LATEST: Why the Kavanaugh allegations come at the worst possible time for Republicans

A woman is accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of assaulting her when they were in high school in the early 1980s, according to a source familiar with the allegations, which were relayed in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein earlier this summer.

(CNN) — The decision by Christine Blasey Ford to reveal her identity, days after reports that an anonymous woman had alleged she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in high school, is a total game-changer, not just for Kavanaugh’s chances of making it to the nation’s highest court but also for Republicans looking for some way — any way — to preserve their congressional majorities in exactly 50 days’ time.

Until Sunday, when Ford, a college professor in California, went public with her identity in an interview in The Washington Post, the White House and congressional Republicans seemed convinced the then-anonymous allegations were simply a final bump on the road to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Not ideal, obviously, given the #MeToo moment in our broader culture, but survivable for sure.

Then Ford came forward. And the story she told — Kavanaugh, while in high school at Georgetown Preparatory School and “stumbling drunk,” had forced himself on her and tried to take off her swimsuit. She said that she first told someone of the incident, which happened in the early 1980s, in couples’ therapy in 2012. Notes from the therapist obtained by the Post show that Ford mentioned an incident with boys from “from an elitist boys’ school,” but do not single out Kavanaugh by name. Ford’s husband, Russell, confirmed that his wife had told him of the alleged attack in 2012.

Then came the news Monday morning — via Ford’s attorney — that she would be willing to not only testify before the Judiciary Committee but to do so publicly. And the floodgates opened.

Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), both of whom are retiring and neither of whom is a big fan of President Donald Trump, insisted that no vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation could happen unless and until the Senate Judiciary Committee got a chance to hear from Ford directly. Within hours, critical moderates Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) were expressing their own concerns about their party pushing forward on a planned Thursday vote to get Kavanaugh out of committee. “Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh should both testify under oath before the Judiciary Committee,” tweeted Collins just after noon on Monday.

Suddenly Kavanaugh, who had released a terse statement on Friday in which he “categorically and unequivocally” denied Ford’s account, was revamping that statement. Considerably. Here’s what he said on Monday:

“This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday. I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.”

What happened here is simple: Ford called Republicans’ bluff. As an anonymous accuser, her allegations weren’t going to change Kavanaugh’s glide path to the Supreme Court. As a named accuser, she complicated that path. As a named accuser who has now expressed a willingness to tell her story — and in public — there is no longer a clear path to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. (That’s not to say he can’t make it. It is to say that there is no clear path by which he makes it.)

The reason Kavanaugh’s path is now so fraught is a unique combination of the moment in which we are currently living, the man in the White House and the onrushing midterm elections. Let’s go through each one.

The #MeToo moment

The story of powerful men abusing their positions to intimidate, assault and, in some cases, rape women is the dominant cultural narrative of 2018. From Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey to Les Moonves to Matt Lauerto John Conyers, a cavalcade of some of the most powerful people in media, entertainment and politics have been exposed for their inappropriate actions around women. Now we are talking about a public allegation of sexual assault directed at someone who is on the doorstep of securing a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court. Simply saying — as the White House and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley have tried to over the past 96 hours — that the allegations made no difference in the planned committee vote on Kavanaugh is simply untenable in this climate. Grassley bowed to that reality Monday afternoon, releasing a statement that said in part: “Anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has deserves to be heard, so I will continue working on a way to hear her out in an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner.”

Kellyanne Conway also acknowledged the reality, saying Monday, “She should not be ignored or insulted, she should be heard.”

Donald Trump

When Trump won the 2016 election, more than a dozen women had made allegations against him ranging from forcible groping to sexual assault. (Trump denied all of the allegations and pledged that he would sue each and every one of the women for defamation; he has brought a total of zero of those cases to date.) In the final weeks of that campaign, a tape made during a Trump appearance on “Access Hollywood” in the 2000s was released. In the tape, Trump can be heard telling “Access” host Billy Bush that “when you’re a star,” women let you do anything to them. Trump apologized for the comments in the moment, insisting it was “locker room talk.” Within the past year, Trump has raised questions about the authenticity of his voice on the tape. Then there’s this: Longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has told authorities that at Trump’s direction, he coordinated hush payments — to a porn star and a former Playboy Playmate — in order to keep their stories of alleged affairs with Trump from going public in the course of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The midterms

Kavanaugh’s confirmation was, until Sunday afternoon, going to be a major talking point for Republican candidates to rev up their base. “We got two conservatives on the court!” Now that argument is either moot or a political negative. Sure, there are likely some within the GOP who believe that Ford’s allegations are nothing more than Democrats saying and doing absolutely anything to thwart Trump. But poll after poll suggests that Trump is deeply unpopular nationally — just 36% approved of the job he was doing in CNN’s newest poll. Even more troubling for Republicans is that just 28% of women approved of the job Trump is doing in office while 64% disapproved. Even more troubling than that? (Yes, it gets worse). Fully 57% of women said they disapproved strongly of the job Trump is doing. In an election that Republicans are beginning to acknowledge will be a referendum on Trump, numbers like those were already bad. To throw this Kavanaugh bomb into the middle of all of that presents the possibility of historically large losses for Republicans if this whole thing is perceived by the public as being mishandled or handled callously.

Republicans have already begun to move on the Ford accusations. The combination of Collin’s tweet and Grassley’s statement means that it is now a near-certainty that both Ford and Kavanaugh will testify about this incident — perhaps as soon as this week. Where it goes from there is anyone’s guess, but remember that time is not Republicans’ friend here. The longer the Ford accusation stays in the news, the more likely it is to impact the midterms. And if Kavanaugh’s confirmation is either postponed or scrapped entirely, it raises the very real prospect that the Supreme Court stays open through the election, opening up the possibility that Democrats retake the Senate in 50 days’ time and force Trump to nominate someone more to their liking.

In short: This is a massive moment in Washington politics — with legal and political implications that could long outlast the Trump presidency.


(CNN) — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman accusing him of physical and sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, said Monday that they would be willing to testify to Congress about the allegations.

The comments come as Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, one of the key swing on the nomination, said that she wanted both Kavanaugh and Ford to testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Taken together, the statements allow for the possibility that the Senate Judiciary Committee would receive dueling testimony about the alleged incident decades ago, which could threaten President Donald Trump’s attempt to install a conservative in the place of frequent swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, potentially altering the balance of the court for a generation.

The committee’s chairman, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, said he wants to hear from Ford as well.

“Anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has deserves to be heard, so I will continue working on a way to hear her out in an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner,” Grassley said.

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

The committee’s 10 Democratic members want to delay delay the planned vote and allow for an FBI investigation before the panel moves forward. Senate Republicans hold a 51-49 majority and cannot afford two or more Republicans voting against Kavanaugh’s nomination unless they pick up votes from Democrats.

In a statement on Monday, Kavanaugh called the allegation by Ford, who is a college professor, “completely false.”

“I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone,” Kavanaugh said. “Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday. I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.”

Kavanaugh’s statement came shortly after Ford said through her attorney that she would be willing to speak with Congress to tell her side of the story.

Kavanaugh was seen Monday morning arriving at the White House, which has stood by the judge in the face of the accusations. The 53-year-old judge was there to meet with the White House legal team to prepare for potential interviews or questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, a source familiar with the matter said.

Trump and Kavanaugh were not scheduled to meet while the judge was at the White House on Monday, two officials said.

According to multiple sources, Kavanaugh has hired Beth Wilkinson, of the law firm Wilkinson Walsh and Eskovitz, to be his attorney. Wilkinson has not returned calls from CNN seeking comment.

Accuser’s decision to go public

Ford went public with her allegation in an article published by The Washington Post on Sunday. In the article, she alleged that at a party during their high school years, Kavanaugh pushed her into a bedroom along with his friend Mark Judge, attempted to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream.

Judge denied the allegation in an interview with The Weekly Standard on Friday.

While Ford initially sought to keep her allegation confidential, she said she opted to go public once the allegation emerged in the public eye and reporters began pursuing her. Her attorney, Debra Katz, told CNN on Monday morning that Ford would be willing to testify before Congress and stood by her story in the face of expected push-back.

Katz described Ford’s recollection of the incident in stark terms, going as far as saying her client considered it an attempted rape.

“She believes that but for his inebriation and his inability to take her clothes off, he would have raped her,” Katz said.

Calls for delay

Ford’s decision to go public prompted some key senators to voice support for a delay in Kavanaugh’s nomination process, which is scheduled to be voted on in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

On Sunday evening, a pair of outgoing Republican senators said outright that the Senate Judiciary Committee should not vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination until they talk to his accuser.

“I’ve made it clear that I’m not comfortable moving ahead with the vote on Thursday if we have not heard her side of the story or explored this further,” Arizona’s Jeff Flake, a member of the committee, told the Post.

Bob Corker also believes Kavanaugh’s accuser should be heard out before the Judiciary Committee votes on his nomination, the Tennessee senator’s spokesperson, Micah Johnson, said in a statement to CNN. Corker, however, does not sit on the panel.

While some Republican senators, such as Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Flake, are concerned with process, one source said that doesn’t necessarily mean a long delay — and the concern is that a long delay is what Democrats are pushing for.

One supporter of Kavanaugh also pushed back on some reporting that the White House or Republicans would deploy any aggressive attack, calling it “infuriating.”

White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters Monday that Ford “should not be ignored or insulted; she should be heard,” adding that Ford should also testify under oath on Capitol Hill.


(CNN) — The future of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination is in question after a woman went public over the weekend with accusations that the 53-year-old federal judge physically and sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school.

Kavanaugh said in a statement Monday that the allegation was “completely false” and he would be willing to speak with lawmakers to refute it.

Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate, meaning they can afford to lose only one of their own if every Democrat ends up voting against Kavanaugh (if it becomes 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence could step in and cast the tie-breaking vote).

Before the recent allegations, a few red-state Democrats had indicated openness to supporting Kavanaugh. At least three of them — Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — are calling for the Judiciary Committee to investigate the allegations further.

Republican leaders in the Senate appear to be steadfast in continuing with the nomination process. Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa said in a statement Monday that he’s working to set up phone calls with Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.

For now, all eyes are on the moves of a few key Republican senators.

Here’s where they stand:

Sen. Susan Collins

A moderate Republican from Maine, Collins is often a closely watched senator on key votes, especially after she lined up with GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona to sink their party’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year.

Collins tweeted Monday that Ford and Kavanaugh “should both testify under oath before the Judiciary Committee.”

Her comments add pressure to Republicans on the committee, which she is not on, who are deciding how to navigate the increasing calls for Kavanaugh to answer more questions.

Collins met with Kavanaugh on Friday after reports emerged about a woman accusing him of sexual assault at a party when they were teenagers. At that point, Ford had not gone public with her allegations, only sending a letter earlier this summer to her congresswoman, Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, who then gave the letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Over the weekend, however, Ford did an interview with The Washington Post, revealing herself and describing her experience in more detail.

Collins said she had read the letter last week and asked Kavanaugh about it in their meeting on Friday. While he denied committing assault, as he’s done publicly, Collins said he “was very emphatic” in their conversation.

Asked by CNN on Sunday whether she believed Ford’s account in The Post, Collins said she “was very surprised” by the report but added, “I don’t know enough to create the judgment at this point.”

Collins, in an interview Sunday night with The New York Times, echoed the refrain by some other Republicans and questioned why Democrats waited to discuss the letter until after Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

“What is puzzling to me is the Democrats, by not bringing this out earlier, after having had this information for more than six weeks, have managed to cast a cloud of doubt on both the professor and the judge,” she said. “If they believed professor Ford, why didn’t they surface this information earlier so that he could be questioned about it? And if they didn’t believe her and chose to withhold the information, why did they decide at the eleventh hour to release it? It is really not fair to either of them the way it is was handled.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Murkowski told CNN late Sunday night that the Judiciary Committee may need to look into the allegations and possibly delay its vote this week. While she considers Kavanaugh’s legal background “very solid,” she said it would only be fair for the American public to get more answers. “So if there are more questions that need to be asked and answered, then I think it would be appropriate to allow for that time,” she said.

“Having said that, I haven’t had the opportunity to dig further into this,” she added.

Delaying the vote to review the matter further “may be something the committee needs to look into,” she said. Murkowski is not on the committee but her vote on the Senate floor holds significant sway.

She had not yet taken a position on which way she would vote, saying she’s still having conversations with her constituents. Like Collins, Murkowski spoke with Kavanaugh on Friday.

“You have allegations out there that while they are very old — I grant you that — seem … to go into fair amount of detail,” she said, noting that Ford had already taken a lie-detector test knowing she would be subject to a great amount of scrutiny. “I don’t want to prejudge anybody, but I am one who you take seriously allegations of, of sexual assault. I don’t know whether there is any there there, but it is my job along with 99 other members of the Senate to determine if there is.”

Sen. Jeff Flake

One of Trump’s greatest critics in the Senate, Flake, of Arizona, is another no-guarantee vote for Republicans on controversial issues, though he has tended to side with his party in the end on key votes. His decision to not run for re-election has also allowed him greater flexibility in going against his own party at times.

As a member of Judiciary Committee, where there’s a slim 11-10 Republican majority, he could affect the outcome of the vote. And he’s saying he wants to hear Ford’s story before moving forward with the scheduled vote on Thursday.

“I’ve made it clear that I’m not comfortable moving ahead with the vote on Thursday if we have not heard her side of the story or explored this further,” said Flake.

Even if the committee reports an unfavorable recommendation to the full Senate, Kavanaugh’s nomination could still move forward. His nomination could also be brought to the floor by Republican leaders without a committee vote — a controversial step but possible.

Sen. Bob Corker

Corker, another Trump critic and a key Republican vote for Kavanaugh who is retiring at the end of his term, said he believes that Kavanaugh’s accuser should be heard out before there is a committee vote, according to spokeswoman Micah Johnson.

His office has yet to respond to CNN’s request for additional comment.

Republican leadership

CNN reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Judiciary Chairman Grassley want — and plan — to move forward with Kavanaugh’s nomination as it currently stands.

They are too far along in this process not to, and they both think very highly of him, especially after his hearings earlier in September.

To pull him would throw confirmation of anyone else past the midterm elections and create new potential hurdles at a time when the Senate isn’t guaranteed to be in Republican hands in the next Congress.

What matters is what individual Republican senators say they need to be satisfied. If those concerns can be addressed, things will stay on track — whether this week or in the weeks ahead. If they can’t, then, and only then, there are real problems.

Grassley said Monday that he had asked Feinstein this weekend to join him in scheduling follow-up calls with Kavanaugh and Ford. “Thus far, they have refused,” he said. “But as a necessary step in evaluating these claims, I’ll continue working to set them up.”

Republicans, according to sources, hope to have the calls either Monday or Tuesday, CNN reported. While they “hope” they can still have the committee vote on Thursday, they recognize that might slip.