WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee has committed to a public hearing Thursday to question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford about her accusation that he sexually assaulted her when both were teenagers, according to people familiar with the deal the parties struck on Sunday.
"We committed to moving forward with an open hearing on Thursday Sept. 27 at 10 a.m.," Ford's attorneys said in a statement, noting that their client had agreed to appear despite the committee's refusal to let her speak after Kavanaugh's testimony or to interview other people she said were present at the party where she alleges Kavanaugh assaulted her during the early 1980s.
Ford's attorneys said they had not been informed whether Republican staffers or senators would be asking questions of her, though it is customary during public hearings for the members to put questions to the witnesses.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, thanked her for accepting the invitation in an email that, according to people familiar with its contents, also reminded her attorneys that "the committee determines which witnesses to call, how many witnesses to call, and what order to call them and who will question them. These are nonnegotiable."
The deal comes after days of intense negotiations in which Ford's attorneys sought to push back a hearing that Grassley initially tried to schedule for Monday, while she and Democrats asked that the FBI launch an investigation into her claims.
Ford claims that when both she and Kavanaugh were teenagers, they attended a party in Maryland where he forced her onto a bed, drunkenly groped her and tried to take off her clothes, putting his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. Ford said Kavanaugh's friend Mark Judge was in the room during the assault - but neither he nor others who she said were at the party have claimed any knowledge or memory of the incident, though at least one said she believes Ford's allegations.
Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the charges and is expected to do the same on Thursday. But it is unclear whether either his or Ford's testimony will sway most senators, some of whom said Sunday that there was little either person could say to change their minds about how to vote on his nomination.
"What am I supposed to do, go and ruin this guy's life based on an accusation?" Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on "Fox News Sunday." "I don't know when it happened, I don't know where it happened, and everybody named in regard to being there said it didn't happen. I'm just being honest: Unless there's something more, no, I'm not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh's life over this."
Meanwhile, on CNN's "State of the Union," Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, one of the most outspoken defenders of Ford, said she had difficulty believing Kavanaugh because her concerns about his credibility predated Ford's allegations.
"I put his denial in the context of everything that I know about him in terms of how he approaches his cases," Hirono said. "He's very outcome-driven, he has a very ideological agenda ... his inability to be fair in the cases that come before him.
"There are so many indications of his own lack of credibility," she said.
Democrats demanded that the FBI conduct an investigation into the matter, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said last week that if Democrats retake control in Congress, they will continue to investigate Ford's allegations.
Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said Sunday on NBC News' "Meet the Press" that more FBI scrutiny would be superfluous.
"Their role in this case is not to determine who is telling the truth," Perdue said, adding: "I hope that we will get to the truth" during the expected Judiciary Committee hearing.
Maryland has lifted the statute of limitations on criminal prosecutions of most forms of sexual abuse. But Republicans have said that a hearing into Ford's allegations is the most generous gesture they can make, arguing that the evidence is too thin to bring a criminal case or a civil trial, or even secure a warrant against Kavanaugh, Graham noted Sunday.
President Donald Trump also has backed the hearing. But in recent days, he has been publicly questioning the credibility of Ford's allegations, suggesting in a tweet that if the alleged assault was "as bad as she says," she would have filed charges at the time.
The fate of Kavanaugh's nomination is likely to still comes down to a handful of moderate Democrats and Republicans whose votes are uncertain. At least one of those swing votes, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said last week she was "appalled" by Trump's tweet.
"If one Republican senator should decide that Dr. Ford's allegations, assertions are true and that they are serious, it could make a big difference," Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said on ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," as Republicans said they hoped that Trump would not weigh in with any more tweets.
"I would advise the president to let us handle this," Graham said Sunday.
On CNN, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said that the hearing should proceed but that "they have to make sure it's responsible, and they have to take the politics out."
"Every accuser always deserves the right to be heard, but at the same time, I believe the accused deserves the right to be heard," said Haley, one of the top female members of the Trump administration. She added, "I think they have to do this swiftly and quickly, and they have to do it with a lot of care."
Hirono suggested that the allegations had already damaged Kavanaugh's credibility too much for him to receive a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.
"We already have one person who got to the Supreme Court under this cloud," she said. "We should not have another."
Hirono was referring to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed in 1991 despite his former colleague Anita Hill's accusations that Thomas had repeatedly sexually harassed her when both were at the Education Department.
"The Anita Hill hearing was a disaster, but they did have an FBI investigation, they did have other witnesses," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., charging that Republican senators had "predetermined the outcome" and set up a "he-said, she-said" showdown around Ford's allegations.
She also warned that "if the Senate plows through this ... if they don't do it right, there will be a tremendous backlash" - akin to the 1992 "Year of the Woman" that brought Murray, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., to the Senate.
“The Senate, Congress, failed the test in 1991,” Murray said. “How the Senate handles this, and the Senate Republicans handle this, will be a test of this time, in 2018, in the ‘Me Too’ movement, can we do better? And I feel we are failing that if we don’t do it correctly.”