1. Opinion

Editorial: Investigate first, then hold Kavanaugh confirmation vote

There should be a timely investigation of the allegation of sexual assault against Judge Brett Kavanaugh before senators hear from him and his accuser, let alone vote on whether they should confirm his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. The process offered by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles E. Grassley and today's deadline for Kavanaugh's accuser to take or leave a Monday committee appearance is unfair, irresponsible and unnecessary. The allegation is serious, and the vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation should be driven by facts, not artificial deadlines or the midterm elections.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a 51-year-old California research psychologist, has accused Kavanaugh, 53, of pinning her to a bed, groping her, covering her mouth and trying to remove her clothes during a party in the 1980s in suburban Maryland when the two were teenagers. In a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Ford describes a drunken Kavanaugh and his friend, whom she identified as his prep school classmate, Mark Judge, pushing her into an upstairs bedroom. Ford said she feared being accidentally killed by Kavanaugh's attempt to keep her from screaming. She says she got away when Judge jumped on top of them and all three hit the floor.

Ford never reported her story to authorities, but she shared it in 2012 in therapy with her husband. A therapist's notes document her account, as do notes from a subsequent therapy session. Ford conveyed the story this summer to her member of Congress, who forwarded her letter to Feinstein, who did not inform the committee at first out of regard for Ford's insistence on confidentiality. Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegation. Mark Judge, the only other person allegedly in the room, denied the incident took place. Another former student, who said Ford identified him as being present in the house, wrote the committee Wednesday that he had no knowledge of the party or the allegation.

Independently determining what happened between two young people in a private setting more than three decades ago may be an impossible task. But given the serous nature of the allegation, and the lifetime court appointment Kavanaugh is seeking to the naton's highest court, the Senate has an obligation to glean what it can to perform its constitutional vetting function. That diligence is the only fair course for the accuser and judge alike over a complaint that alleges criminal behavior, hangs over a Supreme Court confirmation and is fully in the public domain.

Grassley, an Iowa Republican, rejected requests by Ford's attorney and Senate Democrats this week to postpone a hearing on the allegation until after the FBI had time to investigate the matter. He dismissed the FBI background checks on court nominees as "a courtesy" the White House provided, and insisted he would not postpone beyond Monday an opportunity for Ford to be heard. Grassley offered to hold the hearing publicly or privately, and he said Ford could be questioned by Senate staff in California is she preferred.

That's not nearly good enough. There is no reason the FBI should not spend a reasonable amount of time to provide more clarity if it can. Grassley is downplaying the role of the background checks in the confirmation process and overstating the burden on the FBI to help senators make a more informed decision. As a gatekeeper to the Supreme Court, the Senate Judiciary Committee has a unique obligation to put country above party. So far, that's not happening here.