With newfound aggression, GOP ramps up Kavanaugh fight
President Donald Trump listens as Judge Brett Kavanaugh his Supreme Court nominee speaks, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, July 9, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Alan Fram And Lisa Mascaro, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, September 25, 2018 5:22AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 25, 2018 5:46PM EDT
WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump accused Democrats on Tuesday of using a "con game" to try scuttling Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination and disparaged the account of the second woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, saying she herself conceded she was "totally inebriated and all messed up."
Trump's remarks came as Republicans worked to shore up GOP support for the beleaguered Kavanaugh, whose march toward Senate confirmation has been rocked by allegations of decades-old sexual improprieties from two women. On Friday, Trump had mocked claims by Kavanaugh's chief accuser of a sexual assault at a 1980s high school party, tweeting that she would have reported the incident to police if it was "as bad as she says."
While other Republicans have sought to undermine the women's accounts, Trump has gone further. Most GOP lawmakers have been less acidic in challenging the women's credibility, mindful of competitive November elections in which many female voters are already expected to abandon Republican candidates because of hostility toward Trump.
In remarks to reporters at the United Nations, Trump took aim at Deborah Ramirez, Kavanaugh's second accuser.
She told The New Yorker magazine that at a party both attended as Yale freshmen in the 1980s, a drunken Kavanaugh placed his penis in front of her and caused her to involuntarily touch it. She's said she was inebriated as well and has admitted to holes in her memory of some details.
"She said well it might not be him, and there were gaps, and she was totally inebriated and all messed up," Trump told reporters. "She doesn't know it was him but it might have been him and 'Oh gee let's not make him a Supreme Court judge because of that.' This is a con game being played by the Democrats."
Trump called Kavanaugh "just a wonderful human being" and suggested that Democrats were skeptical of Ramirez, saying, "They don't believe it themselves." He said rejecting Kavanaugh would be "a horrible insult" and "a very dangerous game" for the U.S.
Trump spoke two days before the Senate Judiciary Committee plans a pivotal, election-season hearing at which both Kavanaugh and his chief accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, are due to testify separately. That session, certain to be must-watch television for the nation, looms as a do-or-die wild card for Kavanaugh in which a split-second facial expression, a tear or a choice of words by either witness could prove decisive.
The hearing holds peril for Republicans as well. Fearful of letting the all-male roster of the panel's GOP majority question Ford, Republicans have hired an outside female attorney to do it. The hire was confirmed by a GOP aide to the Senate Judiciary Committee who was not authorized to speak publicly. The name of the attorney was not released.
Ford has said Kavanaugh tried removing her clothes and covered her mouth to prevent screams after he pinned her on a bed during a high school party.
Kavanaugh, 53, a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, has denied both women's stories.
Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of railroading Kavanaugh by using decades-old, "vague, unsubstantiated and uncorroborated" claims of sexual misconduct.
"Justice matters. Evidence matters. Facts matter," said McConnell.
The leader of the chamber's Democrats fired back, demanding that McConnell apologize to Ford for his assertion that Democrats are using the allegations to wage a smear campaign against the nominee.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said McConnell's comment "demeans many, many women" who have gone public with sexual harassment accusations, saying, "They're doing a noble thing."
No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois said by detailing the alleged 1980s incident when she and Kavanaugh were high schoolers, Ford exposed herself to ridicule and attack "even by the president of the United States in his tweets."
On the Senate floor, McConnell tried undermining Kavanaugh's accusers' stories but also focused on the need to treat Kavanaugh fairly.
"Vague, unsubstantiated, and uncorroborated allegations of 30-plus-year-old misconduct, where all the supposed witnesses either totally deny it or can't confirm it, is nowhere near grounds to nullify someone's career or destroy their good name," McConnell said.
Despite the forceful rhetoric and solid Kavanaugh support by most Republicans, his backing from several GOP senators was unclear, including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Arizona's Jeff Flake and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski. With the GOP's Senate control hanging on a razor-thin 51-49 margin, defections by any two Republican senators would seal his fate if all Democrats vote "no."
Asked Tuesday if there should be a fresh FBI background investigation of Kavanaugh, Murkowski said, "Well, it would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn't it?" Democrats have repeatedly demanded a renewed FBI probe, but that's been rejected by Trump and Republicans. Collins said she remained undecided about Kavanaugh.
One frequent Trump critic, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was clearly leaning toward Kavanaugh.
"I go into the hearings with very positive feelings about him, and I hope Thursday goes well," Corker told reporters.
Besides the allegations themselves, both parties must assess how the nomination fight is playing six weeks before an Election Day when Democrats could capture control of Congress. With all 11 GOP Judiciary committee members male, Republicans have hired a female attorney who would question Ford for them, said a GOP aide who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
On Monday, Ford advisers wrote to Judiciary committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., complaining that GOP staff had told them of the hiring of an unnamed "experienced sex crimes prosecutor" to interrogate Ford and requested a meeting with "her."
"This is not a criminal trial for which the involvement of an experienced sex crimes prosecutor would be appropriate," wrote Ford adviser Michael Bromwich.
In a Fox News interview Monday night, Kavanaugh said he would not let "false accusations drive me out of this process." Agreeing to a television interview was an extraordinary step for a high court nominee.
Kavanaugh said on the conservative-friendly Fox News Channel that he wasn't questioning that Ford, his initial accuser, may have been sexually assaulted in her life. But he added, "What I know is I've never sexually assaulted anyone," a remarkable assertion for a nominee to the nation's highest court.