When Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University in California, came forward with a sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh over the weekend, all eyes turned to the Senate: Would this stop the confirmation proceedings in their tracks?
By Monday evening, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s scheduled vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation had been delayed. Both Ford and Kavanaugh have also been invited to testify publicly in at a Senate hearing on Monday, September 24, but Ford has said that she wants an FBI investigation conducted into the allegations before she testifies.
Ford told the Washington Post that Kavanaugh held her down at a high school party in the 1980s and attempted to force himself on her, covering her mouth to quiet her protests. Her allegations were documented by her therapist in notes from sessions in 2012 and 2013, in which Ford talked about a “rape attempt” and being attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school.” Kavanaugh denied the allegations, as did another male classmate who Ford said was involved in the incident. The White House, so far, has stood by Kavanaugh.
Senate Republicans have been pushing to get Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court this fall, before the midterm elections, and spent Monday spinning the allegations as a last-ditch Democratic attempt to hold up the confirmation. But as more details emerge, and with Ford’s identity now public, pressure has mounted to investigate the allegations and hear from Ford and Kavanaugh.
There are still a lot of moving parts and unanswered questions. Here’s what we know so far about where things stand, what the White House is saying, and what kind of investigation might be conducted.
Where the confirmation process stands
- The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on Monday, September 24, and for both Ford and Kavanaugh to testify. This hearing effectively delays a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation that was scheduled for this Thursday.
- Ford has not agreed to testify Monday and has called on the FBI to investigate her claims first. A statement from her lawyer says she does not think a hearing with just two witnesses qualifies as a “fair or good faith investigation,” though she said she is willing to cooperate with the committee.
- Democrats on the Judiciary Committee were not informed of the hearing prior to news reports and a public notice, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the committee’s top-ranking Democrat.
- The public hearing comes after both Republican and Democratic senators called to hear from Ford and Kavanaugh. Democratic senators both on and off the Judiciary Committee called to delay the committee’s vote. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who sits on the committee, called it a “constitutional responsibility” to scrutinize Supreme Court nominees.
- A committee vote on Kavanaugh’s hearing has not been rescheduled — yet. This would be the first vote in the process of confirming Kavanaugh to the Court and serves as a recommendation to the Senate as a whole. The full Senate can still vote — and confirm — Kavanaugh even without the Judiciary Committee’s approval.
Are the allegations against Kavanaugh going to be investigated?
- Statements from both Republican and Democratic senators suggest an interest in investigating these allegations. But there is a big question about what that investigation would look like.
- Republican staff on the committee held calls with Kavanaugh and tried to get in touch with Ford on Monday, which Democrats did not participate in. From the start, Democrats, said that Republicans aren’t capable of handling this review in an impartial manner and think the FBI needs to conduct an investigation. However, Republicans proceeded with investigating the matter regardless.
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has referred the case to the FBI, which is in charge of background checks for nominees. The FBI said it has added the letter to Kavanaugh’s background file, which means that the White House and the full body of senators now have access to it. The background check is something that all Supreme Court nominees in recent memory have had to undergo.
- Democrats want the FBI to spearhead the investigation into sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, not Congress. They argue that these allegations require a formal investigation and note that the partisan handling of Kavanaugh’s nomination thus far suggests that Congress is not up to the task. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, especially, has said Senate Republicans are incapable of “impartially investigat[ing].”
The White House is starting to comment on the allegations
- On Monday, Trump praised Kavanaugh as one of the “great intellects and one of the finest people.” Trump added, however, that he wants the Senate “to go through a full process … If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay.”
- Over the weekend, anonymous sources told Politico that they expected Trump to go after the accuser. But the response from the White House has for the most part left Ford out of it. On Monday morning, the White House released a statement standing by Kavanaugh’s denial. The statement read: “On Friday, Judge Kavanaugh ‘categorically and unequivocally’ denied this allegation. This has not changed. Judge Kavanaugh and the White House both stand by that statement.”
- According to CNN’s Abby Phillip, there is some concern in the White House that going after the accuser could lose Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, whose votes are needed to confirm Kavanaugh.
- Kellyanne Conway, who is currently serving as the counselor to the president, said on Fox News that Ford should be heard. “This woman should not be ignored and should not be insulted. She should be heard,” she said.
- Trump appeared to throw cold water on the idea of an FBI investigation on Tuesday: “I don’t think the FBI should be involved because they don’t want to be involved, if they wanted to be I would certainly do that,” he said. “As you say, this is not really their thing. The senators will do a good job.”
- In 1991, the FBI did conduct an investigation regarding allegations of sexual harassment that Anita Hill brought against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas — a contrast Democrats have repeatedly highlighted. At the time, the agency opened its investigation via the direction of the president.
- The DOJ issued a statement on Wednesday outlining the FBI’s role in this process. “The FBI does not make any judgment about the credibility or significance of any allegation,” the statement reads. “The purpose of a background investigation is to determine whether the nominee could pose a risk to the national security of the United States.”