Kavanaugh willing to talk to panel, arrives at White House

FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, for the third day of his confirmation hearing to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers has come forward to The Washington Post. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE and LISA MASCARO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said Monday he was willing to speak to a Senate panel to “refute” an allegation he sexually assaulted a woman while in high school, after his accuser said via her attorney that she was ready to testify in public.
Kavanaugh released a new statement calling the allegation “completely false” and saying he “had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself” on Sunday to The Washington Post.
“I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity,” Kavanaugh said.
Kavanaugh, meanwhile, was seen arriving at the White House late Monday morning. There was no immediate explanation of the reason for his visit.
He had been on a smooth confirmation track, but the new allegations have roiled that process. Republican senators have expressed concern over a woman’s private-turned-public allegation that a drunken Kavanaugh groped her and tried to take off her clothes at a party when they were teenagers.
Debra S. Katz, the attorney for the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, said her client considered the incident to be an attempted rape.
“She believes that if were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped,” Katz told NBC’s “Today.”
Kavanaugh, 53, “categorically and unequivocally” denied the allegations when they came out anonymously last week.
“This has not changed,” said White House spokesman Kerri Kupec on Monday. “Judge Kavanaugh and the White House both stand by that statement.”
Still, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said of Ford: “She should not be insulted. She should not be ignored. She should testify under oath and she should do it on Capitol Hill.”
Conway, who said she had discussed the situation with President Donald Trump, said that both Ford and Kavanaugh should testify, but made clear it was up to the Judiciary Committee. She said Sen. Lindsey Graham had told her it could happen as soon as Tuesday and the White House will “respect the process.”
Stressing that Kavanaugh had already testified and undergone FBI background checks, Conway said: “I think you have to weigh this testimonial evidence from Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh along with the considerable body of evidence that is already there about the judge’s temperament and qualifications and character.”
In morning television interviews, Katz said her client was willing to tell her story in public to the Judiciary panel, although no lawmakers or their aides had yet contacted her. Katz also denied that Ford, a Democrat, is politically motivated.
“No one in their right mind regardless of their motives would want to inject themselves into this process and face the kind of violation that she will be subjected to by those who want this nominee to go though. … She was quite reluctant to come forward.”
Initially the sexual misconduct allegation was conveyed in a private letter, without revealing Ford’s name. With a name and disturbing details, the accusation raised the prospect of congressional Republicans defending Trump’s nominee ahead of midterm elections featuring an unprecedented number of female candidates and informed in part by the #MeToo movement.
Ford told the Post that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed at a Maryland party in the early 1980s, clumsily tried to remove her clothing and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream.
She said Kavanaugh and a friend — both “stumbling drunk,” she says — corralled her in a bedroom when she was around 15 and Kavanaugh was around 17. She says Kavanaugh groped her over her clothes, grinded his body against hers and tried to take off her one-piece swimsuit and the outfit she wore over it. Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand when she tried to scream, she says, and escaped when the friend, Mark Judge, jumped on them.
Kavanaugh attended a private school for boys in Maryland while Ford attended a nearby school.
A split over the nomination seemed to be emerging among the GOP.
The GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee has previously scheduled a Thursday vote on whether to recommend approval of Kavanaugh’s nomination in the full Senate. Critics have already accused the GOP of fast-tracking the process to get Kavanaugh on the court by Oct. 1, the first day of the fall term.
Democrats called for a delay in the vote, and two committee Republicans — all 11 on the GOP side are men — Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said they wanted to hear more from Ford. Flake went as far as to say he was “not comfortable” voting for Kavanaugh for the time being.
A potential “no” vote from Flake would complicate the judge’s prospects. A Republican not on the committee, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said the vote should be postponed until the committee heard from Ford. Contacted Sunday by CNN, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wouldn’t say if the vote should be postponed.
A committee spokesman said late Sunday that its chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, was trying to arrange separate, follow-up calls with Kavanaugh and Ford, but just for aides to Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., before Thursday’s scheduled vote.
The allegation against Kavanaugh first came to light late last week in the form of a letter that had been for some time in the possession of Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and one of its four female members. On Sunday, The Washington Post published an interview with Ford.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” said Ford, 51, a clinical psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”
In the interview, Ford says she never revealed what had happened to her until 2012, when she and her husband sought couples therapy. Ford’s husband, Russell Ford, said he recalled his wife using Kavanaugh’s last name and expressing concern that Kavanaugh — then a federal judge — might someday be nominated to the Supreme Court.
Senate Republicans, along with the White House, see no need to postpone voting over what they consider uncorroborated and unverifiable accusations, according to a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly.
In considering their options Sunday, Republicans largely settled on the view that Ford’s story alone was not enough to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Grassley could invite Ford to testify, likely in closed session before Thursday. Kavanaugh would also probably be asked to appear before senators. The panel would also likely seek testimony from Judge, Kavanaugh’s friend and classmate who Ford says jumped on top of her. Judge has denied that the incident happened.
Republicans say the allegations have already cast a shadow over Kavanaugh but that it does not appear to be enough to change the votes in the narrowly divided 51-49 Senate. Key will be the views of Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Both are under enormous pressure from outside groups who want them to oppose Kavanaugh on grounds that as a justice he could vote to undercut the Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion in the U.S.
The White House has accused Feinstein of mounting an “11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation.” The White House has also sought to cast doubt about Ford’s allegation by noting that the FBI has repeatedly investigated Kavanaugh since the 1990s for highly sensitive positions he has held, including in the office of independent counsel Ken Starr, at the White House and his current post on the federal appeals court in Washington.
Sixty-five women who knew Kavanagh in high school defended him in a separate letter, circulated by Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, as someone who “always treated women with decency and respect.”
___
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.
___
Follow Darlene Superville and Lisa Mascaro on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap and http://www.twitter.com/LisaMascaro
___
This story has been corrected to show the name is Dianne, not Diane.