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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse Discusses Sexual Assault Allegations Against Kavanaugh


The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says he's holding out hope that Christine Blasey Ford will testify on Monday. Ford has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of trying to sexually assault her more than three decades ago when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh denies it. He says he's ready to speak publicly Monday. But Ford wants the FBI to investigate her claims before she testifies. She says she's received death threats and been forced to leave her home, and Democrats have taken her side. One of them is on the line now. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, welcome to the program.

SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: Thank you - great to be with you.

CORNISH: Now, you've said that the FBI needs time to take proper witness statements. But others argue that Brad Kavanaugh has been through plenty of government background checks. So what could a new FBI investigation at this date turn up?

WHITEHOUSE: This incident. There has been exactly zero investigation of this incident. The claims were only brought forward recently when this very courageous woman decided to identify herself and make her claims public and specific. And the FBI have never looked at them. There have never been statements taken of the victim, of the alleged participants, of anybody else who was in the house. Nothing yet has been said about it that is even under oath. This has been a charade, an absolutely disgraceful failure of process.

CORNISH: Now, Chairman Chuck Grassley has said that, quote, "her testimony would reflect her personal knowledge and memory of events." But he also said that nothing the FBI or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee. He says that the - this - no reason for the delay. What's your response?

WHITEHOUSE: It just makes absolutely no sense at all. Anybody who has done cases before, particularly cases involving sexual assault, understands that you don't just interview the victim. You look for corroborating statements. You interview other witnesses who were present. You look for whether there's any lingering physical or other evidence. You look for corroborating statements by the witness. You look for a whole array of evidence that puts the case together.

What they basically are trying to do is disable all of the evidence that would support this victim and leave her out there on her own with no evidentiary support and turn this into a credibility contest because that's the easiest way for them to get Judge Kavanaugh confirmed.

CORNISH: Will Democrats participate in a committee hearing if Brett Kavanaugh's the only witness?

WHITEHOUSE: I can't speak for others. I would be I think - speaking for myself - very reluctant to provide that veneer of credibility to something that is so clearly a kangaroo hearing. And I would be ashamed to participate in something that was so unfair and disrespectful to somebody who came forward as a victim of sexual assault.

CORNISH: If in the end Ms. Ford's allegations are all you will have to go on, is it enough to disqualify Brett Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court?

WHITEHOUSE: You have to think that in the ordinary course, you know, the defendant, the suspected assailant, gets the benefit of the doubt in a criminal proceeding - has to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But in this case, this is a person who wants to be on the United States Supreme Court and is in a position to say, because I want to be on the Supreme Court, I want to make sure that I live a life that shows the importance of real, proper process.

And I insist on there being a proper investigation before this goes forward. That's the only way this should be done, and I won't be party to something that is this foully mistreated. He is complicit in a process that is doing its very best to suppress evidence and to provide an unfair hearing. And nobody wants to be - a judge on the top court of the United States should be complicit in those acts.

CORNISH: Senator Whitehouse, thank you for speaking with us.

WHITEHOUSE: Thank you - good to be with you.

CORNISH: That's Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. He's a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. NPR has also reached out to Republican members of the committee. None have made themselves available for interviews. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.