In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley kicked off the hearing where Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh will testify about allegations he groped her with an apology to both witnesses.

“They and their families have received vile threats,” Grassley said. “What they have endured ought to be considered by all of us as unacceptable and a poor reflection on the state of civility in our democracy.”

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The last thing Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee want is a televised Anita Hill redux.

They are taking pains to carefully stage-manage the Thursday hearing in which Christine Blasey Ford will testify about her sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Rather than asking questions themselves, the all-male GOP members of the committee will mostly outsource that responsibility to Arizona sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell. Security has been provided to Ford, who received death threats after going public with her allegations.

But the California professor’s allegations are centered around the hyper-sensitive topics of alcohol use and attempted sexual assault, meaning Mitchell will have to tread carefully to avoid appearing to victim-blame or cast Ford as a liar. Attorneys who have represented victims in sexual assault cases told TPM that she will likely make an effort to grill both Ford and Kavanaugh in equal measure.

“This entire show is not for the truth, right, it’s for the show?” D.C. attorney Les Alderman told TPM. “It’s to convince constituents that they’re either justified in voting for the guy or not voting for him. So it’s all about sound-bites and it’s all about the perception of the hearing.”

“If the perception is it’s not fair—he was given softball questions and she was crucified—that’s going to be a problem for Republicans going into the midterms,” Alderman continued. “But if Ms. Mitchell is consistent with her questions of both, then I don’t think there will be a way to attack the process from that standpoint.”

Ford is slated to give her testimony first when the hearing at the Dirksen Senate Building begins at 10 a.m. ET. She will present a statement detailing her allegation that Kavanaugh tried to remove her clothes and force himself on her at a high school party in the summer of 1982. His friend Mark Judge was in the room, alternating between egging Kavanaugh on and telling him to stop, she alleges. Kavanaugh, Ford has alleged, covered her mouth when she tried to scream.

Ford’s lawyers have provided to the committee the sworn affidavits of four people supporting her claims, as well as a copy of a polygraph exam she took this summer.

Those claims have remained very consistent since Ford first went public with her story on Sept. 16. But they are missing key details like the exact date and location where the incident occurred. Though victims of sexual assault often forget these kinds of specifics because of the passage of time or trauma they have suffered, holes in the story allow critics to cast them as dishonest, lawyers say.

“Basically, what you’re looking for is internal consistency in the story,” Paul Mones, an L.A.-based attorney who has represented victims of sexual abuse, told TPM. “And that the level of details is consistent throughout.”

If Ford can’t remember details of the night itself, Mones said, she may be asked about “what else she remembers about that time”—other significant events in the days leading up to or following the party.

Lapses represent the greatest challenge for Ford. For Kavanaugh, it will likely be the mountain of new information that has surfaced just over the past week.

A former Yale Law School classmate has accused him of exposing himself to her at a party, and another woman has alleged that Kavanaugh and his friends participated in a debaucherous high school scene in which women, including her, were routinely used for sex.

Kavanaugh has adamantly denied these new allegations. In a Fox News interview, he even claimed that he was a virgin for “many years” after high school and had never consumed alcohol to the point of blacking out. He also provided a calendar to the Senate Judiciary Committee detailing his activities from that summer.

But a host of former students who attended both high school and law school with Kavanaugh have gone on the record about his history of heavy drinking and the fraternity culture he participated in. Footage has also turned up of Kavanaugh himself joking about his youthful drunken exploits.

“Everybody has a tendency to exaggerate,” Alderman, the D.C. attorney said. “It doesn’t mean you’re lying, it means you’re a human being. One of the things we prep our witnesses on is to stop exaggerating, or be careful about it.”

“From that Fox News interview, he seemed like he didn’t get that message,” Alderman said.

Alderman also brought up the fact that Kavanaugh and his Georgetown Prep friends mentioned a girl named Renate Schroeder in their yearbook pages. While some interpreted the claim as a boast of sexual relations, Kavanaugh and other friends who used the caption said it was just a reference to dates they went on with her.

Alderman said he would focus in on this entry if he was questioning Kavanaugh “because that’s one thing where there’s actual written evidence that contradicts what he’s saying.”

The hearing is limited to questioning of Ford and Kavanaugh. No corroborating witnesses will be called. As of Thursday morning, the committee was still scheduled to hold a confirmation vote for Kavanaugh on Friday.

While President Trump claimed at a Wednesday press conference he “could be persuaded” by Ford’s testimony, the gears still appear to be grinding towards a full Senate vote next week.

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Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) raised heightened concerns about Judge Brett Kavanaugh following the newest allegations of sexual misconduct against him during a private luncheon with other Republican senators on Wednesday, according to CNN.

The senator, a key swing vote on the nomination, brought in a printed out copy of the signed affidavit to the luncheon, and sources told CNN she was visibly unnerved by the latest allegations, and questioned why Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge hadn’t been subpoenaed to testify about the allegations.

Julie Swetnick wrote a sworn statement to the Senate Judiciary committee on Wednesday claiming she’d seen Kavanaugh commit sexual misconduct at more than 10 parties while they were in high school, and that he was present at a party where she was raped.

“Obviously I take it seriously and believe that it should be investigated by the committee,” Collins told reporters of the new allegation earlier in the day. “My understanding is the committee’s investigators have already made a request.”

As TPM reported earlier, GOP lawmakers were grim as they exited the meeting, and took a more subdued tone towards the upcoming hearings than they had earlier.

Republicans can’t lose more than one of their own on the Kavanaugh vote if all Democrats vote against him. Collins and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) appear to be the most likely defectors.

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As they brace for a high-stakes hearing with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and a woman who has accused him of sexual assault, Senate Republicans found themselves juggling the allegations of yet another accuser, the third woman to come forward so far about inappropriate behavior by the judge when he was a young man.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated Tuesday that the GOP was full steam ahead in putting on the Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who faces allegations for sexual misconduct.

“I believe he’ll be confirmed, yes,” McConnell said at a press conference at the Capitol,  when asked if he had the votes.

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Two days before Christine Blasey Ford is set to appear in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss her allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh groped her when they were in high school, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) used his floor speech Tuesday to try to dismantle her account.

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A day after making calling the allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh “even more absurd” than the ones Anita Hill made a generation ago against Clarence Thomas, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) is seeking to clean up his remarks — without walking away from his view that the allegations are “absurd.”

“The question I was answering was how the current accusation against Brett Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford compared to the Anita Hill accusation against Clarence Thomas,” Cramer said in a statement to TPM Saturday afternoon. “The point of my answer was that the current allegations were even more absurd. At the time, there was a sense of legitimacy to what Anita Hill was saying, but it is hard not to be skeptical considering the timing and history of the allegation Brett Kavanaugh is facing. Of course, any allegation of this nature should be taken seriously, but absent significant evidence being brought forth immediately, I feel Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation process should proceed.”

Cramer, a top Senate candidate facing Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), doesn’t exactly back away from the thrust of remarks made Friday on a local radio show that Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh are “absurd.” But he steers away from his earlier remarks dismissing her accusations even if they were true “because these people were teenagers” and because “it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere,” in an attempt to walk back his earlier mockery of the details of the claim itself.

His Friday comments, surfaced by TPM and CNN, triggered an immediate firestorm in the political world.

They also drew a sharp rebuke from Heitkamp’s campaign.

“His comments were disturbing and representative of a bigger issue Congressman Cramer has with respecting women and victims of assault or abuse. As a public official elected by the people of our state, he owes North Dakotans answers on his deeply troubling views regarding sexual assault,” Heitkamp campaign manager Libby Schneider said in a Saturday statement. “Regardless of one’s opinion on the Supreme Court nominee, allegations of sexual assault should never be trivialized or diminished – as Congressman Cramer did yesterday. To insinuate that an assault shouldn’t be taken seriously because it ‘never really went anywhere’ is as dangerous as it is offensive. It’s unfortunate that this even needs to be said, but clearly it does – sexual assault is never OK.”

They risk damaging Cramer’s campaign even in the deep red state. The candidate has led Heitkamp in most recent public and private polling, but Democrats hope gaffes like this give her a chance to claw her way back to the lead.

The Senate Judiciary Committee and Ford continue to negotiate on whether and when she’ll testify, though the most recent tentative agreement has her and Kavanaugh up on the hill on Wednesday.

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