Charlie Baker Says He Believes Kavanaugh Accuser, Wants Confirmation Halted

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By Matt Murphy and Colin A. Young

Governor Charlie Baker, for the first time on Thursday, said he believes Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee about her memories of being sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh when the two were in high school.

Baker, a Republican, has repeatedly said there should be an independent investigation into Ford’s allegations, but took it a step further on Thursday by saying that without an independent review Kavanaugh should be considered “unfit” for the Supreme Court. He also called Ford’s allegations against the nominee “sickening,” but did not say whether he thinks the behavior Kavanaugh is accused of should be disqualifying.

“I said that there should be a formal investigation, an independent formal investigation, and I said that because I believe Professor Ford,” Baker told reporters on Thursday.

Proclaiming his innocence, Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied forcing himself on Ford at a gathering of teenagers in high school, though he has not challenged her story that someone sexually assaulted her at a party.

“I also believe that that investigation needs to happen before anybody votes on anything,” Baker said. “And if people don’t do the investigation I don’t believe that he would be fit for the job because this is a critical issue. It’s been raised. And it deserves to be investigated.”

The governor’s comments came a couple hours after he used Twitter to call Ford’s accusations against the judge “sickening” and again call for a probe that Senate Republicans have so far resisted.

Baker’s Democratic challenger Jay Gonzalez criticized Baker on Thursday morning for not taking a more strident stand in support of Ford a day after Baker sidestepped questions about the veracity of her claims by saying only that they should be investigated.

“There should be no vote in the Senate,” Baker tweeted just after 10 a.m., breaking from many Republicans in Washington D.C.. It was not clear until later in the day whether he thought Kavanaugh’s nomination should be withdrawn, or whether he was simply reiterating his past position that there first should be an investigation.

Gonzalez, who attended a rally on City Hall plaza to show “solidarity” with Ford as the California professor was testifying, said, “I wholeheartedly believe Brett Kavanaugh is unfit and unqualified to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“It’s outrageous that Charlie Baker can’t stand up and denounce this kind of vile behavior. I will be a Governor who stands up for women, speaks out against sexual abuse and believes survivors who have the courage to share their stories,” Gonzalez said in a statement.

The governor said that either the FBI or another entity “familiar with law enforcement” could handle the probe. Asked whether he believes the three other women who have gone public in recent days with additional stories about Kavanaugh, Baker said those accusations should also be investigated.

“If they don’t do the investigation, they should not vote, and if they don’t do the investigation I also believe that his name should be withdrawn,” Baker said. “Either you beleive the investigation would clear you or you don’t. Do the investigation.”

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Senator Charles Grassley has tentatively scheduled a committee vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination for Friday morning, but it was not certain Thursday afternoon after Ford testified and as senators were preparing to hear from Kavanaugh whether the committee would move forward with the vote as planned.

Baker’s affiliation with the GOP has been frequent fodder on the campaign trail for Democrats, who know that President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress are deeply unpopular in Massachusetts. The governor’s endorsement of Geoff Diehl and his campaign against U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren has been a particular focus of Gonzalez’s given Diehl’s close ties to the Trump campaign in 2016.

Diehl, so far, has given Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt, but has said that he supports “due process.”

Asked Thursday whether Baker would still feel comfortable attending a fund raiser for Diehl if asked, the governor didn’t say yes or no but distanced himself from Diehl and the Whitman Republican’s campaign.

“We’re now less than 40 days from an election and I expect that I’m going to spend the next 40 days worrying about my election and Karyn Polito’s election,” Baker said.

He continued, “I think you’ll probably also see us campaign for members of the House and Senate, Republicans who we’ve worked with over the course of the past few years, but that’s really going to be my focus, which is pretty much as it has been, which is state stuff because that’s really at the end of the day what I’m most accountable to the voters of Massachusetts on.”

Diehl’s campaign did not respond to questions about whether it has asked Baker to campaign with or help fund raise for the Senate candidate, but Diehl said he expected they would “cross paths” while campaigning. Diehl has also said he thinks he could be an asset to Baker as a Republican from Massachusetts in Congress.

Baker is slated to attend a fund raiser next month at the UMass Club for state Representative Keiko Orrall, who is running statewide for treasurer against incumbent Deb Goldberg.

Orrall also happens to be one of two Republican National Committee members from Massachusetts, and her campaign did not respond to an email message seeking comment on Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceedings.