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Sen. Mazie Hirono Weighs In On Allegations Of Sexual Misconduct Against Brett Kavanaugh


The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee says he's working diligently to get to the bottom of sexual assault claims against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. It's not clear whether the committee will invite Kavanaugh's accuser to testify. The judge's nomination had appeared to be on the fast track until Professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward publicly this weekend.

Earlier, she had sent a confidential letter to California Senator Dianne Feinstein. Ford says Kavanaugh tried to assault her decades ago when they were both teenagers. Judge Kavanaugh denies anything of the sort happened. We're joined now by Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono. She's a Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee. Welcome to the program.


CORNISH: Now, there's been a lot of criticism of Senator Dianne Feinstein because she knew about this letter, this accusation, and only really hinted at it after confirmation hearings were over. Should she have said something sooner so that the committee could have investigated?

HIRONO: I think Senator Feinstein did what she could to protect the confidentiality of Dr. Ford, as it turns out. And I think that she did her best to do that. But in the meantime, when the Senate Democrats did meet with Dianne on Wednesday, the determination really was that this is a matter that should go to the FBI for investigation. So that is what happened.

CORNISH: But by raising it the way she did, she essentially invited more digging, right? And Ms. Blasey Ford was essentially outed without her consent.

HIRONO: I do not fault Dianne. But, you know, what we should be focusing on is that Dr. Ford has come forward now, and we have these allegations. And my question is, so what the heck is the committee going to do with these allegations? And I certainly do not want to see another Anita Hill kind of situation.

Unfortunately, what I'm hearing from both the chairman of the committee and others is that they'd just like to have this all swept under the rug. Have we not learned anything in the decade since Anita Hill - that these are serious allegations. And frankly, it is credible. These are credible assertions. And I believe Dr. Ford.

CORNISH: Judge Kavanaugh has denied these allegations. He's also said he's willing to speak to the committee publicly. Ms. Ford has said she'd be willing to testify in this.


CORNISH: The White House says they're willing to see this conversation play out in public. So is that what you're calling for - public hearings as well?

HIRONO: It's not just me. But I think this is what we have to do - is to operate in an atmosphere of transparency and that these allegations will be taken seriously. She will be heard.

CORNISH: But given what you said about the Anita Hill allegations and the way that played out, people look back at that now and call it a circus. I mean, do you think a hearing like that would actually be productive?

HIRONO: What I mean about the Anita Hill hearings is that not everyone came forward. And in fact, she was vilified. She was attacked. That is not the kind of hearing that I anticipate in this environment. I expect to have both witnesses come if they are willing to - and they both have expressed their willingness - and that everyone should be heard.

CORNISH: Have you heard anything from Chairman Grassley yet? And what are you suggesting to him?

HIRONO: Well, one of the things that he's put out is he wants to do a - basically only certain members of the committee who are cleared to have a closed conversation or a telephone call with Judge Kavanaugh - not under oath. So here's the chairman trying to do a behind-closed-door telephone call, and he's putting it out that somehow the Democrats are against this. The Democrats are against this because it's not public. It is not subject to being under oath. And that is the way we should proceed at this point.

CORNISH: Now you're also asking the chairman to postpone the committee's vote altogether - right? - on Kavanaugh. And if that doesn't happen, and he does hold a vote this week, what will you do?

HIRONO: I'll certainly be voting against it. But I have a feeling that there may be a few Republicans who also would object to the haste with which this nomination is being handled.

CORNISH: Up until this moment, it seemed like there were votes to confirm Judge Kavanaugh. Do you sense a change in this moment?

HIRONO: I think there's a new dynamic, and this is why people like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Jeff Flake and others are questioning the haste with which the chairman wants to go through with this decision-making on this nominee.

CORNISH: As far as you know, at this time, are there any other allegations of this kind against Judge Kavanaugh?

HIRONO: I have not heard of any. I don't know of any.

CORNISH: Senator Mazie Hirono, she's a Democrat from Hawaii. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

HIRONO: Thank you. Aloha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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