By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Nicholas Fandos and Julie Hirschfeld Davis

New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate Judiciary Committee and lawyers for the woman who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her decades ago reached a tentative agreement Saturday for her to publicly testify Thursday, a breakthrough that could alter the bitter confirmation fight.

After a call late Saturday, the woman’s lawyers and aides to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, planned to talk again Sunday morning to continue the negotiations over conditions of the testimony, according to people familiar with the call. Aides to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat, were also involved.

In a possible setback for the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, Republicans on the committee received a statement Saturday that seemed to eliminate any chance of corroboration of Blasey’s account by anyone who attended the high school party where she says she was assaulted.

A woman named Leland Keyser — who is believed to have been identified by Blasey as one of the five people at the party — told the committee through a lawyer that she “does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present, with, or without, Dr. Ford.” Two men said to have been at the party, Mark Judge and Patrick Smyth, have also told the committee that they have no recollection of the events.

Still, even without corroboration, any testimony by Blasey would set up a potentially explosive showdown, and it could greatly complicate matters for Kavanaugh, who just last week — before Blasey came forward with her account of the assault — seemed destined for confirmation to the Supreme Court.

While the negotiations over Blasey’s testimony seemed to gain momentum, they could still falter over the details, which include who will question her. In tentatively agreeing to a Thursday hearing, Republicans made a significant concession that suggested they were working to ensure that the session occurred after several days of uncertainty.

If no final deal is made, Grassley will be left to decide on Sunday whether to move ahead with a committee vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination that is scheduled for Monday, or give Blasey more time. Kavanaugh, who has vigorously denied the allegations, has repeatedly expressed his desire to testify.

Grassley had set 2:30 p.m. Saturday as a final deadline for Blasey to agree or decline to appear. In a letter to the committee sent to meet that deadline, lawyers for Blasey, 51, a research psychologist in Northern California, said they were hopeful that an agreement could be reached on the details.

Blasey “accepts the committee’s request to provide her firsthand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct next week,” they wrote. The lawyers called details of Grassley’s earlier proposal, including a Wednesday hearing date, “fundamentally inconsistent with the committee’s promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations.”

The tentative deal reached hours later came as White House officials and Republicans on Capitol Hill were growing increasingly frustrated at what they said was a ploy to delay the Monday vote. After the Judiciary Committee revealed Keyser’s statement, the White House swung into the offensive against Blasey.

“One week ago, Dr. Christine Ford claimed she was assaulted at a house party attended by four others,” said Kerri Kupec, a White House spokeswoman. “Since then, all four of these individuals have provided statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee denying any knowledge of the incident or even having attended such a party.”

A lawyer for Blasey, Debra Katz, said in a statement that it was “unremarkable that Ms. Keyser does not remember attending a specific gathering 30 years ago at which nothing of consequence happened to her.”

Democrats praised Blasey and said they hoped the agreement would hold together. “She is a profile in courage,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who is on the committee and was briefed on the back-and-forth. “She has come so far in meeting truly outrageously arbitrary and unfair demands simply to speak her truth to power and to the American people.”

The tentative agreement was the latest turn in an on-again, off-again negotiation that began cordially with Blasey voicing an openness to testifying but quickly turned acrimonious. There have been several sticking points, including who would question her at a hearing — Republicans want to hire an outside counsel; Blasey would prefer to be questioned by senators — and how many news media cameras would be present. The lawyers have also asked for the committee to subpoena testimony from Judge, who Blasey has said witnessed the assault.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said he has enough votes to confirm Kavanaugh, but with at least two Republicans in the Senate undecided and with the party holding only a 51-49 majority, it is hardly assured. It is increasingly unlikely that Kavanaugh will have the support of even a single Senate Democrat.

Privately, Republican senators were working to resolve differences among themselves about how to proceed. Some favored cutting off negotiations over the hearing and moving swiftly to a vote, while others pushed to accommodate Blasey’s wishes.

One of those who has favored accommodation, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said on Twitter on Saturday afternoon that he saw progress. “This is good,” he wrote.

Among the many considerations, according to one official close to the discussions, was how Republican voters would react to any move to push past the allegations. President Donald Trump suggested at a rally on Friday night that he believes that the public, including many women, want to “fight for” Kavanaugh.

After breaking his silence about Blasey on Friday and questioning her allegations, the president on Saturday stayed mum about her, heeding the advice of aides who have warned him repeatedly against appearing to attack her.

Blasey’s accusations, coming just days before the Judiciary Committee was initially set to vote on Kavanaugh, have rocked official Washington, evoking memories of the 1991 confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexual harassment by law professor Anita Hill.

They have further energized Democrats, and women particularly, in a midterm election in which Republicans are struggling to court the female vote.

Blasey has said that a drunken Kavanaugh assaulted her during a small party in suburban Washington when they were both in high school.

As Judge watched, she said, he pushed her onto a bed, jumped on top of her, groped her, covered her mouth, and tried to remove her clothing. Blasey was able to leave the room when the friend jumped atop both of them, she said.

Officials said Kavanaugh, who spent much of this past week at the White House preparing for a hearing, was well rehearsed and ready to appear on Capitol Hill if senators opted to go forward with a session.

At mock hearings last week, according to a White House official, he practiced fielding specific questions about the accusations and deflecting broad inquiries about his social life, such as his general drinking habits

21306433