Trump 'totally' supports Brett Kavanaugh, cites 'impeccable' record
Democrats want alleged witnesses to appear before committee, alongside Supreme Court pick, accuser
U.S. President Donald Trump doubled down in his support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Tuesday, saying he feels "terribly" for the appeals court judge as he faces a decades-old accusation of sexual assault and insisting Kavanaugh "is not a man that deserves this."
Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican senators sparred Tuesday over who could, should or would testify at a special followup hearing on Monday with Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, that has been scheduled in light of the sexual misconduct allegation. But doubts were raised over whether Ford will appear, because she has not yet responded to the request.
During a news conference with Poland's president on Tuesday afternoon, Trump reiterated his defence of Kavanaugh and said the judge has an "impeccable history in every way."
Kavanaugh was at the White House for a second straight day on Tuesday, but again did not meet with Trump. Earlier in the day, the president said he was "totally supporting" Kavanaugh and rejected calls for the FBI to investigate the accusation against him.
"I don't think FBI really should be involved because they don't want to be involved," Trump said. The president added that "this is not really their thing," a claim refuted by Democrats including California Sen. Diane Feinstein, who noted the FBI investigated sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas when he was up for the Supreme Court in the 1990s.
Fact check: The FBI can investigate Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations as part of its background investigation – that is their job. To say otherwise is FALSE. It investigated Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas. It should investigate this too.—@SenFeinstein
Democrats are demanding that the FBI be given time to reopen its background investigation into Kavanaugh so it can check Ford's assertions. They say the hearing should not move forward until that investigation is completed.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said an FBI investigation is "essential" to prevent the hearing from becoming merely a he said-she said affair.
Republicans responded that reopening the investigation is up to the White House and they are sticking with their plans for a Monday hearing — with or without Ford's participation.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said on radio's Hugh Hewitt Show that he'd not yet received confirmation from the accuser that she would appear at Monday's hearing, despite several attempts to reach her.
"So it kind of raises the question, do they want to come to the public hearing or not?" Grassley said.
A day earlier, Republicans abruptly agreed to hold a public judiciary committee hearing at which Kavanaugh and Ford have been invited to testify. Party leaders made that concession under pressure from senators demanding that the nominee and his accuser give public, sworn testimony before any vote on Trump's nominee.
Parties squabble over witnesses
Schumer said Democrats want more than two witnesses, including Mark Judge, who Ford has said was a Kavanaugh friend present during the alleged assault. Limiting the hearing to just Kavanaugh and Ford would be "inadequate, unfair, wrong and a desire not to get at the whole truth," Schumer said.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, said Judge is needed "specifically and personally as an eyewitness to the occurrence. He should testify under oath."
But Judge said Tuesday he has "no memory of this alleged incident" and would not appear at the hearing.
"I have no more information to offer the committee and I do not wish to speak publicly regarding the incidents described in Dr. Ford's letter," he said.
As both sides contemplated the hearing, Republicans were thinking through the optics of a nationally televised showdown between Kavanaugh and his accuser at which all 11 Republican committee members are men.
The hearing is certain to be conflicting and emotive. It will offer a campaign season test of the political potency of a #MeToo movement that has already toppled prominent men from entertainment, government and journalism, and energized female voters and political candidates.
Asked by Hewitt if he was considering including a female counsel who would ask questions, Grassley said, "All those things are being taken into consideration." He added later, "You're raising legitimate questions that are still in my mind."
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who is on the judiciary committee, said Republicans are "naturally" concerned about the optics of having only Republican men question Ford "because there's always a lot of prejudice in these matters."
Meanwhile, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell stood strongly behind Kavanaugh, saying Ford's claims that he'd sexually attacked her when both were high schoolers "stands at odds" with everything known about the Supreme Court nominee's background.
McConnell said that "blatant malpractice" by Democrats — not releasing a letter by the accuser until the confirmation process was nearing its end — "will not stop the Senate from moving forward in a responsible manner."
The remarks by McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, seemed aimed at signalling that while Ford will be given her opportunity to detail her allegations under oath, party leaders — certainly for now — were not easing off their support of Trump's nominee.
Feinstein explains time gap
Feinstein, the top-ranking Democrat on the judiciary committee who received Ford's letter over the summer, said she didn't reveal it to protect Ford's confidentiality.
Trump wasn't having that explanation, accusing the Democrats of obstruction.
"It's frankly a terrible thing that this information wasn't given to us a long time ago — months ago, when they got it," he said.
Ford alleges that at a party when both were teenagers in the early 1980s, an intoxicated Kavanaugh trapped her in a bedroom, pinned her on a bed, tried to undress her and placed his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. She said she got away when a companion of Kavanaugh's jumped on him.
Kavanaugh, 53, has vehemently denied the accusation. He said in a statement Monday that he wanted to "refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity."
If the judiciary committee's timetable slips, it would become increasingly difficult for Republicans to schedule a vote before midterm elections on Nov. 6, when congressional control will be at stake.
With fragile majorities of just 11-10 on the committee and 51-49 in the full Senate, Republican leaders had little room for defectors without risking a humiliating defeat of Trump's nominee to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Republic Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said that in a telephone conversation with Kavanaugh on Friday he was "absolutely emphatic" that the assault didn't occur. She said it would be "disqualifying" if Kavanaugh was lying. Murkowski said Ford's story "must be taken seriously." Neither Collins nor Murkowski faces re-election this fall.
Democrats say they want the FBI to investigate Ford's claims.
But the Justice Department said in a statement late Monday that the accusation against Kavanaugh "does not involve any potential federal crime." It said the FBI had forwarded to the White House a letter, evidently from Ford, describing alleged misconduct in the 1980s by Kavanaugh. The statement seemed to suggest that the FBI was not currently investigating.
Ford is now a psychology professor at California's Palo Alto University, while Kavanaugh is currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, widely viewed as the nation's second most powerful court.