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Senators call for delay of Kavanaugh confirmation after California woman reveals sexual assault allegations

Posted at 3:53 PM, Sep 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-16 18:53:55-04

The woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her during their teenage years identified herself in a report from The Washington Post on Sunday, in which she spoke about the allegations publicly for the first time. Her account of the situation was detailed in a confidential letter sent to Democratic lawmakers earlier this year.

On Sunday, the Post identified Kavanaugh’s accuser as Christine Blasey Ford, 51, a research psychologist in northern California.

Following the report, leading Democrats immediately called for an investigation and a delay in the vote. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., wrote Sunday, “I support Mrs. Ford’s decision to share her story, and now that she has, it is in the hands of the FBI to conduct an investigation. This should happen before the Senate moves forward on this nominee.”

A spokesman for Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Taylor Foy, dismissed the "uncorroborated allegations" and did not indicate that he intended to delay the vote.

NBC News reached out to Ford but did not immediately receive a response.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Grassley to delay the confirmation vote "until, at a very minimum, these serious and credible allegations are thoroughly investigated." Sens. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., also called for the vote to be postponed.

The Judiciary panel is currently scheduled to hold a vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination on Thursday. GOP leaders have been aiming to have him confirmed as a Supreme Court justice before the high court’s new term begins in October.

Grassley’s spokesman said the timing of the news raised questions about Democrats’ "tactics and motives."

"It’s disturbing that these uncorroborated allegations from more than 35 years ago, during high school, would surface on the eve of a committee vote after Democrats sat on them since July," Foy said, calling on Feinstein to release the letter she received in July.

Asked for a response to the allegation against Judge Kavanaugh, Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., responded: “If the Leader makes any new scheduling announcements, we’ll be sure to let you know.”

Kavanaugh has denied the allegations leveled against him by Ford. "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time," he said in a statement last week.

NBC News has reached out to Kavanaugh and the White House for comment. The White House responded by pointing to Kavanaugh’s Friday statement.

Another White House official, asked Sunday if Kavanaugh will withdraw his nomination, offered a firm "no" to NBC, pointing to the fact that "he has unequivocally denied the allegation."

Other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee joined with Schumer and Feinstein in calling for the vote to be postponed.

Harris, a possible 2020 Democratic presidential contender, tweeted Sunday that the allegation is “credible and serious.”

“The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to scrutinize SCOTUS nominees," she wrote. "A vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination must be delayed until there is a thorough investigation.”

Blumenthal expressed dismay Sunday that some Republicans were dismissing the allegations.

“Intimating that an assault is a mere political ploy not only offensively maligns Ms. Ford’s experience, it reinforces dangerous preconceptions that shame survivors into silence,” he said in a statement.

Besides Grassley, NBC News reached out to the other 10 Republican members on the Judiciary panel on Sunday afternoon seeking reaction to Ford coming forward publicly. Nearly all have remained silent, though Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., released a statement saying he’s willing to hear her story.

"If the committee is to hear from Ms. Ford it should be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled," said Graham, who added that he agrees with the concerns in Grassley’s statement "about the substance and process regarding the allegations in this latest claim" against Kavanaugh.

Ford’s allegations initially came to light in a letter sent to two California Democrats, Feinstein and Rep. Anna Eshoo, and was initially reported in The New Yorker by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer. In The New Yorker’s article, Ford asked not to be identified, but told The Post she wanted to be the one to tell her story.

Eshoo said in a statement Sunday, “I’m proud of my constituent for the courage she has displayed to come forward to tell her full story to the American people. In weighing her privacy and the consequences to herself and her family, she has demonstrated her willingness to risk these factors to present the truth.”

Ford alleged during a summer in the early 1980s, when she was in her late teens, Kavanaugh and another person drunkenly "corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers" in the suburbs of Maryland.

She said both she and Kavanaugh were teenagers at the time.

During the encounter, Ford alleges that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes while grinding his body against hers, according to the Post. She claims Kavanaugh tried to pull off her one-piece bathing suit, she added in the article.

She said when she tried to scream, Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth, the Post reported.

Ford told the Post the other person watched while this transpired.

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford told the Post. "He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Ford escaped after a friend, Mark Judge, found them and pulled them apart, she told the newspaper. Ford said she locked herself in a bathroom before leaving the house.

According to the Weekly Standard, Judge was named in the letter sent to Feinstein and Eshoo and denied that the incident occurred, telling the outlet, "It’s just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way."

During a therapy session with her husband in 2012, Ford described the incident but did not mention Kavanaugh by name, according to therapist’s notes reviewed by the Post. NBC News does not possess nor has it reviewed the notes.

Part of the notes say that Ford told the therapist four boys were involved in the alleged attack, according to the Post, but Ford said this was written in error. There were four boys at the party, she said, but only two were in the room.

The Post reported that Ford passed a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent in early August. The test determined that Ford was being truthful when she said a statement summarizing her allegations, according to the Post.