Donald Trump has cast doubt on the woman who accused his supreme court pick Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, and blamed opponents for trying to “destroy” his nominee.
Trump commented as it emerged on Friday that Senate Republicans are likely to propose moving a judiciary committee hearing on the allegations to Wednesday, CNN reported, citing two sources familiar with the negotiations.
Lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party when they were teenagers, had reportedly requested the hearing take place on Thursday. Kavanaugh, who categorically denies the allegations, said he “looks forward” to testifying as soon as possible.
The sources also suggested that Ford would testify first and that Republicans are not willing to subpoena any outside witnesses, as Ford requested, CNN reported. Ford had reportedly requested to testify second.
Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the committee, called the Republican counter-offer “mean-spirited” and said it “candidly shows no sympathy or empathy whatsoever”.
It was unclear who would conduct the questioning. Chuck Grassley, the committee chair, told a radio station this week his committee would consider hiring a special counsel to question Ford, to avoid a scenario in which 11 Republican men questioned a woman alleging sexual assault.
“Republicans should show a little compassion, not to mention consideration that [Ford will] need to prepare for the hearing,” Feinstein said. “Republican senators want to turn over their duty to ask questions to outside counsel, but Dr Ford can’t do that. Just because Republicans don’t need to prepare doesn’t mean Dr Ford should be rushed.”
The Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the judiciary committee, stressed that senators should be the ones asking questions.
“I will not forfeit my ability to question Judge Kavanaugh and anyone else who comes before the committee with testimony, no matter how uncomfortable it may make the 11 men across the dais,” he said.
Negotiations went on behind closed doors as Trump incited a backlash on Twitter and among his own party with a string of tweets that questioned Ford’s account of what happened between her and Kavanaugh at a party in 1982, when she was 15 and Kavanaugh 17.
“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents,” Trump said. “I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”
Trump said he believed Kavanaugh to be “under assault by radical leftwing politicians”. Kavanaugh has an “impeccable reputation”, he said, and Democrats “don’t want to know the answers, they just want to destroy and delay”.
The Maine Republican senator Susan Collins, seen as a key vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, said she was “appalled”.
“We know that allegations of sexual assault – I’m not saying that’s what happened in this case – but we know allegations of sexual assault are one of the most unreported crimes that exist,” she said. “So I thought that the president’s tweet was completely inappropriate and wrong.”
Late on Friday Trump posted another tweet: “Let her testify, or not, and TAKE THE VOTE!”
The full tweet again criticized Feinstein for not sooner revealing a letter she received, containing Ford’s allegations.
Within minutes, women, including leading feminist writers, began tweeting alongside the hashtag #WhyIDidn’tReport about bad experiences when reporting sexual violence to the authorities, especially as teens.
Ford is willing to come to Washington to be questioned by senators but does not want Kavanaugh in the same room, her attorney told judiciary committee staff in a 30-minute phone call late on Thursday. The conversation also touched on security concerns and other issues, according to a Senate aide who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
The Republican-majority committee must approve the nomination for it to proceed to the full Senate. Ford will only appear if agreement can be reached on “terms that are fair and which ensure her safety”, the attorney, Debra Katz, said in an email to the committee revealed on Thursday.
It was reported that Ford would meet with the FBI on Friday afternoon as part of its investigation of death threats she has received since agreeing to come forward.
On Thursday night, Trump challenged Ford’s story during an interview with Fox News at a rally in Las Vegas.
“I think it’s a very sad situation,” said Trump, asking: “Why didn’t somebody call the FBI 36 years ago? … What’s going on?”
While he said Ford should “have her say”, he made clear he was done waiting: “I don’t think you can delay it any longer. They’ve delayed it a week already.”