WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday charged that Democrats are running a “con game” to derail Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a Senate panel readied a special Thursday session to hear sexual misconduct allegations against him.
Trump stepped up attacks on the claim by Professor Christine Blasey Ford of a high school sexual assault as “totally unsubstantiated,” and he disparaged Deborah Ramirez for making an "uncorroborated" new charge that her Yale classmate Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drinking game.
One day after Kavanaugh took the unorthodox step of appearing with his wife on Fox News to deny both allegations, Trump accused Democrats of trying to make the federal appellate judge into “something he is not,” adding, “This is a con game being played by Democrats.”
Trump harshly criticized Ramirez: “The second accuser doesn’t even know, she thinks maybe it could have been him, maybe not. Admits she was drunk. She admits time lapses, and this is a series of statements that is going to ... keep him off the U.S. Supreme Court?”
As the allegations and the delay put Kavanaugh’s confirmation increasingly in limbo, the president and top Republican senators began pushing harder for a fast vote to approve his nomination. Tuesday evening, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced a 9:30 a.m. vote Friday, and Republicans said they want a final Senate vote within the next week.
Ford and Kavanaugh have been invited to make their case before the committee at a Thursday hearing, for which conditions were negotiated by Republican staff and Ford’s lawyers. Ramirez has not been invited, but many of the details have not been announced.
Senate Republicans have hired a woman lawyer, described as a former sex-crimes prosecutor, to question Ford “in a respectful and professional way,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Late Tuesday, committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, the sex crimes bureau chief for the Maricopa County attorney’s office in Phoenix, had been chosen by GOP panel members to question Kavanaugh and Ford.
Since all Republicans on the committee are men, that move could avoid a repeat of the optics in 1991 of men harshly grilling Anita Hill about her sexual harassment claims against Justice Clarence Thomas in his confirmation hearings.
Except for about a half-dozen senators, nearly all the members of the Senate have made up their minds, with Democrats opposing and Republicans supporting Kavanaugh’s nomination.
But with a narrow 51-49 majority, McConnell cannot afford to lose the support for Kavanaugh’s nomination by two or more of his Republican senators — and both Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said they’re undecided.
Asked if he had the votes, McConnell said, “We're going to be moving forward, I'm confident we're going to win. I'm confident he will be confirmed in the very near future.”
But McConnell and top Senate Republicans sought to walk a fine line as they backed Kavanaugh’s denials, dismissed two women’s sexual misconduct accusations against Kavanaugh as uncorroborated, while also promising to treat Ford with respect.
“We have two people here that have a different version of what happened. We need to listen to them both respectfully and then make a decision,” said McConnell, just hours after he called Ford’s allegations “unsubstantiated smears.”
Democrats denied Republicans' accusations that they had orchestrated the sexual assault claims in the high-stakes confirmation process to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose swing votes preserved legal abortion and affirmative action and allowed gay marriage.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) demanded that McConnell apologize to Ford for accusing her of “a smear job,” and he and other Democrats hammered away with demands for a delay in the vote and for an FBI investigation into the allegations by both Ford and Ramirez.
“If Leader McConnell were truly concerned about these allegations being swept up in partisanship, he would join us in calling for an FBI background investigation,” Schumer said.
Asked about bringing in the FBI, Murkowski said, “It would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn’t it.”