WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A woman who has accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in 1982 will testify at a high-stakes Senate hearing on Thursday that could determine whether he is confirmed or rejected for the nation’s top court.
Christine Blasey Ford will give her account of an alleged incident, in which she said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party when both of them were in high school.
Kavanaugh, who denies the allegations made by Ford as well as two other women who have come forward, will also testify, although he will not be in the room when Ford is speaking.
The all-male Republican majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee has hired a female lawyer with experience prosecuting sex crimes, Rachel Mitchell, to question Ford.
Democratic senators are set to ask their own questions.
A conservative appeals court judge, Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump in July and appeared to be heading toward confirmation by the Republican-controlled Senate until Ford’s allegations became public earlier this month.
Now his fate is unclear. Although Republican leaders say they want to move forward with a confirmation vote, some moderate Republicans have not yet committed to voting for him.
They include Senator Jeff Flake, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A line had begun to form outside Capitol Hill hours ahead of the hearing that begins at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT).
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and all the Democrats on the judiciary panel have called on Kavanaugh to withdraw in light of the allegations, and said if he does not, an FBI investigation is needed before any Senate confirmation vote.
If Kavanaugh’s nomination survives what is expected to be tough questioning from Democratic senators on Thursday, the committee could vote on his appointment on Friday, with a final Senate vote early next week.
Supreme Court appointments must be confirmed by the Senate, and Trump’s fellow Republicans control the chamber by a narrow 51-49 margin.
The controversy in Kavanaugh’s nomination process has unfolded just weeks ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm congressional elections. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would cement conservative control of the high court as Trump moves to shift it and the broader federal judiciary to the right.
Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, has said a drunk Kavanaugh attacked her and tried to remove her clothing at a party in Maryland when he was 17 years old and she was 15.
Two other women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, have also accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during his youth. Their allegations will also likely be discussed at the hearing.
Ramirez accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself during a drunken dormitory party during the 1983-84 academic year when both attended Yale University.
Swetnick, whose allegations emerged on Wednesday, said she witnessed efforts by Kavanaugh and others to get girls drunk at parties so that they could be raped. She also said Kavanaugh was present at a 1982 party at which she was raped.
Reuters has not verified the accusations.
Kavanaugh has denied all the allegations, which Trump and some other Republicans described as last-minute smear campaigns.
Julie Swetnick, in an interview on MSNBC on Thursday, said she had not planned to air her allegations one day before the hearing. Her attorney Michael Avenatti, who also represents adult film star Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against Trump, echoed Democrats in an CNN interview on Thursday in calling for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate.
“Kavanaugh is going for a seat where he’s going to have that seat on the Supreme Court for the rest of his life. And, if he’s going to have that seat legitimately, all of these things should be investigated,” Swetnick told MSNBC.
Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung and Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bernadette Baum