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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Deadline approaches for Brett Kavanaugh's accuser to come forward

Christine Blasey Ford is willing to co-operate but wants a 'full non-partisan investigation' ahead of any testimony

US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, left, with Republican senator Chuck Grassley. AFP
US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, left, with Republican senator Chuck Grassley. AFP

A woman who accuses President Donald Trump's choice for Supreme Court justice of sexual assault must agree by Friday to tell her story to a senate committee next week after Republicans dismissed her pleas for more time.

The dispute marks an undignified politicisation of what is supposed to be one of the most important appointments a president can make.

With crucial midterms looming in November, both sides believe the issue could help mobilise voters and deliver a decisive win.

For Democrats it is another chance to illustrate how Mr Trump appears intent on standing by men accused of sex crimes; for Republicans it is another example of Democratic obstructionism.

The result is a polarising stalemate over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as both sides trade barbs over who is stalling, while the woman at the centre of the controversy, Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor, says she has suffered death threats.

She has accused Mr Kavanaugh of pushing her into a bedroom, trying to remove her clothes and covering her mouth with his hand during a house party in 1982 when they were both teenagers.

Her lawyer said Mrs Ford was willing to testify before the senate judiciary committee that is deciding whether to confirm Mr Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court post, but their insistence on holding the hearing on Monday suggested the investigation was not being held in good faith.

Mrs Ford "continues to believe that a full non-partisan investigation of this matter is needed and she is willing to co-operate with the committee”, Lisa Banks said.

“However, the committee’s stated plan to move forward with a hearing that has only two witnesses is not a fair or good faith investigation; there are multiple witnesses whose names have appeared publicly and should be included in any proceeding.”

Previous demands by Mrs Ford that the FBI investigate the claims have been rebuffed.

Ms Banks was responding to a letter sent by Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the judiciary committee, setting Mrs Ford a deadline of 10am on Friday to decide whether she would appear. She must submit a biography and a written statement if she intended to testify on Monday, he said.

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Mr Kavanaugh has denied the allegations and Republicans are rallying around.

Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator, said: “It is imperative the judiciary committee move forward on the Kavanaugh nomination and a committee vote be taken as soon as possible.”

The longer the issue stays in the public eye the more chance it harms the party’s chances in the midterms and risks Mr Kavanaugh never being confirmed in the post, according to Jeanne Zaino, professor of political science at Iona College.

“Democrats want to keep talking about this through the election,” she said. “For women this is an increasingly unattractive candidate and it is something that energises their base, it may keep Republican women at home.”

Even moderate Republicans, who have clashed with Mr Trump in the past, have closed ranks.

Susan Collins, who has been a crucial swing vote in the past, said it was not fair on Mr Kavanaugh if Mrs Ford declined to testify. “Otherwise, there are these very serious allegations hanging over the head of a nominee who has emphatically denied them,” she told radio WVOM in Bangor.

Mr Trump has repeatedly stated his support for Mr Kavanaugh, saying he thought he was being treated unfairly.

“He is such an outstanding man,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “Very hard for me to imagine that anything happened.”

But he has so far managed to avoid adding to the controversy by questioning Mrs Ford’s credibility. The danger is a growing perception that Mr Trump and his party are unwilling to hold men accountable for alleged sexual misconduct, such as Roy Moore, who stood for the Senate despite being accused of pursuing teenage girls when he was in his 30s.

Democrats contend that Republicans’ refusal to let the FBI investigate suggests they are not interested in getting to the truth.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse told the New York Times that Mrs Ford had been harassed and forced to leave her home for safety’s sake.

“In the face of this, Republicans are jamming her into a ‘take it or leave it’ kangaroo hearing without even the courtesy of proper investigation of her claims,” he said.