Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) opened Thursday’s hearing on sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by introducing the matter as it stood that morning.
California professor Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of groping her and forcing himself on her during a high school gathering in the 1980s, which Kavanaugh has denied. Grassley said the whole matter has led to a "media circus," but he added that the allegations must be treated seriously.
Grassley defended the decision to have Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell handle questioning.
"The senators on this side of the dais believe an expert who has deep experience and training in interviewing victims of sexual assault allegations should be asking questions," Grassley said. "This will be a stark contrast to the grandstanding and chaos that we saw from the other side during the previous four days in this hearing process. I can think of no one better equipped to question the witnesses than Rachel Mitchell. Ms. Mitchell is a career prosecutor, civil servant with decades of experience investigating and prosecuting sex crimes."
Grassley argued Democrats have obstructed the process and declined invitations to participate.
"Judge Kavanaugh immediately submitted to an interview under penalty of felony for any knowingly false statements. He denied the allegations categorically. Democratic staff was invited to participate and could have asked any questions they wanted to, but they declined," he said, wondering why they wouldn’t question Kavanaugh.
"Every step of the way, the Democratic side refused to participate in what should have been a bipartisan investigation, and as far as I know, on all of our judgeships throughout at least the last four years or three years, that's been the way it's been handled," Grassley said.
Grassley lambasted the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), for her handling of Ford’s allegation.
"The Senate Judiciary Committee held its four-day public hearing from September 4 to September 7. Judge Kavanaugh testified for more than 32 hours in public. We held a closed session for members ask sensitive questions on the last evening, which the ranking member did not attend. Judge Kavanaugh answered nearly 1,300 written questions submitted senators after the hearing–more than all prior Supreme Court nominees. Throughout this period, we did not know about the ranking member's secret evidence. Then, only at an 11th hour, on the eve of Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation vote, did the ranking member refer the allegations to the FBI."
Grassley said Ford herself was mistreated by the allegations being leaked, presumably by Democrats.
He also condemned threats made against both Kavanaugh and Ford.
"I intend hopefully for today's hearing to be safe, comfortable, and dignified for both of our witnesses," he said.
Grassley defended the choice not to call for an FBI investigation by quoting former Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden, who argued the FBI was not able to determine guilt or innocence in such cases. When Biden chaired the committee in the 1990s, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas went through his confirmation hearings, in which sexual misconduct allegations also created controversy and extended the process.
"The next person that refers to an FBI report as being worth anything, obviously doesn’t understand anything," Biden said. "FBI explicitly does not, in this or any other case, reach a conclusion. Period."
Grassley recognized both Ford and Kavanaugh for their aid in ensuring "a fair and productive hearing."