh: “This is getting ridiculous. The president had to step in.”

Trump’s relatively low-key stance toward Ford’s allegations had helped the Senate GOP from facing questions about an often inconsistent president.

“He’s still been tweeting, but not about that,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas earlier this week. “I think he recognizes this is something the Senate has to work out. It’s not really something that he has that much control over at this point.”

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday sought to calm his party’s nerves amid Trump’s tweets.

“You’ve watched the fight, you’ve watched the tactics, but here’s what I want to tell you: In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will on the United States Supreme Court,” McConnell told conservatives gathered at a summit in Washington. “Keep the faith, don’t get rattled by all of this, we’re going to plow right through it and do our job.”

Trump also took to his favorite social media platform to torch Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for holding onto Ford’s July letter sharing her story “only to release it with a bang after the hearings were OVER – done very purposefully to Obstruct & Resist & Delay. Let her testify, or not, and TAKE THE VOTE!”

Feinstein has defended her decision to keep Ford’s letter from even her fellow Democrats until a media leak forced their hand on a referral to the FBI. She contended that she had no effective avenue to probe the allegation without violating Ford’s request for confidentiality. The FBI has added Ford’s letter to Kavanaugh’s background file but not opened any new investigation, much to Democrats’ frustration.

Adding to the drama, however, was the bid by the judge’s friend and influential conservative Whelan to clear Kavanaugh’s name. Whelan, president of the right-leaning Ethics and Public Policy Center, had heavily forecast new information about Ford’s allegation that emerged as a series of tweets trying to blame another man — who supports Kavanaugh — for the alleged assault.

The Senate GOP had been in touch with Whelan about his theory, and though they were unaware of the details there was some excitement that Kavanaugh’s name could be cleared this week. Whelan’s attempt backfired spectacularly and he sought to apologize for it on Friday.

“I was very surprised to see it happen the way it did. I thought there was like, you know, a plan,” said one Republican aide. “The timing and method of dispersing the information was way past underwhelming. Republicans had been looking to Whelan as a credible defender of Kavanaugh’s, given his central position in defending the president’s nominees and advocating for a more conservative court. People working to confirm Kavanaugh said Whelan’s credibility is now shot.

Democrats, for their part, see any potential hearing next week as an opportunity to get more details on whether Kavanaugh as well as other Senate Republican offices conferred in advance with Whelan on his misguided exoneration attempt.

But Kavanaugh’s defenders continued to support the nominee. More than 70 women who have known Kavanaugh at various points in his life crowded a stage at the JW Marriott in Washington on Friday, adamantly dismissing the allegations as contradictory to his character.

One of the women, Meghan McCaleb, said she would hang out with Kavanaugh nearly every weekend in high school and that Kavanaugh dated her sister and some of her closest friends. McCaleb said she tangentially knew Ford through mutual friends. Though McCaleb did not say Kavanaugh and Ford were never at a party together, she did say she never remembers being at party with Ford, who was in another social group.

Christopher Cadelago, Ramsen Shamon and Matthew Choi contributed to this report.

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