Grassley Reluctantly Agrees to New Kavanaugh Hearing After Attempted Rape Allegation

Chuck Grassley speaking in Nevada, Iowa as DuPont opens a cellulosic biofuel facility in October 2015. Photo: Amy Mayer/Iowa Public Radio Images via Flickr

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Monday agreed to hold another hearing on President Trump’s latest nominee for the US Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, after Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford publicly accused Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her during their high school years.

Just over a week ago, Grassley had claimed victory after wrapping up the initial hearing for Kavanaugh, whose confirmation looked close to assured despite the sustained opposition from (among others) abortion rights and gun control advocates and those angry at Grassley’s obstruction of Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Grassley’s celebration was premature: Last week, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, a ranking member of the committee, released a vague statement regarding information she’d received “from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.” The individual, Feinstein added, “strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision,” although she said she also referred the matter to the FBI. The New Yorker reported additional details.

Over the weekend, Ford spoke to the Washington Post, revealing her identity and more details of her version of the events that transpired during a summer party in the 1980s, when she said Kavanaugh drunkenly tried to rape her:

While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.

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

Before Ford came forward publicly, Grassley was already defending Kavanaugh. The senator released a letter that was apparently hastily signed by 65 women (with no apparent connection to the incident in question) who said they knew Kavanaugh when he was a student at the all-boys Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Maryland, and vouched for his good character.

Grassley initially said he had no plans to reschedule a vote planned for this week to move Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate for confirmation to the high court but would attempt to reach Kavanaugh and Ford by phone. On Monday, as his fellow Republicans moved closer to allowing for a subsequent hearing to allow Kavanaugh and Ford to speak — or threatening to vote against Kavanaugh if none was scheduled — Grassley continued to drag his feet, blaming Feinstein and other Democrats for interfering with the process.

“Unfortunately, committee Republicans have only known this person’s identity from news reports for less than 24 hours and known about her allegations for less than a week,” Grassley said in a statement. “Senator Feinstein, on the other hand, has had this information for many weeks and deprived her colleagues of the information necessary to do our jobs. The Minority withheld even the anonymous allegation for six weeks, only to later decide that they were serious enough to investigate on the eve of the committee vote, after the vetting process had been completed.

“It’s deeply disturbing that the existence of these allegations were leaked in a way that seemed to preclude Dr. Ford’s confidentiality,” Grassley added, before commending his own work in the Senate to protect whistleblowers.

Later on Monday, Grassley relented in the name of “ample transparency” while doubling down on his criticism of Democrats. “As I said earlier, anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has done deserves to be heard,” he said. “My staff has reached out to Dr. Ford to hear her account, and they held a follow-up call with Judge Kavanaugh this afternoon. Unfortunately, committee Democrats have refused to join us in this effort. However, to provide ample transparency, we will hold a public hearing Monday to give these recent allegations a full airing.”

The late development in the Kavanaugh confirmation process has drawn comparisons to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ nomination, which was stalled in 1991 after Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment when they worked together at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Five current members of Senate were around then to vote on Thomas. Four, including Grassley, voted to confirm him despite the allegation.

Meanwhile, the Democratic-aligned political action committee American Bridge tracked fellow Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst down in Washington to ask her if she would vote for Kavanaugh if his nomination still reaches the full floor.

“Is sexual assault disqualifying for a Supreme Court justice?” she was asked.

“Sexual assault, if they can prove it, absolutely,” replied Ernst, an Iraq war veteran who has cast herself as an advocate for military sexual assault victims.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.