US President Donald Trump on Monday branded sexual assault allegations that threaten to bring down his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh “totally political,” hardening his position ahead of an explosive Senate showdown.
Mr Trump, speaking in New York where he was attending the United Nations annual assembly, threw his full weight behind Mr Kavanaugh whose once straightforward progress to the nation’s highest court has been hit by two bombshell accusations of sexual misconduct from his school and university days.
The scandal is set for a showdown in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday when Kavanaugh, who denies all the allegations, will try to clear his name and Christine Blasey Ford will testify that he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
Republicans had been bullish about Kavanaugh’s chances to ride out the storm, given that Ford did not appear to have any corroborating witnesses ready to testify.
However, on Sunday The New Yorker magazine published a report of a second allegation in which Deborah Ramirez says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a 1980s college party at Yale University, forcing her to touch his genitals.
Trump made clear that he expects the Republican-controlled Senate to stick by Kavanaugh, who he said was being smeared by his Democratic opponents.
“There’s a chance that this could be one of the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate but I am with Judge Kavanaugh,” Trump said in New York.
“He is a fine man with an unblemished past and these are highly unsubstantiated statements from people represented by lawyers,” Trump said in comments broadcast on CNN.
“For people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago and 30 years ago and never mention it, all of a sudden it happens — in my opinion, it’s totally political.”
The stakes could not be higher in today’s turbulent US political scene.
For Trump, getting the conservative Kavanaugh into the lifetime appointment would cement his mission to shift the court to the right for years to come.
For Democrats, the row is a golden opportunity to build on anger among female voters at Trump’s often dismissive attitude to allegations of sexual misconduct — including against the president himself.
In the #MeToo era, when accounts by women of past sexual abuse have brought down a string of previously powerful men, Trump’s defiant stand could not be more divisive, appalling many, but likely stirring his Republican base frustrated at what it sees as political correctness run amok.
Ramirez told the magazine she was on the floor, drunk at a Yale party when the alleged incident took place.
She added afterward, she remembered hearing a person shout from down a hallway, “‘Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie’s face.'”
“I remember hearing and being mortified that this was out there,” she said.
Kavanaugh denied the story, calling it “a smear, plain and simple.”
“The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so,” the judge said in a statement.
Ford, now a California-based university professor, says Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and tried to undress her when they were at a party in their school years.
Both Ford and Ramirez want the FBI to investigate. Democratic lawmakers back their demands, while Republicans argue that the allegations are impossible to prove and therefore unfair.
Ramirez admitted to the New Yorker that there are gaps in her memory of the incident, and that she expects her memories to be questioned as she had been under the influence of alcohol.
Kavanaugh has produced numerous statements of support regarding his behaviour towards women both during his youth and soaring career.
According to The New York Times, the federal judge has calendars from the summer of 1982 he plans to share with senators showing he was out of town most of that time with no indication of the party that Ford mentioned.
But on Sunday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the judiciary committee, urged the panel to halt proceedings in light of the latest allegation.
“I am writing to request an immediate postponement of any further proceedings related to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh,” she said in a statement.