Donald Trump on Friday ditched his previous caution in the scandal threatening his Supreme Court nominee to attack the credibility of the woman accusing the would-be justice of sexual assault when they were teens.
Until now, Mr Trump has followed the Republican party line of standing by Judge Brett Kavanaugh while insisting that the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, be given a respectful, fair hearing.
But with Mr Trump’s goal of tilting the Supreme Court to the right before the Republicans risk losing Congress in November now in doubt, the gloves have come off.
Mr Trump openly rejected the credibility of Ford’s claim to have been sexually assaulted by a drunken Mr Kavanaugh when they were at private schools near Washington, DC, 36 years ago.
In a series of tweets, he blamed the entire row on “radical left wing politicians” seeking to “destroy and delay” Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Ms Ford, who has yet to give her full account in public, says the FBI should investigate her claim.
Yet according to Mr Trump, she would have gone to the authorities immediately had the story been true — despite what experts say is the common reaction of women in sexual assault incidents to keep quiet for years out of fear or shame.
“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr Ford was as bad as she says,” Trump wrote, “charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.”
“The radical left lawyers want the FBI to get involved NOW. Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?” Trump asked.
The scandal, which broke a week ago, has already delayed what seemed to be the certain confirmation of Mr Kavanaugh in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Republicans are furious over what they say was the deliberate timing of the last-minute revelation of Ford’s allegation, accusing Democrats of seeking to disrupt the process beyond the November midterm elections where Democrats hope to recapture at least one chamber of Congress.
For their part, Democrats say Republicans are mounting an unseemly rush to get Mr Kavanaugh into the nine-member Supreme Court while they still control the legislature.
The high-stakes political battle could reach boiling point next week.
On Monday, Mr Kavanaugh is scheduled to testify before the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee.
A distinguished judge with conservative views, he says he will clear his name. He has not been accused in other sexually related cases and no other witness has come forward to corroborate Ford’s claims.
Ms Ford’s lawyers have rejected the committee’s request that she also testify on Monday, calling it an “arbitrary” date designed to railroad the California psychology professor.
However, on Thursday, Ms Ford indicated through her lawyers that she is willing to come at a later date, setting up the likelihood that the clashing narratives will reach a showdown.
Mr Trump’s strategy until Friday had been to avoid comment on Ms Ford while repeatedly praising Mr Kavanaugh and casting the judge as victim of a character assassination.
He repeated that line Friday, saying “Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a fine man, with an impeccable reputation, who is under assault by radical left wing politicians who don’t want to know the answers, they just want to destroy and delay.”
But Mr Trump went further, accusing Democrats of fabricating the case.
“Facts don’t matter,” added Mr Trump, who himself faces regular accusations of twisting and outright ignoring the truth.
Both the protagonists in the drama have already suffered.
Mr Kavanaugh has seen his near coronation in the lifetime judicial appointment transformed into a fight for his basic reputation.
Ms Ford, who until now was unknown to the wider public, finds herself a lightening rod in everything from Washington power politics to the #MeToo movement of women breaking silence on decades of workplace harassment by powerful men.
Her lawyers say the professor’s life has been turned upside down.
“She has been receiving death threats, which have been reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and she and her family have been forced out of their home,” Ford’s lawyers said in a letter published by US media.