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Trump questions credibility of Kavanaugh accuser, lashes out at Democrats

| Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, 6:30 p.m.
President Trump arrives at Springfield-Branson National Airport before attending a campaign rally, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, in Springfield, Mo.
President Trump arrives at Springfield-Branson National Airport before attending a campaign rally, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, in Springfield, Mo.

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Friday pointedly questioned the credibility of the woman who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teenagers, contending that she or her parents would have reported the attack to law enforcement at the time if it were as bad as she has said.

Trump’s tweet marked a sharp break from the days after the accusation first surfaced, during which he refrained from attacking Christine Blasey Ford, a professor in California, and said she deserved to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“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 in the tweet, which was his first to mention his Supreme Court nominee’s accuser by name.

Trump’s comments produced a widespread backlash from lawmakers — including a couple of key Republican senators — and advocates for victims of sexual assault. By Friday afternoon, the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport was trending on Twitter, with thousands of people coming forward to explain their hesitation to contact authorities.

Negotiations between committee Republicans and Ford’s lawyers remained open Friday over whether Ford would testify and under what conditions.

The Senate Judiciary Committee sent their counterproposal to her attorneys on Friday afternoon, asking them to respond by 5 p.m. That deadline was later extended to 10 p.m. as negotiations continued, according to two people familiar with the nomination.

Republicans, who held a conference call late Friday morning, coalesced behind two key requests: that the hearing be held on Wednesday instead of Thursday, as Ford proposed, and that Ford must testify first, according to several GOP officials directly familiar with the call. Ford had asked that Kavanaugh speak first, a major non-starter with Republicans.

Some Republican senators also feel strongly that an outside counsel should handle the questioning, one GOP official said — although bringing in outside lawyers was something Ford does not want because it would make her less comfortable, according to her attorneys. On a 30-minute call Thursday evening to negotiate terms of the hearing, Ford’s lawyers stressed that bringing in outside lawyers would create a trial-like atmosphere for her.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Calif., the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, complained on Friday that Republicans were rushing the hearing.

“I would remind my Republican colleagues that they blocked President Obama’s nominee for a year and the court survived,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Show some heart. Wait until Dr. Ford feels that she can come before the committee.”

Ford, meanwhile, planned to meet with the FBI on Friday afternoon as part of its investigation of death threats she has received since agreeing to come forward with her allegations, her attorney said.

Katz said the FBI contacted Ford with material about the death threats. She agreed to confirm the upcoming meeting after a person with knowledge of the FBI interest contacted the Post.

Katz said she does not expect FBI agents to discuss any details with Ford about the alleged attack by Kavanaugh in the early 1980s.

“This is strictly about the death threats she has been receiving,” Katz said.

Ford told The Washington Post in an interview published online Sunday that Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed on her back, groped her and put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams at a house party. The alleged incident occurred while both were students at separate schools in Maryland.

Ford said she told no one at the time what had happened to her. She was terrified, she said, that she would be in trouble if her parents realized she had been at a party where teenagers were drinking, and she worried they might figure it out even if she did not tell them.

Amid the firestorm over Trump’s tweet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., predicted Friday that Kavanaugh would soon be confirmed, calling him a “stunningly successful individual.”

“You’ve watched the fight. You’ve watched the tactics,” McConnell said during remarks at the Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of social conservatives, in Washington. “Here’s what I want to tell you: In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court… Keep the faith. Don’t get rattled by all of this. We’re going to plow right through it and do our job.”

Over the span of three hours, Trump tweeted several more times about Ford and Kavanaugh from Las Vegas, where he held a political rally on Thursday night and had a couple of events on Friday.

In one tweet, he contended that Kavanaugh is under assault by “radical left-wing politicians” who are not interested in finding the truth about the allegation but instead “just want to destroy and delay.”

“Facts don’t matter. I go through this with them every single day in D.C.,” said Trump, calling Kavanaugh “a fine man, with an impeccable reputation” as he voiced his mounting frustration with the roiled confirmation process.

The president also took aim at “radical left lawyers” who are seeking to get the FBI to investigate Ford’s allegations, saying: “Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?”

Democrats have called for the FBI to reopen its background-check investigation into Kavanaugh, rather than a criminal probe.

The FBI has said it has no plans to do so unless the White House asks for such an investigation. And a Justice Department spokesman said earlier this week that Ford’s allegation “does not involve any potential federal crime.”

Katz said Friday that the FBI has not given its reasons for declining so far to investigate the allegation that has put Kavanaugh’s nomination in peril.

“We have not gotten any explanation from the FBI,” she said.

In another tweet Friday, Trump urged senators to “TAKE THE VOTE” whether Ford agrees to testify or not. And he criticized Feinstein for failing to disclose a letter she received from Ford in July until after Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings before the committee.

The timing, Trump alleged, was “done very purposefully to Obstruct & Resist & Delay.”

Feinstein has said she was honoring Ford’s request to remain anonymous.

Trump’s contention that Ford should have come forward at the time was widely criticized by some Democratic senators as well as by some Republicans whose votes are key to Kavanaugh’s confirmation prospects.

“I was appalled by the president’s tweet,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “First of all, 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. So I thought that the president’s tweet was completely inappropriate and wrong.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., meanwhile, called Trump’s tweet “incredibly insensitive.”

Democrats were harsher in their assessments.

“These comments reflect exactly why it is so hard for survivors of sexual assault to come forward — society has doubted, diminished, and attacked survivors,” Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., wrote on Twitter. “President Trump is part of the problem, carrying out the same painful attacks, trying to shame and marginalize Dr. Ford.”

Though he did not mention Ford by name, Trump raised questions Thursday about the timing of Ford’s allegation in a television interview with Fox News before his appearance at a political rally in Las Vegas.

“Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?” he asked.

Samantha Guerry, a friend and former classmate of Ford, expressed exasperation at Trump’s question during an interview Friday morning with CNN.

“The idea that someone would have told the FBI 36 years ago is ludicrous,” she said, noting that many women who are assaulted “are extremely unlikely to tell anyone.”

“This is a deeply personal, traumatic experience that has a lot of psychological complexity to it,” she said. “Anyone who looks at this thoughtfully will see that women who make these claims are often belittled, told they are mistaken, bullied and shamed.”

A 2015 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation Survey of current and recent college students found that 88 percent of women who experienced unwanted sexual contact did not tell police or university authorities about the incidents.

This result was the same among women who reported sexual assault by force or threat, as well as those who were incapacitated and unable to give consent.

About six dozen women appeared at a news conference in Washington Friday morning to show support for Kavanaugh. Standing under a banner with the hashtag #IStandWithBrett in pink lettering, several of them spoke about their interactions with him over the years and vouched for his character.

One of the women, Meghan McCaleb, said she knew Ford when she was younger, but, “Not well. She was friends of friends.” McCaleb said she never recalled being at a party with her.

“She hung with a different crew than we hung with,” said McCaleb.

McCaleb said she has known Kavanaugh for 38 years and was close friends with him in high school. The accusations he faces “represent a stark departure from the behavior my friends and I have witnessed for more than four decades,” McCaleb said.

Sara Fagen, who led the news conference and worked with Kavanaugh in the George W. Bush administration, called the allegation against him “false.” She provided no specific evidence for her claim, beyond arguing it goes against everything she and others know about him.

“The reason that we know that this allegation is false is because we know Brett Kavanaugh,” said Fagen. She declined to comment on Trump’s Friday tweet about Ford.

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