On Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to the lawyers representing Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school. He shot down the stall tactic of demanding an FBI investigation before Ford would testify at a Senate hearing and gave a concrete deadline for her testimony.
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation has supplemented Judge Kavanaugh’s background investigation file in light of the allegations raised by your client,” Grassley wrote to Debra Katz and Lisa Banks. While the FBI has added to Kavanaugh’s background file, weighing claims of sexual assault for a judicial nominee does not fall under the FBI’s purview.
“It is not the FBI’s role to investigate a matter such as this,” Grassley explained. “Before nominating an individual to a judicial or executive office, the White House directs the FBI to conduct a background investigation. The FBI compiles information about a prospective nominee and sends it to the White House. The White House then provides FBI background investigation files to the Senate as a courtesy to help us determine whether to confirm a nominee.”
“The FBI does not make a credibility assessment of any information it receives with respect to a nominee. Nor is it tasked with investigating a matter simply because the Committee deems it important,” the senator wrote. “The Constitution assigns the Senate, and only the Senate, with the task of advising the President on his nominee and consenting to the nomination if the circumstances merit.”
It would be impertinent for the Senate to demand an FBI investigation. “We have no power to commandeer an Executive Branch agency into conducting our due diligence,” Grassley wrote. “The job of assessing and investigating a nominee’s qualifications in order to decide whether to consent to the nomination is ours, and ours alone.”
All that said, the Republican displayed due deference to Ford and her allegations. “I certainly understand and respect Dr. Ford’s desire for an investigation of her allegations. That is precisely what the Senate is doing,” he wrote. “That is why our investigators have asked to speak with your client.”
Oddly, neither Ford nor her lawyers have responded to “several” attempts to contact them via phone and email. “We thus far have not heard back from you with regard to that request,” Grassley wrote. “Please contact Committee staff at your earliest convenience to schedule that call at a time convenient for you and your client.”
The committee chairman also told Ford’s lawyers that the hearing into her allegations — which they requested on Monday — has been scheduled for next Monday at 10:00 a.m.
Again, Grassley made clear his deference for Ford. “I have invited Dr. Ford to testify regarding her allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. And in recognition of how difficult it can be to discuss allegations of this kind in public, I have also offered her the choice of testifying in either a public or closed session of the hearing,” he wrote.
In addition to not responding to requests for information, Ford’s lawyers insisted on Tuesday that “an FBI investigation of the incident should be the first step in addressing her allegations.”
Respectfully, he disagreed and gave an excellent reason why — the Constitution does not allow the Senate to outsource its investigation into the fitness of a Supreme Court nominee to the executive branch or the FBI in particular. Ford’s lawyers must have known this.
“I have reopened the hearing because I believe that anyone who comes forward with allegations of sexual assault has a right to be heard, and because it is the Committee’s responsibility to fully evaluate the fitness of a nominee to the Supreme Court,” Grassley noted. He set a concrete deadline for Ford’s testimony.
“You have stated repeatedly that Dr. Ford wants to tell her story. I sincerely hope that Dr. Ford will accept my invitation to do so, either privately or publicly, on Monday,” the chairman wrote. “I remind you that, consistent with Committee rules, Dr. Ford’s prepared testimony and biography are due to the Committee by 10:00 a.m. on Friday, September 21, if she intends to testify on Monday.”
This deadline may not be set in stone — Grassley will likely remain cordial with Ford, especially since the committee has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
This cordial response stands in marked contrast to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)’s claims that Republicans are “bullying” Ford into doing what she herself asked to be allowed to do — testifying before the Senate.
Since Ford’s allegations are 35 years old, they have passed well beyond the bounds of the statute of limitations. This essentially makes Ford a character witness against Kavanaugh, and a weak one at that. On Wednesday, one of the supposed witnesses of the alleged assault testified that he had no knowledge of the assault, or of the party at which it allegedly occurred.
Furthermore, about 200 women have vouched for Kavanaugh’s respect for women, and two of the women he dated have also testified that he was “a perfect gentleman” with them. It seems increasingly clear that the FBI stall tactic, and perhaps even the allegations themselves, are a last-ditch effort to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
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