Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, of sexual assault, will not testify in front of a Senate panel on Monday, but is willing to appear sometime next week if certain terms are met, her lawyer said, citing safety concerns.
Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, has been given a Friday deadline by the Republican-led Judiciary Committee to decide whether to testify at a high-stakes hearing it has scheduled for Monday.
Her lawyer, Debra Katz, said in an email to committee staff on Thursday that Ford would be willing to testify under “terms that are fair and which ensure her safety” and asked to schedule a call later in the delay to discuss the conditions.
If Ford agrees to appear, it would set the stage for a potentially explosive hearing just weeks before congressional elections that will decide the balance of power in Congress, against a backdrop of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.
Ford said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982 when both were high school students in Maryland, an allegation Kavanaugh called “completely false”.
“As you are aware, she has been receiving death threats, which have been reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and she and her family have been forced out of their home. She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety,” Katz wrote to the committee.
“A hearing on Monday is not possible and the Committee’s insistence that it occur then is arbitrary in any event,” Katz added.
A senior White House official said Kavanaugh and his wife also have received threats.
Chuck Grassley, the committee’s Republican chairman, on Wednesday, sent a letter to Ford’s lawyers giving her until 10am (14:00 GMT) on Friday to submit prepared testimony if she intended to show up on Monday.
Ford’s lawyers had said on Tuesday she would testify only if the FBI first investigated her allegation. The FBI has said it is not investigating, a decision backed by Republicans who have accused Democrats of trying to delay the confirmation process.
In the new email, Katz said Ford’s “strong preference continues to be for the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow for a full investigation prior to her testimony”.
The confirmation fight has unfolded in the run-up to November 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are seeking to take control of Congress from Trump’s fellow Republicans.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation would solidify conservative control of the Supreme Court and further Trump’s goal of moving the high court, and federal judiciary more broadly, to the right.
The Senate is narrowly controlled by Republicans, who have embraced the idea of a quick vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination if Ford does not testify.
US Capitol Police said 56 protesters were arrested in Senate office buildings during demonstrations against Kavanaugh on Thursday.
Many wore buttons stating “I believe Dr Christine Blasey Ford.”
Kavanaugh has had a relatively smooth confirmation track until the allegations against him were reported last week. Ford, whose identity was unknown until Sunday, had sent a letter to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein in July. In the letter, Ford said she had received medical treatment after the assault, adding that “it is upsetting to discuss sexual assault and its repercussions, yet I felt guilty and compelled as a citizen about the idea of not saying anything”.
After reports of the letter surfaced last week, Feinstein released a statement, saying she had received the letter”.
“That individual [who sent the letter] strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honoured that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities,” Feinstein said.
According to the Washington Post, Ford, who had also contacted the newspaper in July, decided to go public after it became clear people were learning her identity.
Democrats, already opposed to Kavanaugh even before Ford made her allegation, accused Republicans of trying to railroad the nomination through the Senate.
“They are totally intent on getting Judge Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court, come hell or high water,” said Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono, who touted a letter of support for Ford signed by more than 1,000 women who graduated from the Maryland school Ford attended in the 1980s.
Responding on Twitter to Democratic criticism, the Republican-led Judiciary Committee defended Grassley’s approach and described how its staff members have contacted four people alleged to have been present at the house where the alleged incident occurred.
One of the four has yet to be publicly identified. Two others have said they have no recollection of any incident like the one Ford described.
Twelve of Ford’s family members wrote an open letter, posted on Twitter by her niece, actress and singer Bridgit Mendler, calling Ford “highly ethical” and saying “her honesty is above reproach.”
“We believe that Chrissy has acted bravely by voicing her experience from the past, and we know how difficult this is for her. Chrissy is not someone who chooses to be in the spotlight,” the letter said.
Dr Christine Blasey Ford, or Aunt Chrissy as I know her is the person who patiently helped me with my college application, she was the first to give me a hug when I saw my family on vacation. Please remember her humanity. This is a message from our family #DearProfessorFord pic.twitter.com/p9Ptc6zIZv
— Bridgit Mendler (@bridgitmendler) September 20, 2018
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in three women in the United States experience some form of sexual violence in their lives.