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GOP threatens Monday vote on Kavanaugh unless accuser testifies
[WASHINGTON] The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman threatened to vote Monday on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination unless the woman who has accused the nominee of sexual assault agrees to terms for her testimony by Friday night.
The committee and the woman's lawyers have not yet agreed in negotiations over the terms of her appearance before the committee. The head of the panel, Senator Chuck Grassley, said he would give her until 10pm Friday to respond.
The committee's Republicans proposed a Wednesday hearing on a sexual assault allegation against Mr Kavanaugh, a day earlier than his accuser is seeking, as both sides stepped up pressure over the terms of what would be explosive testimony. They rejected conditions sought by accuser Christine Blasey Ford, including her request to call other witnesses in addition to her and Mr Kavanaugh.
"I'm providing a notice of a vote to occur Monday in the event that Ms Ford's attorneys don't respond or Ford decides not to testify," Mr Grassley said in a statement. "In the event that we can come to a reasonable resolution as I've been seeking all week, then I will postpone the committee vote to accommodate her testimony. "
Mr Kavanaugh's confirmation hangs in the balance. With Nov 6 elections approaching that will determine control of the House and Senate, Republicans are under intense pressure to consider the allegation in a way that doesn't turn women and independents away from the party while moving the nomination forward as quickly as possible, as President Donald Trump and other GOP leaders want.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, accused Republicans of "bullying" Ford and "turning a blind eye" to her story. "First they announced a hearing before inviting her, now they're ignoring her willingness to cooperate," Ms Feinstein said in a statement on Friday night.
Mr Trump, in a tweet Friday morning, cast doubt on Ford's allegations. "I have no doubt that, if the attack on 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," Mr Trump wrote. "I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!"
Moderate GOP Senator Susan Collins of Maine, whose vote is critical to Mr Kavanaugh's confirmation in a chamber controlled by Republicans 51-49, said Friday she was "appalled" by Mr Trump's tweet, the Portland Press Herald reported.
"We know allegations of sexual assault are one of the most unreported crimes that exist," Ms Collins said at an event in Portland, the newspaper said.
Ms Ford says Mr Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a Maryland house party in the early 1980s when both were high school students. Mr Kavanaugh denies any attack occurred, and he said in a letter Thursday to Grassley, an Iowa Republican, that he was prepared to come before the panel on Monday to "clear my name" of the allegation.
"I will be there," Mr Kavanaugh wrote.
Ms Ford's attorney, Debra Katz, said Ms Ford couldn't appear on Monday as Mr Grassley had planned and proposed testifying on Thursday instead, according to a Senate aide familiar with the negotiations. The aide said Ms Katz told the committee by telephone that Ford didn't want Mr Kavanaugh in the room when she testified.
She also asked that Mark Judge, a classmate of Mr Kavanaugh's who Ford says was present when the alleged attack occurred more than 30 years ago, be called to testify, along with other possible witnesses, according to the aide.
Democrats have demanded a delay in the hearing to allow time for the FBI to investigate Ford's claim. Mr Trump has said he won't ask the FBI to reopen its background probe of Mr Kavanaugh.
Ms Katz wrote that Ford "wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety." Ford has received death threats and has moved her family out of their home, the lawyer said.
Ford says that Mr Kavanaugh was unk at a house party in about 1982, and that he pulled her into a beoom then pinned her down on a bed, tried to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth to stop her from screaming. She said she was able to escape, but the Washington Post reported that she described the episode to a therapist in 2013 as a "rape attempt".