By Lawrence Hurley and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A lawyer for the woman accusing Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump‘s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, of sexual assault told a Senate panel on Thursday she would not testify on Monday as Republicans want but would be willing to appear sometime next week if certain terms were met.
Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, has been given a Friday deadline by the Republican-led Judiciary Committee to decide whether to testify at a high-stakes hearing it has scheduled for Monday.
Ford’s lawyers talked to Judiciary Committee staff on Thursday night, a committee spokesman said without giving details.
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A person familiar with the call said Ford could not testify until next Thursday. Politico, citing an unnamed source, said Ford’s lawyers wanted Kavanaugh to appear first. It said the telephone discussion ended with no decision.
The lawyers said Ford was opposed to being questioned by outside counsel, according to Politico. CNN said the lawyers told the committee staff that she wanted to be questioned by senators.
Ford’s lawyer Debra Katz said earlier in an email to committee staff that Ford would be willing to testify under “terms that are fair and which ensure her safety” after she had received death threats.
If Ford agrees to appear, it would set the stage for a potentially explosive hearing just weeks before congressional elections that will decide the balance of power in Congress, against a backdrop of the #MeToo movement fighting sexual harassment and assault.
Kavanaugh, the conservative federal appeals court judge nominated by Trump in July for the lifetime job as a Supreme Court justice, also has been invited to testify on Monday.
Kavanaugh said in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Thursday that he “will be there” on Monday. The Senate must confirm Supreme Court nominees.
Ford has said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982 when both were high school students in Maryland, an allegation Kavanaugh has called “completely false.”
“As you are aware, she has been receiving death threats, which have been reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and she and her family have been forced out of their home. She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety,” Katz wrote to the committee.
“A hearing on Monday is not possible and the Committee’s insistence that it occur then is arbitrary in any event,” Katz added.
A senior White House official said Kavanaugh and his wife also had received threats.
Grassley, a Republican, sent a letter on Wednesday to Ford’s lawyers giving her until 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) on Friday to submit prepared testimony if she intended to show up on Monday.
Ford’s lawyers had said on Tuesday she would testify only if the FBI first investigated her allegation. The FBI has said it is not investigating, a decision backed by Republicans who have accused Democrats of trying to delay the confirmation process.
In the Thursday email, Katz said Ford’s “strong preference continues to be for the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow for a full investigation prior to her testimony.”
The confirmation fight has unfolded ahead of Nov. 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are seeking to take control of Congress from Trump‘s fellow Republicans. Kavanaugh‘s confirmation would solidify conservative control of the Supreme Court and further Trump‘s goal of moving the high court and the broader federal judiciary to the right.
The Senate is narrowly controlled by Republicans, who have embraced the idea of a quick vote on Kavanaugh‘s nomination if Ford does not to testify.
U.S. Capitol Police said 56 protesters were arrested in Senate office buildings during demonstrations against Kavanaugh.
Groups of protesters, most of them women, clogged the lobby of Grassley‘s Senate office on Thursday and targeted other Republican lawmakers. Many wore buttons stating: “I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.”
Ford came forward with the allegation in an interview published in the Washington Post on Sunday. She accused Kavanaugh of attacking her and trying to remove her clothing while he was drunk at a party when he was 17 years old and she was 15.
Democrats, already opposed to Kavanaugh even before Ford made her allegation, accused Republicans of trying to railroad the nomination through the Senate.
“They are totally intent on getting Judge Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court, come hell or high water,” said Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono, who touted a letter of support for Ford signed by more than 1,000 women who graduated from the Maryland school Ford attended in the 1980s.
Responding on Twitter to Democratic criticism, the Judiciary Committee defended Grassley‘s approach and described how its staff members had contacted four people alleged to have been present at the house where the alleged incident occurred.
One of the four has yet to be publicly identified. Two others have said they have no recollection of any incident like the one Ford described.
Twelve of Ford’s family members wrote an open letter, posted on Twitter by her niece, actress and singer Bridgit Mendler, calling Ford “highly ethical” and saying “her honesty is above reproach.”
“We believe that Chrissy has acted bravely by voicing her experience from the past, and we know how difficult this is for her. Chrissy is not someone who chooses to be in the spotlight,” the letter said.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)
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