President Trump forcefully dismissed the accusations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh on Wednesday, saying his views have been affected by allegations he has faced in his own life and vigorously denied.
Trump accused Democrats of orchestrating a “big, fat con job” to scuttle the nomination of a highly qualified jurist, and he linked his opinions of the allegations to his own life, in which he denied more than a dozen accusations of sexual assault and harassment as a candidate for president.
“It does impact my opinion, you know why? Because I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me,” Trump said at a news conference in New York, where he attended the U.N. General Assembly. “So when I see it, I view it differently than somebody sitting at home watching television.”
The president also injected an element of uncertainty in an already chaotic confirmation process, saying he “can be persuaded” to believe Kavanaugh’s accusers and was open to withdrawing the nomination, “if I thought he was guilty.”
Trump’s comments came on the eve of a consequential Senate hearing pitting the 53-year-old judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia against Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when both were in high school.
Ford’s allegation and claims from another woman have roiled the Senate. A third woman accused Kavanaugh of misconduct on Wednesday, prompting a swift denial from the judge and spurring Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vow to investigate the accusations.
Julie Swetnick, a Washington resident represented by celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti, said in a sworn declaration that Kavanaugh was physically abusive toward girls in high school and present at a 1982 house party where she says she was the victim of a “gang rape.” The Washington Post has not independently verified her allegations.
GOP leaders largely remained committed to swiftly confirming Kavanaugh as early as next week, moving with urgency to fill a pivotal vacancy on the nation’s highest court as it prepares to begin a new term Monday and with the November midterms looming.
Many Republican senators maintained Wednesday that the hearing would determine their vote. Retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said he was in a wait-and-see mode.
“I am going to be watching every word of the hearing in order to make a final determination,” Corker said in an interview.
The animosity between opposing forces in the Kavanaugh fight has reached historic levels for a Supreme Court nomination and showed no signs of abating, reflecting the impact of the #MeToo movement and polarization over Trump and his nominees.
“This could go on ad infinitum,” said John Cornyn (Tex.), the Senate’s second-ranking Republican. “It’s clear this is part of an orchestrated campaign. This isn’t about Brett Kavanaugh anymore; this is a search-and-destroy mission to defeat the nomination and keep the seat open.”
The standoff will move into a Senate hearing room on Thursday, with the nation watching, as first Ford testifies under oath and then Kavanaugh has his say.
In his prepared testimony, Kavanaugh says he was “not perfect” in high school and drank beer with friends but strongly denies having committed sexual assault.
“In retrospect, I said and did things in high school that make me cringe now,” he says, adding that “sometimes I had too many” when he drank beer. But Kavanaugh says what he has been accused of by Ford is altogether different.
Ford plans to tell the Senate on Thursday that her memories of being assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were teenagers “have been seared into my memory and have haunted me” into adulthood.
In her prepared testimony, Ford describes being “terrified” of appearing on Capitol Hill to discuss her allegations against Kavanaugh, adding that “apart from the assault itself, these last couple of weeks have been the hardest of my life.”
In addition to rejecting Ford’s claims, Kavanaugh dismissed the latest allegations from Swetnick as “ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone,” and Trump lashed out at Avenatti and Senate Democrats, whom he accused of “bringing people out of the woods.” In a tweet, Trump called Avenatti a “total lowlife” and said he was “good at making false accusations, like he did on me.”
Avenatti also represents Stormy Daniels, the adult-film actress who was paid by a personal attorney for Trump to remain quiet about an alleged decade-old affair with Trump. Avenatti is also considering a 2020 Democratic presidential bid.
In interviews with staff of the Judiciary Committee this week, Kavanaugh has also strongly denied two new and unsubstantiated allegations that were relayed to the committee.
The almost evenly divided Senate is expected to train its focus on Thursday’s hearing as lawmakers weigh whether to support Kavanaugh’s nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed to bring it to a vote on the Senate floor.
Republicans hold a slim 51-49 advantage and can afford only one defection, if all Democrats oppose Kavanaugh. Vote counters were closely watching a handful of pivotal senators, including Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
“I do not know how I will assess the credibility of these witnesses — these human beings — on the grave matters that will be testified to, because I have not yet heard a word of their testimony, and because I am not psychic,” said Flake, breaking a days-long silence in a speech on the Senate floor.
Noting that the Judiciary Committee is slated to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Friday, Flake said the panel must be prepared to confront the “likelihood” that even after the hearing, they will not have definitive answers to the questions about Ford and Kavanaugh.
In Thursday’s hearing, Ford and Kavanaugh will testify separately. 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.
Republicans on the committee have enlisted Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to ask their questions. Mitchell is the chief of the special victims division of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which deals with sexual assault cases, among others.
Democrats on the committee said they intended to make full use of the limited time they will have to question Kavanaugh and redoubled their criticism of the GOP decision to proceed without inviting other witnesses to testify or pushing for a federal law enforcement probe to first be completed.
“I’m going to be focused on his credibility,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who is also on the committee, said Democrats requested a second round of questioning but were rebuffed by Republicans.
“What [the allegations] portray is a pattern of vile sexual predatory attacks. This reconfirms my view the nomination should be withdrawn,” Blumenthal said.
All 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee urged Trump to withdraw the nomination — something he showed no sign of doing.
“You don’t find people like this,” Trump said of his nominee. “He’s outstanding. He’s a gem. He’s an absolute gem, and he’s been treated very unfairly by the Democrats, who are playing a con game.”
Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, lawyers for Ford and Kavanaugh jockeyed for advantage.
Attorneys for Ford sent four sworn declarations to the Judiciary Committee from people who say Ford told them of her allegations in the years before Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
In one of the declarations released by Ford’s lawyers on Wednesday, Adela Gildo-Mazzon, who describes herself as a good friend of Ford’s, said Ford shared her allegations about a sexual assault while the two were eating at a pizzeria in Mountain View, Calif.
“During our meal, Christine was visibly upset, so I asked her what was going on,” Gildo-Mazzon says. “Christine told me she had been having a hard day because she was thinking about an assault she experienced when she was much younger. She said that she had been almost raped by someone who was now a federal judge.”
Lawyers for Kavanaugh released five pages of his calendar from 1982 to news organizations in an attempt to bolster his contention that he was not at a house party with Ford 36 years ago.
The calendar, which has been shared with the Judiciary Committee, includes several weeks that summer, which were blocked out for trips to the beach and sports camps. It also includes references to him being grounded and planning to go to a friend’s house for “skis” — presumably a reference to “brewskis,” or beer.
Separately, Swetnick recounts in her declaration an alleged incident in approximately 1982 in which she says she was the victim of a “gang rape” at which Kavanaugh was present.
She does not say Kavanaugh participated in the alleged rape or what, if any, role he played, nor does she say where the alleged episode took place.
“During the incident, I was incapacitated without my consent and unable to fight off the boys raping me,” Swetnick says. “I believe I was drugged using quaaludes or something similar placed in what I was drinking.”
Several Republican allies of Trump sought to discredit Swetnick by arguing that it did not make sense for her to have attended multiple parties where Kavanaugh allegedly facilitated the assault of high school girls.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said he found it hard to believe “any human being” would know about a culture of gang rape as violent as that described in Swetnick’s affidavit and “not say anything.”
Republicans will be nervously watching Thursday’s hearing. McConnell, who has staked his legacy on judicial confirmations, will be among the most interested.
At a Wednesday fundraising event to benefit Senate candidate and North Dakota GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer, according to two people familiar with the event, McConnell remarked, as he has in other tense situations, “Every day is a Maalox moment.”
Seung Min Kim, Robert Costa, Emma Brown, Amy Gardner, and Paul Kane contributed to this report.