The impasse is broken — sort of.
After days of communicating through sternly worded letters and media appearances, all the relevant parties — Debra Katz, the lawyer representing Christine Blasey Ford who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, and both the majority and minority staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee — are now negotiating the details of a public hearing.
Congressional aides briefed on the process say there is still a lot of detail to iron out, but all agree that after last night’s call between the parties, a hearing next week is more than likely.
Bottom line: Keen observers this week have predicted this was coming — that much of what we were seeing, the back and forth, the letters, the silence at times, was part of an overall strategy to set the best terms for each side.
That appears to be the case. Nothing is set yet — and nothing will be set until Senate Judiciary Chairman, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, gets sign off from the other 10 Republicans on the committee. But all signals are pointing to a hearing in the latter half of next week.
The conditions — and where they stand
These are the key conditions laid out by Katz, per multiple sources with direct knowledge, or briefed on, the call last night. Of note: those sources said they didn’t view all as red lines — just a few. That is why most believe they are on the road to the hearing.
- The hearing cannot be on Monday. That’s not negotiable and is a red line. Katz proposed this Thursday; it’s possible, but not by any means set at this point.
- Ford will not ever be in the same room as Kavanaugh. This also wasn’t negotiable, but it’s not a huge ask — witnesses can be separated and enter/leave at different times. It’s not an extraordinary request.
- Safety. This was the other key non-negotiable. Ford must be made to feel safe, which, given the threats that Katz laid out that have been directed toward Ford since this was all made public, is understood by all parties.
- Kavanaugh must testify first, before Ford. This, according to congressional aides, is a non-starter. It’s not how the committee works, and given Kavanaugh would need to respond to Ford’s testimony, will not occur.
- No outside counsel to ask questions. Republicans on the committee agreed to hire outside counsel — a woman, with experience on these issues — to ask the bulk of the questions at the hearing. This is due to both optics (all 11 GOP members are men) and order (concern that the hearing would be deemed too quickly a political circus). Katz said this would make the hearing appear too much like a trial. This wasn’t viewed as a red line by Republicans, according to the sources, and wasn’t agreed to. It will be discussed amongst committee members and staff.
- The possibility of a subpoena for Kavanaugh friend Mark Judge, who Ford alleged in her letter was also in the room at the time of the alleged assault. This is a non-starter for Republicans, who are firmly against allowing anyone outside the committee dictate who or what to subpoena.
The FBI investigation request
It was made clear that it is still the preference of Ford and her legal team that the White House order an expanded background investigation. Republicans have not — and don’t plan to — agree to that, countering that their staff has been doing that work the last few days. Sources familiar with the call didn’t view the request as any sort of red line — just a preference. One that, at this point, won’t be accepted.
Where that leaves things: Republicans — after consultations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, and committee members and staff — will respond with a counter proposal at some point Friday. No commitments were made Thursday night. Sources tell CNN that GOP staff was “in listening mode” — but plan to respond.
Will the hearing happen? Looks that way, but sources caution there could be several more turns in this process.
How Republicans feel about Kavanaugh
His denials have been unequivocal. He has already been preparing for days. He accepted the hearing invitation shortly after he received it, and reiterated that acceptance last night in another letter to Grassley.
That said, several Republican aides noted the sheer number of unknowns that come with a public. They acknowledge this is a hurdle to confirmation, which was all but assured before the allegations, and looked on track had Ford and her lawyers not come to the table on the hearing. How big is the hurdle? Depends entirely on the hearing itself, should it go forward, and most importantly, how key GOP members (think moderate Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska off the committee, and retiring Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who sits on the committee.)
Nothing will inflame, well, everything — the politics, the opposition, the negotiations — like President Donald Trump getting involved via 280 characters, as he did Friday morning.
“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. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!” Trump tweeted.
If this is a sign of a shift on his end, that’s a new potential problem. But we’ll see.