Trump says Democrats using 'con game' to sink Kavanaugh's nomination

U.S. President Donald Trump accused Democrats on Tuesday of using a "con game" to scuttle Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, dismissing allegations against the judge as Republicans began preparations for a pivotal hearing Thursday with the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

Remarks come as Republicans work to shore up support for their embattled U.S. Supreme Court nominee

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday questioned the veracity of the sexual misconduct allegations against his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

U.S. President Donald Trump accused Democrats on Tuesday of using a "con game" to scuttle Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, forcefully dismissing allegations against the judge as Republicans began preparations for a pivotal hearing Thursday with Christine Blasey Ford, a woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

Kavanaugh's march toward Senate confirmation has been rocked by allegations of decades-old sexual improprieties from two women. Preparing for the hearing with Ford, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chair of the Senate judiciary committee, said Republicans had hired attorney Rachel Mitchell as an "investigating counsel" to handle questioning.

"We're going to ask some questions on our side, by this person, for the same amount of time as the Democrats have collectively on the other side. And we're doing it strictly to depoliticize the whole operation, to offer Dr. Ford the professional environment she asked for," Grassley said.

Republicans specifically hired a female attorney to handle questioning Thursday because of the risk that the panel's 11 Republican men — there are no Republican women on the committee — might say something insensitive to Ford. A major slip-up could endanger Kavanaugh's confirmation and create political pain for their party in the November midterm elections.

A news release from Grassley's office describes Mitchell as "a career prosecutor with decades of experience prosecuting sex crimes." Mitchell worked in the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in Phoenix, Ariz., as the chief of the Special Victims Division, which covers sex crimes and family violence.

Ford alleges that Kavanaugh tried removing her clothes during a party when they were in high school. She says he covered her mouth to prevent her screams after he pinned her on a bed. Kavanaugh denies the accusation.

Ahead of the hearing with Ford, Republicans have been rallying to Kavanaugh's defence, accusing Democrats of waging a "smear campaign" against the appellate judge and stressing that there should be a presumption of innocence.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted Kavanaugh will be confirmed, saying, "I'm confident we're going to win."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday accused Democrats of using 'vague, unsubstantiated and uncorroborated' claims of sexual misconduct to railroad Kavanaugh's confirmation process. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

In a show of confidence, Republicans said they were discussing keeping the Senate in session this weekend so that they can begin the process of confirming Kavanaugh right away.

"I think we'll all be here all weekend," said Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican.

Do-or-die hearing

Yet Republican senators also acknowledge Thursday's hearing with Kavanaugh and Ford is a do-or-die moment. Several Republican senators have said they won't decide how to vote on Kavanaugh until after the meeting.

Grassley is planning to use his committee's modest-sized hearing room, instead of a far larger chamber that's often home to high-profile hearings, saying in a recent letter that the smaller room would help avoid a "circus atmosphere."

Each senator on the 21-member panel will be allowed five minutes to ask questions, said committee spokesperson Taylor Foy. That's a tight rein for such a major hearing.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa and the chair of the Senate judiciary committee, said he plans to use a smaller room for Thursday's hearing to help avoid a 'circus atmosphere.' (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

The Senate judiciary committee will vote Friday — the day after the hearing — on whether Kavanaugh's nomination can proceed to vote by the full Senate, where Republicans hold a scant 51-49 majority.

Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, one of the undecided Republicans, said she will be "glued to the television" during the hearing. Other undecided Republicans include Jeff Flake, of Arizona, and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska.

"It's very important to take allegations of those who come forward seriously, and I think we need to go into this hearing with the view that we will listen," Murkowski said Tuesday.

At the United Nations, Trump — who had previously questioned Ford's credibility — turned his attention to Kavanaugh's second accuser, Deborah Ramirez.

Ramirez told The New Yorker 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 said she was also inebriated 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."

'Women are paying attention'

Trump called Kavanaugh "a wonderful human being" and suggested that Democrats were skeptical of Ramirez, saying, "they don't believe it themselves."

He also said rejecting Kavanaugh would be "a horrible insult" and "a very dangerous game" for the U.S.

Democrats have largely avoided talking extensively about Ramirez's accusations, instead focusing on Ford and their push for the Republicans to conduct an FBI investigation.

"Women and their experiences are not just things to [be] plowed through," said Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, at a news conference. "Women are paying attention. Republicans need to get this right."

Kavanaugh and his chief accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, are both due to testify before the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

In what amounted to a dry run for his grilling by the judiciary committee, Kavanaugh took the extraordinary step of conducting an interview with Fox News Channel that aired Monday night.

Denying the allegations against him, he vowed that he won't be "pushed out" of the confirmation process.

"What I know is I've never sexually assaulted anyone," Kavanaugh said in the interview, which was conducted alongside his wife, Ashley.

After the interview aired, the sense in the West Wing was relief that Kavanaugh was able to present an image to counter the allegations.

Yet there remained concern among aides, and Trump himself, as to how Kavanaugh, who appeared shaken at times during the interview, would hold up facing far fiercer questioning from Senate Democrats on Thursday, according to a White House official not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

With files from Reuters