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Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor at the center of a sexual assault accusation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, has agreed to testify to representatives of the Senate Judiciary Committee sometime next week, her lawyers said on Saturday.
NBC News confirmed reports that both sides tentatively agreed to testify Thursday , although several details remained unsettled and an agreement may yet fall apart. Just as news was breaking about the potential hearing date, the White House released a statement saying "today we appear no closer to a fair hearing" after the back-and-forth between Ford's lawyers and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"But one thing has remained consistent: Brett Kavanaugh remains ready, willing and eager to testify as soon as possible," White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in the statement.
Ford's appearance would put an end to a stalemate that's lasted for several days, and engulfed Kavanaugh's nomination in a firestorm of controversy. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking lawmaker threatened to advance a vote as early as Monday, in an ultimatum meant to compel Ford to tell her side of the story.
In a letter, Ford's lawyers suggested several sticking points remained before their client would appear. The letter blasted the committee's proposals for Ford's testimony as "fundamentally inconsistent with the committee's promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations, and we are disappointed with the leaks and the bullying that have tainted the process," wrote Debra Katz and Lisa Banks.
However, "we are hopeful that we can reach agreement on details," they added.
The Senate's oversight body and Ford's representatives have been in a protracted negotiations for her to appear in person, but failed to agree to terms. Meanwhile, Democrats have made numerous attempts to stall Kavanaugh's selection, with the GOP still holding a slim majority in the Senate.
Ford's accusation has ricocheted through Washington, costing Kavanaugh public support and stalling his march to confirmation ahead of the hotly contested midterm elections. Democrats are seen holding an advantage, with Ford's defenders and critics trading accusations of political motivations.
Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, had been negotiating with Ford's legal team about whether she would appear, and under what conditions.
The sparring between the two camps has been bitter, with Democrats accusing the GOP of rushing Kavanaugh's nomination, while Republicans have walked a delicate line between giving Ford a fair hearing, and trying to get the seat filled ahead of midterms.
In a lengthy post on Twitter, Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch sought to rebut several claims raised by Ford's defenders who have argued committee members have not been sympathetic to her plight. In response to conditions set by Ford's legal team earlier this week, Hatch said that the Judiciary Committee staffers were willing to travel to California to hear her testimony, and have been willing to extend the deadline repeatedly.
"We are absolutely sympathetic to limitations with regard to travel, which is why Chairman Grassley has repeatedly offered to send staff directly to Dr. Ford in California, so that travel would not be necessary," Hatch tweeted.
After the release of the latest letter from Ford's attorneys, Hatch pointed out that the Senate committee members "are no closer to hearing from Dr Ford then we were when her lawyers said Dr. Ford was willing to testify during their media tour six days ago."
Meanwhile, actions by key political players on both sides of the aisle have upped the stakes, and curdled the debate. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, was the first to receive Ford's initial letter but withheld it for months.
Feinstein has come under withering scrutiny for being secretive about disclosing the letter's contents, after she referred it to federal investigators in a dramatic 11th hour bid to stall the nomination process.
Separately, President Donald Trump has gone on the offensive to defend Kavanaugh, and on Friday launched into a heated attack on Ford herself.
Below is the full text of the letter Ford's legal team sent to Senate staffers:
Dr. Ford accepts the Committee's request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh's sexual misconduct next week. Although many aspects of the proposal you provided via email, on September 21, 2018, at 2:33 pm, are fundamentally inconsistent with the Committee's promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations, and we are disappointed with the leaks and the bullying that have tainted the process, we are hopeful that we can reach agreement on details. Can we set up a time for later this afternoon to continue our negotiations?
Debra S. Katz