Kavanaugh accuser may still testify despite deadline

Friday deadline set for Christine Blasey Ford

By SUNLEN SERFATY, CLARE FORAN, JIM ACOSTA, ELIZABETH LANDERS AND MANU RAJU, CNN
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Christine Blasey Ford

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, has not closed the door entirely on testifying, a congressional source with knowledge of the hearing negotiations believes.

The source said they have interpreted all the back-and-forth over the last 48 hours between Senate Republicans and Ford's attorneys as evidence that Ford simply hasn't decided or shown signs of cold feet but hasn't closed the door entirely. They believe that her legal team is trying to buy time.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has set a deadline of 10 a.m. ET Friday for Ford's legal team to respond to a request for her to speak to the panel, but lawyers for Ford have insisted that an FBI investigation of the allegations should take place before further hearings are held.

Two sources familiar with the nomination process said, however, that it may not be a hard deadline after all. When asked whether Ford could respond after the Friday 10 a.m. deadline, both sources said -- in an apparent gesture to show flexibility by Grassley's committee -- that may be possible, noting she could conceivably respond to the committee later in the day and still have the ability to appear at Monday's scheduled hearing.

The sources, however, did not say how long Grassley and others on the committee would be willing to wait for an answer.

Despite the uncertainty over what happens next, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed confidence on Thursday that Kavanaugh will ultimately be confirmed. McConnell responded affirmatively when asked if he had confidence that Kavanaugh would be confirmed, telling CNN, "Oh yeah."

Kavanaugh at White House

Kavanaugh arrived at the White House on Thursday morning, the fourth consecutive day he has spent there as he prepares for the possibility that he will have to defend himself against the allegations before the Judiciary Committee next week.

Kavanaugh wants to be prepared to give his account if Ford does decide to testify without first having an FBI investigation. He has undergone multiple, lengthy practice sessions over the last few days -- detailing his teenage years and dating life to his confirmation team after Ford went public with her accusation of sexual assault.

There has been no new communication between Grassley and Ford's team as of late Wednesday night, a committee source told CNN. The only contact they received from Ford's attorneys Wednesday was an email confirming receipt of Grassley's letter to them.

Ford has alleged that at a party during their high school years, Kavanaugh pushed her into a bedroom, tried to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegations.

Democrats have echoed the call from Kavanaugh's accuser for the FBI to investigate the matter.

"Her request that the FBI reopen the background investigation into Judge Kavanaugh -- which I'll remind you was accomplished when Professor Anita Hill came forward with accusations (against now-Justice Clarence Thomas) in just a matter of a few days -- is a completely reasonable request," said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware.

President Donald Trump has defended his Supreme Court nominee in the wake of the allegations. Earlier in the week, the President said of Kavanaugh, "this is not a man who deserves this," and that the allegations "should've been brought up long ago."

Republicans: No outside witnesses

Senate Republicans are rejecting Ford's request to have outside witnesses testify at Monday's hearing.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, when asked why there would be no outside witnesses, told CNN: "We already had a hearing. That's what I call hijacking the regular committee process to accommodate political interests."

Cornyn added, "What we are interested in knowing ... is whether she had credible testimony that this event occurred as she said it did. If she doesn't show up, we don't have that information and we have to proceed without it."

Judiciary Committee spokesman George Hartmann said the plan is to only allow two witnesses to testify -- Kavanaugh and Ford, if she agrees. Ford's attorneys and Democrats have called for outside witnesses, as was the case in the Anita Hill hearings.

Cornyn also made clear that Republicans will move forward with a vote if Ford doesn't appear Monday.

"If she doesn't want to participate and tell her story, there's no reason for us to delay," he said. "I think it all depends on what she decides to do. We've all made clear this is her chance. ... But if she doesn't want to do that, then we're going to have a markup."

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