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Conn. Dems look to put Kavanaugh nomination into tailspin

September 17, 2018

WASHINGTON — For Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and their Democratic colleagues, last-minute surfacing of a sexual-abuse allegation may do to Brett Kavanaugh what hearings did not: Delay confirmation or sink his Supreme Court nomination entirely.

The allegation that Kavanaugh, as a high-school student, held down and groped a teenage girl developed into a full-fledged political firestorm Monday.

The accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, came forward publicly over the weekend and offered to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee — of which Blumenthal is a member.

“What we need now is a full, fair investigation by the FBI that involves witnesses, records and documents and enables the American people to know the facts,” Blumenthal said in an interview Monday.

“There is no question that confirmation must be delayed.”

Blumenthal and five other Democratic senators on Monday filed a lawsuit to compel release of documents by the National Archives and the CIA on Kavanaugh’s years as associate counsel and staff secretary in the White House under former President George W. Bush.

Late Monday, the White House said in a statement that Kavanaugh “looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation. He stands ready to testify (Tuesday) if the Senate is ready to hear him.”

Blumenthal has been an out front critic of Kavanaugh since President Trump nominated him in July. As a Democrat in the minority, he peppered Kavanaugh in three rounds of questioning during confirmation hearings two weeks ago.

But neither Blumenthal nor his Democratic colleagues on the committee landed blows sufficient to throw the Kavanaugh nomination off course. Nothing appeared likely to derail Kavanaugh until Blasey Ford, a clinical psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, stepped forward to recount how at age 15, she was assaulted by Kavanaugh, then 17, and feared he would “inadvertently kill” her.

Blasey Ford recounted that, at a party in Washington’s Maryland suburbs, Kavanaugh was “stumbling drunk” as he pushed her down on a bed, tried to yank off her one-piece bathing suit and put his hand over her mouth to prevent screams.

She told the Washington Post she escaped after a friend of Kavanaugh jumped on them and the three went toppling to the floor, enabling her to lock herself in a bathroom.

Although the incident in question took place in the early 1980s and was relayed months ago to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the senior Democrat on Judiciary, the allegation took on a life of its own Monday.

Republicans found themselves walking a tightrope between keeping the confirmation on track while not appearing insensitive to the complaint.

At least three Republicans whose votes are critical to confirmation — Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. — said the allegation against Kavanaugh must be resolved before a vote takes place.

Judiciary chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he wanted to try to resolve the matter through a series of phone calls with both Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford, a process Blumenthal said was inadequate.

“Informal phone calls are no substitute for a full, fair investigation,” he said. “There’s no margin of error for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. So there’s no reason to rush through the investigation to meet an arbitrary Oct. 1 deadline.”

Republicans had pledged to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1, the first day of the Supreme Court’s 2018-2019 term.

Murphy on Monday joined Blumenthal in the fray.

“These are really serious allegations,” Murphy said in a statement. “I’ve already made up my mind to vote against Kavanaugh, but for Senators who are still undecided or had announced their support for the nomination, there is just no reason to rush this.”

A vote by the GOP-dominated Judiciary committee had been scheduled for Thursday.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had promised a full Senate vote next week, in time to get Kavanaugh sworn in before Oct. 1. That timeline Monday appeared to have been badly damaged, if not scuttled entirely.

At the White House, President Donald Trump praised the 53-year-old D.C. federal appeals court judge for his “outstanding intellect,” saying Kavanaugh is “respected by everybody; never even had a little blemish on his record.”

He joined Grassley in criticizing Democrats for an allegation “that should have been brought up long before this.”

But he conceded it would take time for the allegation to be resolved. “If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay,” he said.

For Blumenthal, Murphy and other Democrats, the leveling of the allegation against Kavanaugh arguably represents their last and best chance to keep the Supreme Court from adding a fifth reliable conservative who could tip the court rightward for a generation to come.

For Republicans, delays in the confirmation process eat up valuable time they don’t have.

Further delays could push the confirmation vote past Election Day, raising the prospect that Democratic retaking of the Senate — a longshot at this point — could bring the curtain down on Kavanaugh for good.

Blumenthal declined to directly address the high-stakes chess game unfolding over the confirmation.

As a senator who declared his opposition to Kavanaugh on Day One, Blumenthal was among those on the lookout during confirmation hearings for misstatements, inaccuracies or contradictions — anything to offset Kavanaugh’s relatively smooth performance as an earnest, neutral jurist with no hidden agenda.

Whether the allegation against Kavanaugh succeeds where previous lines of attack failed remains to be seen.

“If confirmed, he could be critical in votes that affect real people leading real lives in really destructive ways, for decades to come,” Blumenthal said.

dan@hearstdc.com

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