Republicans launched a full-scale campaign Monday to install Brett M. Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, dismissing new allegations of sexual misconduct as Democratic smears while the embattled nominee asserted he has no intention of bowing out.
President Trump vowed to support his choice “all the way,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) guaranteed that Kavanaugh will receive a vote “in the near future,” and the nominee coupled a letter to the Senate railing against “grotesque and obvious character assassination” with an emotional television interview, an unusual step for a judicial pick.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Kavanaugh said in an interview with Fox News Channel, his wife, Ashley, by his side. He said he has “never sexually assaulted anyone, in high school or otherwise.”
In a tweet late Monday evening, the president wrote: “The Democrats are working hard to destroy a wonderful man, and a man who has the potential to be one of our greatest Supreme Court Justices ever, with an array of False Accusations the likes of which have never been seen before!”
The GOP defiance and accusations of a Democratic and media effort to sink Kavanaugh underscored the urgency in the Republican Party to confirm the judge as the court begins its new term next week, and GOP leaders brace for the midterm elections.
Conservatives have elevated this Supreme Court nomination fight to a political litmus test, demanding that the GOP deliver Kavanaugh’s confirmation or face a backlash at the polls, in which Republican congressional majorities are at stake.
Top Republican senators signaled an openness to the Senate Judiciary Committee voting on the nomination by the end of the week, reflecting the speed at which they want to confirm Kavanaugh, although it was unclear whether they had the votes.
“Friday would be possible,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), although he said he would defer to the committee’s chairman, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).
The nationally televised Fox interview marked a new tactic for Kavanaugh, who has mostly hunkered down and avoided media attention since California professor Christine Blasey Ford accused him this month of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students.
In one extraordinary exchange with interviewer Martha MacCallum, Kavanaugh said he was sexually inexperienced as a teenager.
“So you’re saying through all these years that are in question that you were a virgin?” she asked.
“That’s correct,” he answered.
“And through what years in college, since we’re probing into your personal life here?” MacCallum asked.
“Many years after — I’ll leave it at that,” Kavanaugh said. “Many years after.”
Neither of Kavanaugh’s accusers have said there was sexual intercourse in their interactions.
The firestorm over Kavanaugh’s nomination dominated Congress, as protesters flocked to the U.S. Capitol complex and Democrats called for Republicans to slow down and enlist federal law enforcement to take a closer look at Kavanaugh’s past before voting on a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.
“If you really believed these allegations are part of a despicable smear job, Leader McConnell, why don’t you call for an FBI investigation?” asked Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) “What are you afraid of? What are you hiding? What is Judge Kavanaugh hiding?”
On Sunday, the New Yorker magazine reported that Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale University, said he exposed himself at a party when they were both first-year students.
In the Fox interview, Kavanaugh denied Ramirez’s and Ford’s allegations. “I’m not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process,” he said. Kavanaugh also sent a defiant letter to leaders of the Judiciary Committee.
“I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process,” said the 53-year-old jurist. “The coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out. The vile threats of violence against my family will not drive me out. The last-minute character assassination will not succeed.”
In his first comments to reporters on the nomination since the Sunday night news report about the second allegation of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh, Trump called him “a man with an unblemished past” and characterized the allegations swirling around him as “totally political.”
“There’s a chance that this could be one of the single most unfair, unjust things to happen for a candidate for anything,” the president said as he entered the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Thursday hearing at which Ford and Kavanaugh have agreed to testify. On Saturday, Ford sent a personal letter to Grassley in which she asked for “fair and respectful treatment” and said she had “one motivation in coming forward — to tell the truth about what Mr. Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge did to me.”
“Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions, while many years ago, were serious and have had a lasting impact on my life,” she wrote in the letter, released to news organizations Monday. “I thought that knowledge of his actions could be useful for you and those in charge of choosing among the various candidates.” Ford also wrote that she has hired security and has spent a “considerable time managing death threats.”
Judge has told the committee he has no memory of the alleged incident and does not want to speak publicly.
A Washington Post reporter found Judge holed up Monday in a house in Bethany Beach, Del. “How’d you find me,” he asked. He declined to comment further.
Barbara “Biz” Van Gelder, Judge’s attorney, said her client left town at her instruction because of an onslaught of criticism and press questions.
“I told him to leave town. He is being hounded. He is a recovering alcoholic and is under unbelievable stress,” she said. “He needed for his own health to get out of this toxic environment and take care of himself.”
Van Gelder said Judge waited to leave town until after the hearing date and witnesses were announced, and was not avoiding a subpoena.
George Hartmann, a spokesman for the Judiciary Committee, said Monday it had resolved all issues for Ford’s testimony Thursday, including the Republicans’ insistence that female staff attorneys be allowed to question Kavanaugh and Ford at the hearing.
But a letter sent later Monday by Ford’s legal team indicated that not all the sticking points appear to have been settled. Her attorney complained about McConnell’s blistering afternoon speech, calling it “inconsistent” with the approach that Grassley and his staff have tried to take. The lawyer also pushed back on the apparent hire of an “experienced sex crimes prosecutor” — as a top Grassley staffer appeared to mention in an earlier email — to question Kavanaugh and Ford on behalf of Republicans.
“This is not a criminal trial for which the involvement of an experienced sex crimes prosecutor would be appropriate,” lawyer Michael Bromwich wrote. “Neither Dr. Blasey Ford nor Judge Kavanaugh is on trial.”
As the day wore on Monday, it became increasingly clear that Senate Republicans and Democrats were moving in opposite directions over how to proceed with Kavanaugh’s nomination.
McConnell (R-Ky.) lashed out at Democrats, accusing them of throwing “all the mud they could manufacture.”
“Democrats wouldn’t let a few inconvenient things — like a complete lack of evidence or an accuser’s request for confidentiality — get between them and a good smear. It’s despicable,” McConnell said.
Kavanaugh’s fate rests with a handful of Republican senators who are awaiting Thursday’s hearing before announcing how they will vote. Among them are Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Bob Corker (Tenn.).
Collins said Ramirez should be questioned under oath by the committee, and stressed again that she has not made up her mind on whether she will support Kavanaugh.
Ford has alleged that Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed, groped her and put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams as he tried to take off her clothes at a house party in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh has firmly denied the accusation. “I was never at any such party,” he said in the Fox News interview.
Some Republican senators pressed for a quick vote after the hearing.
“What we are witnessing is the total collapse of the traditional confirmation process for a Supreme Court nominee,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in a string of tweets. “It is being replaced by a game of delay, deception, and wholesale character assassination.”
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a member of the Judiciary Committee, referred to Ramirez’s allegation as “phony,” and when pressed on why he characterized it that way, Hatch responded: “Because I know it is. That’s why.”
“I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be,” Hatch said of Kavanaugh being confirmed.
Besides the new allegation from Kavanaugh’s college years, Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, has claimed to be representing another accuser from the judge’s high school years.
“This is starting to feel like a vast left-wing conspiracy,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Monday on “CBS This Morning” as part of a coordinated effort to play down the accusations.
The White House distributed talking points for its supporters in an attempt to discredit the New Yorker story, saying that Democrats had embraced a “new standard of guilty until proven innocent.”
At the Russell Senate Office Building on Monday, scores of anti-Kavanaugh protesters — mostly women — wearing Yale and “Believe Women” shirts, gathered in the building’s rotunda. The group loudly chanted, “We believe the women.” U.S. Capitol Police arrested several who refused to leave the premises.
Trump also praised Kavanaugh’s character and intellect in a radio interview that aired Monday morning, calling him “a fantastic, fantastic man” and again casting doubt on the credibility of the first woman who accused him of sexual misconduct.
“I think he’s got an outstanding record, very smart, top-of-the-line education, the best student no matter where he went and honestly the best character, unless she can prove otherwise, and we’re going to give her a chance to do that,” Trump told host Geraldo Rivera in an interview conducted Sunday.
The interview, which was broadcast on the debut of Rivera’s new show on WTAM radio in Cleveland, took place before the New Yorker report was published.
In the interview, Rivera asked Trump whether Kavanaugh should still be confirmed if people come to believe the allegations made by Ford.
“Number one, I don’t think that will happen, and number two, I want her to have her voice,” Trump said. “Let her have her voice. Let her say whatever she has to say. Let him say what he has to say. And at the end, the senators will make a choice.”
In a tweet Friday, Trump had directly attacked Ford’s credibility, writing: “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.” Aides to several Senate Republicans working closely on the Kavanaugh nomination said they were caught off guard by the allegation detailed in the New Yorker. A spokesman for McConnell said that his office was not aware of the allegations before Sunday evening — and that specifically, Senate Democrats did not inform Republicans about the accusation.
Spokesmen for Grassley and several other committee Republicans, including Cornyn, Graham, Hatch and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), also said they were unaware of the allegations before the New Yorker story was published. There are also questions as to how wide the reports of the potential new allegation were spread among Senate Democrats.
Mike DeBonis, Robert Barnes and Emma Brown, and Gabriel Pogrund in Bethany Beach, Del., contributed to this report.