President Trump on Monday continued to stand behind his embattled Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, calling him “an outstanding person” and dismissing a second woman’s accusation of sexual misconduct as being part of an “unfair, unjust” political attack.
The president made his comments at the United Nations, where he is attending the annual opening session of the General Assembly, in response to reporters’ questions about a New Yorker article late Sunday. It reported an allegation by a Yale University classmate, Deborah Ramirez, that a drunken Kavanaugh exposed himself to her 35 years ago when they were freshmen.
Yet Trump’s forceful defense of Kavanaugh — and his call to Kavanaugh later Monday affirming his support — was part of a coordinated Republican strategy to counter building speculation that the nominee might have to withdraw, and to force a confirmation vote as soon as possible.
Even as the latest allegation further roiled plans in the Senate Judiciary Committee for an initial vote to confirm Kavanaugh, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed that the full Senate would vote to confirm him “in the near future.” And in an extraordinary gambit that reflected the potential threat to his nomination, Kavanaugh and his wife, Ashley, sat for an interview with Trump-friendly Fox News about the furor, for broadcast in prime time Monday evening.
Trump, in his remarks in New York, assailed the allegations and emphasized his continuing support for his nominee: “There's a chance that this could be one of the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything. But I am with Judge Kavanaugh and I look forward to a vote.”
The president also cast doubt on Ramirez’s accusation — just as he did last week after Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University, alleged a sexual assault by Kavanaugh when they both were in high school — by questioning why she had not long ago publicly complained and sought legal action.
“For people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago and from 30 years ago … never mention it and all of the sudden it happens … in my opinion, it's totally political,” Trump said. “It's totally political.”
Kavanaugh, in a letter to the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, similarly called the allegation from Ramirez “another false and uncorroborated accusation from 35 years ago” and pledged that he won’t back down from his nomination.
“These are smears, pure and simple. And they debase our public discourse,” he wrote. “But they are also a threat to any man or woman who wishes to serve our country. Such grotesque and obvious character assassination — if allowed to succeed — will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from service.”
Ford, who came forward last week only after her previously confidential allegation was leaked, reinforced her accusation in her own letter to Grassley over the weekend.
“I have one motivation in coming forward — to tell the truth about what Mr. Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge did to me,” she wrote, also naming the Kavanaugh classmate who allegedly participated in the attack but has denied doing so.
“My sincere desire is to be helpful to persons making the decision” about Kavanaugh’s confirmation, she added.
“I look forward to your testimony,” Grassley wrote by hand on his otherwise formal, typed letter of reply.
On Fox News, his wife seated beside him, Kavanaugh said, “I’m not questioning and have not questioned that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone in some place. But what I know is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone.”
He went so far as to say he was a virgin through high school, but declined to answer directly when asked whether 17-year-olds should be held responsible for actions like Ford alleges.
Asked whether he’d considered withdrawing his nomination, Kavanaugh looked to his wife and became slightly emotional as he replied, “I’m not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process.”
He added, “We’re looking for a fair process where I can be heard and defending my integrity, my lifelong record...of promoting dignity and equality for women, starting with the women who knew me when I was 14 years old.”
The Kavanaugh controversy is likely to overshadow Trump’s week of meetings at the United Nations, where he is set to deliver his second annual address to the General Assembly on Tuesday.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation path has already slowed. The Judiciary Committee postponed a planned vote last week after learning of Ford’s accusation, then scheduled a hearing for Monday and rescheduled it for Thursday when Ford objected. She and Kavanaugh are to separately testify.
Republicans have been intent on confirming Kavanaugh ahead of November’s midterm elections, hoping the conservative’s placement on the nation’s highest court would animate Republican voters and avert a possible Senate takeover by Democrats.
McConnell, in his remarks on the Senate floor Monday, angrily condemned what he called a coordinated “smear campaign, pure and simple, aided and abetted by members of the United States Senate.”
Democrats just as angrily decried McConnell’s rush. "People who don't want the truth will run away from a truth-teller and instead point fingers of accusation and wild, untethered allegations. That's what Leader McConnell is doing,” said the Senate Democratic Leader, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of two undecided Republican moderates who could determine Kavanaugh’s fate, demurred when asked by the hosts of Showtime's political program “The Circus” if she had made up her mind how to vote.
"How could I decide before hearing the testimony of professor Ford?" Collins said. "I'm close, I'm very close, but I'm not all the way there yet and professor Ford deserves to be heard."
The other Republican swing voter, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, similarly told The Times, “As with any allegation out there, it is our responsibility to look into it and treat allegations with the serious consideration they deserve.”
Collins, who, like Murkowski, supports abortion rights, also said that she does not believe that Kavanaugh would vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, which was her main point of concern about him before the misconduct allegations came out.
The importance of Thursday’s hearing was underscored by the responses of senators in both parties. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, another moderate Republican woman, said when asked about her vote, “Let’s wait and see what happens Thursday.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.) echoed her.
Although nearly all Senate Democrats oppose Kavanaugh, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of several swing voters in his party, said that Thursday’s hearing will be important to his vote. The allegations are concerning, he said, but Kavanaugh ”will have a chance to clear his name.”
Given Republicans’ narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate, a loss of just two votes against a united opposition would defeat Kavanaugh.
Republicans described McConnell's promise of a vote soon as a show of strength, a signal of confidence to supporters that Kavanaugh will be confirmed and to wavering lawmakers that they have to decide.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican Senate leader, predicted Kavanaugh would be confirmed, adding, “I think a lot of our members are just really upset with the tactics that the Democrats have used.”
But even Sen. Jon Kyl, a formerly retired Republican senator who helped advise Kavanaugh until Kyl was named to replace the late Sen. John McCain, said, “I'm still working real hard trying to figure out where to go and how to get there.”
Both accusers have described Kavanaugh as extremely drunk at the times of the alleged assaults and, on Fox, he acknowledged that senators are likely to question him about his drinking when he was young. But, he said, “I think all of us have probably done things we look back on in high school and regret or cringe a bit. That’s not what we’re talking about.”
Trump and party allies, eager to portray the allegations against Kavanaugh as part of a political attack orchestrated by Democrats, also have fixed on the attorneys representing the judge’s accusers.
Ramirez hired former Boulder, Colo., district attorney Stan Garnett, a Democrat who ran for state attorney general, to represent her. And Michael Avenatti, the attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels, who has alleged a past sexual affair with Trump — and who is himself exploring a Democratic presidential bid — claimed on Sunday that he represents a third, yet-unidentified woman ready to level similar accusations against Kavanaugh.
“These are highly unsubstantiated statements from people represented by lawyers,” Trump said Monday. “You should look into the lawyers doing the representation.”