Kavanaugh sex assault accuser negotiates over US Senate showdown

Christine Blasey Ford, the woman whose accusation of sexual assault 36 years ago threatens to derail US President Donald Trump's conservative Supreme Court nominee, is now willing to testify in a showdown at the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ford's lawyers told the committee she refuses to appear at a hearing scheduled for Monday, where the accused nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, wants to give his side of the story.

The woman's attorneys called the date set by Republicans "arbitrary", according to multiple US news reports.

However, they said that she is open to negotiating a new date – under strict conditions, given the increasingly nasty atmosphere around the case.

"As you are aware, she has been receiving death threats, which have been reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and she and her family have been forced out of their home," Ford's lawyers said in a letter, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported.

"She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety."

That question of fairness is at the heart of a bitterly partisan debate over how to deal with the allegation that Kavanaugh drunkenly assaulted Ford at a party when he was 17, she was 15, and they were attending private schools outside Washington, DC.

Kavanaugh denies knowledge of any such assault and no further direct witnesses have come forward.

Trump backs Kavanaugh

Ford's lawyers repeated their call for the matter to be dealt with in a rigorous investigation, not what Democrats describe as a rushed hearing in the Republican-dominated Senate aimed at confirming Kavanaugh as quickly as possible.

"Her strong preference continues to be for the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow for a full investigation prior to her testimony," the letter said.

The lawyers and numerous Democrats have repeatedly called for the FBI to open a probe.

However, Trump has rejected ordering FBI involvement. His Republican party accuses the Democrats of using Ford as a last-minute spoiler to try and wreck Kavanaugh's path to the highest court, where he would tilt the bench firmly to the right for possibly years to come.

Republicans also fear that if the nomination is delayed any further, that remaking of the Supreme Court could be endangered by a possible Democratic sweep in the congressional midterm elections set to take place in seven weeks.

At a midterms campaign rally in Las Vegas late on Thursday, Trump told the crowd that he fully backs Kavanaugh.

While he steered away from criticizing Ford, he lavished praise on his nominee, calling him "one of the finest human beings you will ever have the privilege of knowing or meeting".

Trump went on to suggest that he already considers Kavanaugh likely to surmount the row and be confirmed to the lifetime appointment.

"Let it play out," Trump said. "I think everything's going to be just fine. This is a high quality person."

#Metoo cloud over hearing

An agreement on a new hearing date would set the stage for a showdown that could impact the future of the Supreme Court and the course of congressional elections in November.

The allegations come in the shadow of the powerful #Metoo movement against sexual harassment and assault, and echo the 1991 hearings for conservative Clarence Thomas to join the Supreme Court, when his former assistant Anita Hill accused him of repeated sexual harassment.

At the time, an all-male panel of Republicans ruthlessly smeared Hill's character, sparking a national backlash from women infuriated by her treatment.

This time, the Republicans on the committee are also all men, and they will have to tread delicately in a situation that could end up an intractable he said/she said debate.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that Kavanaugh's nomination faces growing opposition from voters, with 38% in opposition, compared to 29% in the same poll last month.

According to reports on Thursday, the Republicans are considering hiring a female outside litigator to handle the questioning, which would be televised nationally.

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