As the latest allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh swept through the Capitol, the Senate Judiciary Committee said it was reviewing the claims, even on the eve of a historic hearing on which the fate of his confirmation hangs.
Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley told a horde of reporters that staff attorneys are reviewing the latest allegations, outlined in a graphic declaration sent to the panel from Julie Swetnick, who says Kavanaugh was present while she was gang raped at a high school party in 1982.
“Every time that there’s been accusations made we’ve tried to follow up where we could get a contact,” Grassley said. “So obviously this morning we had this contact and our investigators were on it immediately, and I can’t say anything beyond that.”
Thursday’s hearing — which will feature testimony from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has said he sexually assaulted her at a party when he was 17 — will still go forward, Grassley said, adding that the panel should not “disadvantage Dr. Ford any more than she’s already been disadvantaged in the sense of people wondering if the hearing was going to be last week or this week or whatever else.”
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When asked if there would be a second hearing to address Swetnick’s allegations, Grassley hedged.
“We’re going to take this step by step and you’ll have to ask me that question Thursday night,” he said.
Grassley’s staff, in an email to Swetnick’s lawyer Michael Avenatti, said that committee investigators from both parties interviewed Kavanaugh again Tuesday, under penalty of felony, about all pending accusations that included the then-anonymous allegations and questions.
“He unequivocally denied all of the allegations, testifying that there was not a kernel of truth in any of these allegations. We have a transcribed interview,” the email states. “Judge Kavanaugh understood that he testified under penalty of felony, subject to up to 5 years of imprisonment.”
Kavanaugh will tell the committee that the allegations are “false and uncorroborated” and part of a frenzy to come up with something to block his vote to the Supreme Court, “no matter how far-fetched or odious.”
His prepared opening statement for the hearing, released Wednesday, echoes many of his previous statements that he will not withdraw and that he has never sexually assaulted anyone.
He said this is a “grotesque and obvious character assassination — if allowed to succeed — will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country.”
“As I told this Committee the last time I appeared before you, a federal judge must be independent, not swayed by public or political pressure,” Kavanaugh said in his prepared statement. “That is the kind of judge I am and will always be. I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process. This effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out. The vile threats of violence against my family will not drive me out. I am here this morning to answer these allegations and to tell the truth.”
President Donald Trump, who has stood by his nominee through two earlier allegations, took to Twitter to target Avenatti, who rose to fame aggressive representing adult film star Stormy Daniels against Trump.
“Avenatti is a third rate lawyer who is good at making false accusations, like he did on me and like he is now doing on Judge Brett Kavanaugh. He is just looking for attention and doesn’t want people to look at his past record and relationships — a total low-life!” Trump tweeted.
Grassley, who has spent much of his career protecting government whistleblowers, took a different approach.
“It seems to me [Avenatti] wants to protect people that are involved in pornography and that he’s running for president and I don’t know what his motivations are,” Grassley said. “I don’t know what his reputation as a lawyer is. So how can I draw a conclusion? But really what’s important here isn’t the lawyer. What’s important is the person who claims she’s been harmed.”
Tempers, meanwhile, are rising among senators. Utah Republican Orrin G. Hatch, who has staunchly defended Kavanaugh, yelled twice at a swarm of reporters and his aides tried to ward off questions by pointing out Hatch had been chairing a Senate Finance hearing and knew little about the allegations.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a staunch defender of Kavanaugh throughout the process, refused to answer reporters’ questions and referred them to a defiant statement his office released.
“I very much believe in allowing people to be heard. But I am not going to be played, and I’m not going to have my intelligence insulted by the Michael Avenattis of the world. I will not be a participant in wholesale character assassination that defies credibility. If Republicans bail out on this good man because of the smears and character assassination perpetrated by Michael Avenatti, we deserve our fate,” the statement said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walked to his office trailed by reporters but did not respond or even react to questions posed about the latest allegation.
Other Republican senators dodged questions or said they hadn’t yet reviewed the latest allegations against Kavanaugh.
“I’ve had three hearings and a markup going on at once this morning so I’ve been a little busy,” Ohio Republican Rob Portman said in response to questions about Kavanaugh.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he expects Republicans to discuss the issue at the caucus lunch Wednesday afternoon. There is a desire, he said, to “complete the work” on the confirmation.
“This an evolving thing and I don’t know what they may do,” Corker said.
Perhaps underscoring the gravity of the situation, Vice President Mike Pence was set to join Republicans for their Wednesday lunch. Pence usually comes by for Tuesday’s policy lunch, but Wednesday is a relative rarity for him to drop by.
Meanwhile, on the Senate floor, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the Senate should postpone Thursday’s hearing and Friday’s committee vote, and renewed his call for an FBI investigation.
Watch: McConnell, Schumer Floor Debate Gets Personal Over Kavanaugh Nomination
“I strongly believe Judge Kavanaugh should withdraw from consideration and the president should withdraw this nomination if Kavanaugh won’t do it voluntarily,” the New York Democrat said.
Schumer’s statement was echoed by the 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, who sent Trump a letter asking him to “immediately withdraw the nomination.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, a key vote on both the Judiciary Committee and on the floor on the nomination, took to the floor after Schumer to ask for patience and to ask his colleagues to hold off on what he described as a race to the political bottom.
“I do not know how I will assess the credibility of these witnesses — these human beings — on the grave matters that will be testified to, because I have not yet heard a word of their testimony, and because I am not psychic. I am not gifted with clairvoyance. Given these limitations, I will have to listen to the testimony before I make up my mind about the testimony,” Flake said.
Flake’s speech on the floor drew about a dozen reporters to the gallery, waiting on every word for a shadow of a hint about how he might ultimately vote. It never came. The only senator in the chamber there to hear Flake speak, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., walked over and shook Flake’s hand. Whatever he said made Flake smile broadly.
Jennifer Shutt, Niels Lesniewski and Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.