WASHINGTON – Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said he has not made up his mind on allegations of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and he urged fellow senators to keep open minds when Kavanaugh and one of his accusers testify Thursday.
Flake’s plea on the Senate floor came on the eve of a highly anticipated Judiciary Committee hearing where Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh will be the only witnesses – witnesses, Flake said, who have been “dehumanized” by those seeking political gain.
“Each of these witnesses has reportedly been subject to death threats, and for that we should be ashamed,” said Flake, who added that his own family had been threatened after he called for Ford to appear and testify.
“The toxic political culture that we have created has infected everything, and we have done little to stop it,” he said. “In fact, we have only indulged it and fanned the flames, taken partisan advantage at every turn and deepened the ugly divisions that exist in our country.”
But politics continued to drive the debate Wednesday, as Democrats repeated demands that the nomination be delayed for a fuller investigation, and President Donald Trump accused Democrats of playing “a horrible con game.”
It also came as another woman stepped forward – the third to do so – with claims that Kavanaugh was involved in or present at drunken sexual assaults while they were in school.
That charge brought a letter of support from 64 former high school friends and classmates of Kavanaugh’s – including Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill – who said the “shameful attacks must end” against a man of “honor, integrity, and compassion.”
But critics cited Kavanaugh’s own words from the time when he worked with the special prosecutor investigating President Bill Clinton, a probe that eventually revealed Clinton’s affair with a White House intern.
“In Kavanaugh’s own words … he said Bill Clinton should be forced to account for all his behavior and defend his actions, and that it’s our job to make sure that his pattern of revolting behavior is clear piece by painful piece,” said Rachel O’Leary Carmona, chief operating officer of the Women’s March.
“It seems to me that that’s what’s happened, and that’s correct, and that’s what needs to happen here as well,” she said.
But Republican leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee were still planning to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination as early as Friday.
The nomination appeared to be going smoothly after four days of hearings earlier this month, but stalled 10 days ago when Ford’s accusations were first made public.
Ford, now a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University, said she was 15 and at a party in the early 1980s when she was assaulted by a drunken Kavanaugh, then 17. She said he pinned her down, tried to take her clothes off and held his hand over her mouth when she tried to yell for help.
Kavanaugh has flatly, and repeatedly, denied the charge, in letters to the White House and during interviews in recent days with Judiciary Committee staff.
Ford’s accusations were followed over the weekend by a story in The New Yorker in which Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale University, said he sexually assaulted her at a party during their freshman year. He has also denied those claims.
She said that during a drinking game, Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and she inadvertently touched his penis as she pushed him away, to which Kavanaugh laughed while she felt “embarrassed and ashamed and humiliated.”
On Wednesday morning, Trump antagonist Michael Avenatti released an affidavit from a third accuser, Julie Swetnick, who claimed to have been drugged and “gang raped” at a party in high school where Kavanaugh was present.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the committee staffers have tried to investigate each of the claims as they have come up. But Thursday’s hearing will only feature Ford and Kavanaugh, who will each be questioned by Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor currently on leave from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
Flake urged senators to listen carefully to the testimony of both – but doubted they would.
“Many members of this body, from both parties have already made up their minds on the record in advance of this hearing,” Flake said. “They will presumably hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest. One is tempted to ask, why even bother to have a hearing?”
That is a question being asked by opponents like Jodi Liggett, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood Arizona. Not because there shouldn’t be an investigation, she said, but because the committee hearing creates a false equivalency between Kavanaugh’s and Ford’s stories when an extensive FBI investigation is needed.
“I think we can maybe take our time in granting a lifetime appointment to someone,” Liggett said. “It is not fair to the American people or to future generations to base the thoroughness of this vetting on an election cycle. In fact, that’s really appalling.”
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