Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent White House foe, lashed out at Donald Trump Jr. on Wednesday after the president’s son appeared to mock the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
President Trump has been increasingly vocal in his defense of Kavanaugh since a confidential letter that detailed assault allegations became public, but he has largely stayed away from publicly challenging the accuser’s credibility — unlike his eldest son.
Trump Jr. posted a meme to his Instagram account over the weekend depicting a grade school love letter, written in crayon with words misspelled, that asked “will you be my girlfreind” and was signed “love, Bret.” The picture was stamped with the words “Judge Kavanaughs sexual assault letter found by Dems.”
On Twitter on Wednesday, Flake called Trump Jr.’s comments “sickening.”
“No one should make light of this situation,” wrote Flake, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of his term. He attached an image of the meme.
In the days since Trump Jr. posted the image, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway showed support for Christine Blasey Ford, who came forward as the author of a confidential letter that detailed assault allegations against Kavanaugh, who has denied the accusations. (Ford had not yet been named publicly when Trump Jr. posted the meme.)
Without directly referencing Trump Jr., Conway said Ford “should not be insulted, and she should not be ignored.”
Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, was less tempered in his criticism.
“I think we all can agree that @DonaldJTrumpJr is an uncaring, narrow-minded idiot,” Walsh wrote on Twitter.
It’s not the first time Flake and Trump Jr. have tangled on Twitter. Last year, after a gunman in Sutherland Springs, Tex., killed 26 people in a church, the pair bickered over Flake’s proposed changes to gun restrictions. Of the shooting, Trump Jr. told Flake, “Govt employees, like you, failed to do their job."
Trump Jr. is often quick to lash out at those critical of his father and his father’s political agenda. One Slate blogger wrote that Trump Jr. is, “unofficially, his father’s liaison to crude, internet-based ‘alt-right’ Trump supporters.”
As Flake criticized him Wednesday, Trump Jr. took to Twitter to attack Democrats for not pushing for an investigation of the abuse allegations against Keith Ellison, the Democratic nominee for Minnesota attorney general. He also retweeted other accounts accusing liberals and the media of overplaying the allegations against Kavanaugh.
The split between Trump Jr. and Flake illustrates the differing approach that Republicans have taken in addressing Ford’s accusations.
On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that Trump himself is being advised to avoid challenging Ford’s credibility:
Privately, Trump is being cautioned extensively to stay out of the fight over Kavanaugh, according to two White House advisers, and so far has tempered his language. He has told advisers that he is skeptical of Ford’s account and the timing of the allegation, these advisers said. He continues to mention Kavanaugh’s academic degrees and his intellect.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has delayed Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote and invited both Ford and Kavanaugh to testify before the committee Monday about Ford’s allegations.
Through her lawyers, Ford said she wouldn’t speak to the committee until the FBI investigates the incident, which allegedly occurred while Ford and Kavanaugh were in high school.
The Post’s Robert Costa reported Wednesday that Republicans were proceeding cautiously:
Beyond the Senate, Republicans are bracing for the impact of Monday’s scheduled hearing and the political consequences of an unpredictable and likely emotional session that could expand a Senate matter into a defining moment for the party, especially if Grassley or other Republican men aggressively question Ford about her personal life and the alleged assault.
GOP leaders fear a repeat of hearings for then-nominee Clarence Thomas, when Republican lawmakers sparked outrage by confirming Thomas despite Anita Hill accusing him of sexual harassment.
“We just have to be so much better than we’ve been in the past in recognizing what’s appropriate and what’s not, in terms of the process,” Flake said Wednesday in the Costa report. “Some of us are trying to be fair and do the right thing, to not jam it through, but obviously it’s been a challenge.”
On Wednesday, Republicans, who have rebuffed Ford’s request for FBI intervention, urged Ford to accept their invitation to testify and signaled they’d forge ahead with Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Still Flake, who said previously that “We can’t vote until we hear more,” and was one of the first Republicans to call for the hearing’s delay, is also among those imploring Ford to testify Monday.
This earned Flake harsh criticism from a columnist at his home state newspaper, the Arizona Republic.
“Flake has been talking tough about Trump and about doing the right thing for a long, long time,” EJ Montini wrote. “He did it again when the accuser came forward against Kavanaugh. But that’s all he did.”