President Donald Trump said he backs his Supreme Court choice Brett Kavanaugh “all the way” and dismissed as “unsubstantiated statements” new sexual misconduct allegations as the nomination is at risk of unraveling.
“There’s a chance that this could be one of the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything,” Trump said as he arrived at the United Nations in New York Monday. “In my opinion, it’s totally political.”
The New Yorker magazine reported Sunday that Senate Democrats are investigating an incident that allegedly took place during Kavanaugh’s college years at Yale University, involving Deborah Ramirez, 53, also a Yale student at the time. Kavanaugh denied the allegation, and the White House issued a statement saying it stands firmly behind his nomination.
Separately, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer best known for representing adult film star Stephanie Clifford, who says she had an affair with Donald Trump before he was elected president, said on Twitter that he represents a woman “with credible information regarding Judge Kavanaugh.” Avenatti, who has said he’s considering running for president as a Democrat, said on Twitter his client is not Ramirez.
Kavanaugh’s nomination was already in a perilous state ahead of a hearing planned for Thursday on an allegation by Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her at a high school party three decades ago. Kavanaugh, who has denied that claim, is also scheduled to testify. He has denied being at such a party, according to GOP Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a strong Kavanaugh backer.
Trump said of Kavanaugh Monday that “he’s a fine man, with an unblemished past” and questioned the allegations, suggesting reporters should look into the lawyers who are representing the women.
Hatch and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both senior GOP Judiciary panel members, said in separate statements Monday that the hearing with Ford should go ahead Thursday as planned, and then the committee should vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“Everything is an excuse for delay, no matter how unsubstantiated,” Hatch said.
Republicans over the weekend stepped up their attempts to discredit Ford’s story, and a White House statement on the New Yorker story called the article part of a coordinated attack on the nominee. A second White House statement said the New Yorker hadn’t found any other eyewitnesses to say Kavanaugh was at the party involving Ramirez, and that Ramirez acknowledged she had “significant gaps” in her memories of the evening.
The Judiciary panel’s Republican staff “will attempt to evaluate these new claims,” Chairman Chuck Grassley’s spokesman, Taylor Foy, said in a statement Sunday night. Foy accused Democrats of withholding information, saying the Republican staff learned of Ramirez’s allegation from the New Yorker article, which said some Democratic staff were aware of the claim. It also said senior Republican staff learned of the allegation last week.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said the allegations are “starting to feel like a vast, left-wing conspiracy.”
“I know there’s pent up demand for women to get their day,” she said in an interview with CBS on Monday morning. “I just don’t think one man’s shoulders should bear decades of the #metoo movement.”
The new allegations raised broader questions about a nominee whose confirmation seemed all but certain two weeks ago. Senate Republicans will now have to decide whether to move ahead with the Thursday hearing, or put Kavanaugh’s nomination on hold.
Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, in messages on Twitter Sunday night, called on Kavanaugh to withdraw his nomination.
Seating Kavanaugh on the nation’s top court — or not seating him — could affect the fight for control of Congress in the Nov. 6 election. Republicans are looking for Kavanaugh to cement a conservative majority on the court, while Democrats say he could provide the fifth vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling.
The Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, on Sunday night called for postponing any further proceedings relating to Kavanaugh. “I also ask that the newest allegations of sexual misconduct be referred to the FBI for investigation,” she said.
The claim reported by the New Yorker dates to the 1983-84 academic school year, when Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale. Ramirez said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drunken dormitory party.
The New Yorker said Ramirez had hesitated to speak publicly, partly because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident and there were “gaps” in her memory. She decided to come forward after “assessing her memories” and consulting with her lawyer, the magazine said.
‘This is a Smear’
Kavanaugh said in the statement about the latest claim that “this alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen. The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple.”
White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement that the latest allegation is “a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man.” She added: “This claim is denied by all who were said to be present and is wholly inconsistent with what many women and men who knew Judge Kavanaugh at the time in college say.”
Ford, the California college professor who accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in high school, has been negotiating details of her appearance before the committee on Thursday.
“Despite actual threats to her safety and her life, Dr. Ford believes it is important for senators to hear directly from her about the sexual assault committed against her,” her lawyers said in a statement.
While Ford agreed to Grassley’s latest terms to come before the panel, her lawyers faced several setbacks after earlier accusing Republicans of “bullying” their client.
“The committee determines which witnesses to call, how many witnesses to call, in what order to call them, and who will question them,” Grassley’s staff counsel said to Ford’s lawyers and Democratic staff in an email earlier Sunday. “These are non-negotiable.”
Among the witnesses Ford’s lawyers want to testify are Mark Judge, a Kavanaugh high school classmate she says was in the room when the assault occurred, but who has said he doesn’t recall the party. They also wanted two trauma experts and the polygraph examiner who conducted a lie-detector test on Ford to be called.
Grassley made one concession by agreeing to delay the hearing to Thursday, three days later than Republican leaders wanted and a day later than he’d proposed on Friday. The chairman previously agreed to other requests, including regular breaks, security arrangements, limited press access, and equal time for senators asking questions.
On Sunday evening, Avenatti posted on Twitter an email to the Judiciary Committee in which he accused Kavanaugh of participating in parties where women were given drugs or alcohol that allowed multiple men to have sex with them but offered no evidence and did not identify a victim.
Graham said on “Fox News Sunday” — before Ramirez’s accusation became public — that he wouldn’t vote against Kavanaugh without additional evidence.
“Unless there’s something more, no, I’m not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh’s life over this,” he said, adding that there’s no way Kavanaugh could be prosecuted based on the evidence presented so far.
If the public Judiciary panel hearing happens, it will echo the 1991 event when Anita Hill accused now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexually harassing her when he was her supervisor at two federal agencies. Thomas was confirmed after a hearing, chaired by future Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, that infuriated many women who believed the all-male committee mistreated Hill.
“Congress failed the test in 1991 with Anita Hill,” Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington state, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “How the Senate handles this, and the Senate Republicans handle this, will be a test of this time — of 2018.”