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Kavanaugh, Ford to testify in high-stakes hearing
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanugh and one of the women who has accused him of sexual assault, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, will both testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Here's what you need to know:
The allegations: Ford alleges that in the summer of 1982, while they were both in high school, Kavanaugh drunkenly trapped her in a room, pinned her to a bed, and attempted to remove her clothes while his friend, Mark Judge, watched. Since Ford came forward 11 days ago in an interview with the Washington Post, a number of other women have emerged leveling a range of accusations against Kavanaugh, who denies all of their claims.
Ford was followed by Deborah Ramirez, who told the New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party during the 1983-84 academic year, when he was a freshman at Yale University, causing her to touch his genitals without her consent.
Then, on Wednesday, celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti tweeted a sworn declaration by his client Julie Swetnick, who claimed that she witnessed Kavanaugh "engage in abusive and physically aggressive behavior towards girls" during high school parties from the years 1981-83. Her explosive allegations included that Kavanaugh and Judge would spike the punch at parties in order to intoxicate and then take advantage of various girls, as well as an accusation that they participated in gang raping girls at these parties. "This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone," Kavanaugh said in a statement responding to the Swetnick allegation. "I don't know who this is and this never happened."
The transcript of a Tuesday call between Kavanaugh and committee staffers, released on Wednesday, also revealed two additional allegations being investigated by the panel: one made by an anonymous woman who says that her daughter witnessed Kavanaugh shoving a woman against the wall at a Washington, D.C., bar in 1998, and another by a man who claimed that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a close acquaintance of his on a boat in 1985. The man has already recanted that allegation.
The format: Today, however, it will just be Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford in the spotlight. The hearing will begin at 10am with opening statements from chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Then, Ford will deliver her opening statement, before each senator has five minutes to question her. Finally, Kavanaugh will deliver his opening statement and receive five minutes of questions from each senator. Republican senators plan to cede their time to Arizona sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, who will be questioning both witnesses on behalf of the all-male majority members.
"I am here today not because I want to be," Ford plans to say in her opening statement. "I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school." Kavanaugh, meanwhile, plans to admit that he "said and did things in high school that make me cringe now," while labeling all of the sexual assault allegations against him as "false and uncorroborated."
The evidence: Ahead of today's hearing, both Ford and Kavanaugh have released documents aimed to bolster their credibility in the eyes of the committee. Ford released sworn and signed affidavits from four people who she told about her alleged experience with Kavanaugh. The declarations come from Ford's husband, Russell, as well as three friends. Ford's team has also released the results of a polygraph test regarding her allegations.
Meanwhile, Kavanaugh's team released Kavanaugh's 1982 calendar, attempting to prove his innocence by arguing that no parties that would fit Ford's description can be seen.
Like the other allegations against Kavanaugh, Ford's claim has not been corroborated by any eyewitnesses.The individuals she has said were at the party — Mark Judge, P.J. Smyth, and Leland Ingham — have all said that they have no recollection of the event.
The questions: Kavanaugh will obviously be questioned about the various allegations against him, but other lines of inquiry are expected to emerge. The nominee will likely have to answer for a range of claims made about his high school and college lifestyle, after some former classmates have found issue with the "choir boy" image he attempted to project in a Fox News interview on Monday.
He will likely be pressed by Mitchell and Democratic senators to describe his use of alcohol and sex life in high school and college; Kavanaugh told Fox that he did not drink to the point of blacking out and that he was a virgin until many years after graduating from Georgetown Preparatory School. However, this narrative is contradicted by testimonials from his Yale roommate and others who knew him at the time, as well as by his Georgetown Prep yearbook page, which includes multiple references to drinking and one entry that has raised questions about his treatment of women.
In addition, Kavanaugh could face questions over some of the efforts to exonerate him, including whether he had any knowledge of conservative attorney Ed Whelan's Twitter thread attempting to prove that a former classmate of the nominee's had really been the one to assault Ford.
The stakes: A number of Republican senators have yet to make up their minds about Kavanaugh's nomination, and many have pointed to today's hearing as a pivotal factor in their decision-making process. "I am going to be watching every word of the hearing in order to make a final determination," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Wednesday, adding that "at least half of our caucus" would be doing the same, signaling that more Republicans than previously thought may be on the fence.
"I am eager for the hearing to take place this Thursday and hear from both Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford," Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said. "I have not made a decision." According to CNN, Collins privately appeared unnerved by the Swetnick allegation.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told the New York Times that she will be watching the hearing today, having canceled a meeting of the Senate committee she leads to ensure her schedule is clear.
Another key swing vote, retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), said on the Senate floor on Wednesday: "I will have to listen to the testimony before I make up my mind about the testimony." Corker, Collins, Murkowski, and Flake are all undecided on the nomination; if all 49 Democratic senators and two Republicans opposed Kavanaugh, he would not be confirmed.
"Most of our members are going to wait 'till Thursday... Thursday is kind of the key day in this," Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the No. 3 Senate Republican, told Politico earlier this week.
Even President Trump said at a press conference on Wednesday that he intends to watch the hearing and reiterated that he "could be persuaded, also" by Ford's testimony. "I could be convinced of anything," Trump said, even as he dismissed all of the accusations against his second Supreme Court pick as "false," a determination he said was partly influenced by being the subject of sexual misconduct allegations himself. "It does impact my opinion," he said. "You know why? Because I've had a lot of false charges made against me."
As the California professor and judicial nominee both take to the stand today, the eyes of the nation — and of history — will be on them. Their performances at today's hearing are slated to directly impact the nation for decades to come, with a lifetime appointment to the currently-divided Supreme Court hanging in the balance and the future of issues from abortion to gun control to civil rights at stake.
Trump-Rosenstein summit may not take place today
Amid rumors that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was about to quit or be fired, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday that he would meet with President Trump today to discuss his future. However, a meeting with Rosenstein is not on Trump's schedule for today (see below) and it seems the Justice Department No. 2, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, may be on firmer ground.
At his Wednesday press conference, Trump said his "preference would be to keep [Rosenstein] and to let him finish up," noting that Rosenstein had denied a New York Times report that he had suggested secretly recording the president last year and discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment in order to remove the president.
Trump also said, "I may call Rod tonight or tomorrow and ask for a little bit of a delay to the meeting," signaling the highly-anticipated summit might not take place today.
According to the Wall Street Journal, President Trump has told advisers that he wants to hear directly from Rosenstein about the Times report, but has also said that he is open to keeping Rosenstein on the job. In addition, the Journal reported, Rosenstein allies now say he is no longer planning to quit. Per the Times, Rosenstein had been planning to tender his resignation Monday in anticipation of being fired, and the Justice Department had already begun drafting a statement announcing his departure.
Trump "lets loose" in 81-minute presser
From the Washington Post:
"President Trump’s 81-minute news conference Wednesday began predictably enough — with a first question tossed to a favored reporter (John Roberts) at a favorite network (Fox News) — before quickly careening into a televised drama that was as much public therapy session as a question-and-answer opportunity with reporters."
"By turns fiery and freewheeling, deadly serious and darkly humorous, an animated Trump delivered bluster, falsehoods, insults, breaking news and, as he quipped at one point, more than a hint of his trademark 'braggadocios.'"
"But what was perhaps most remarkable was just how transparent and revealing Trump continues to be, the 45th president of the United States offering glimpses deep into the recesses of his mind as he gleefully took the nation on a tour de force of everything from the fate of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh (uncertain, but to be determined Thursday) to the job security of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein (uncertain, but probably fine for now) to his relationship with the New York Times (uncertain, but definitely tortured)."
White House schedule
POTUS: At 9:30am, President Trump meets with employees at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, his last stop in New York before returning to Washington, D.C.
Trump will arrive back at the White House at 12:05pm. At 6:30pm, he participates in a roundtable with supporters at an event site in D.C. At 7:30pm, he participates in a dinner with supporters.
Senate: The Senate votes today on confirmation of Lisa Porter to be the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, a newly-created position. Porter is the former Director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and a former associate administrator at NASA.
House: The House is scheduled to consider two pieces of legislation: the American Innovation Act and the Family Savings Act.
*All times Eastern