December 18, 2018
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Trump defends Kavanaugh after sexual assault allegation

Evan Vucci | AP
Evan Vucci | AP
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting of the President's National Council of the American Worker in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Washington.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday defended Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her when the two were in high school, praising him as “one of the finest people” and signaling that he supports a proposed hearing on the allegations.

“We want to go through a full process … and hear everybody out,” Trump told reporters at an event on workforce development.

He called Kavanaugh “somebody very special,” who “never even had a little blemish on his record.” And he criticized Democrats, who he said should have “done this a lot sooner because they had this information for many months.”

“If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay,” Trump said of the confirmation process. “It will, I’m sure, work out very well.”

Trump’s comments marked his first public response after The Washington Post reported Sunday on Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation against Kavanaugh.

An attorney for Ford said Monday that Ford is willing to testify about the allegations before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The offer prompted a growing number of calls from senators — including moderates in both parties whose votes are key to Kavanaugh’s fate — to hold another hearing at which both Ford and Kavanaugh could testify publicly.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement early Monday afternoon that Ford “deserves to be heard” but stopped short of committing to a public airing that would likely force a delay of a planned committee vote on Thursday.

Debra Katz, a lawyer for Ford, shared her client’s willingness to testify during a round of television interviews on Monday morning.

“She’s willing to do whatever it takes to get her story forth,” Katz said on NBC’s “Today” show when asked whether her client would speak publicly about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Kavanaugh later issued a fresh denial of the allegations, which have roiled his confirmation process, saying he is willing to talk to the committee in any way it “deems appropriate.”

“I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone,” he said in a statement. “Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday.”

In his statement, Grassley said he was working on “a way to hear [Ford] out in an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner.” He said “standard procedure” calls for starting with follow-up calls with Kavanaugh and Ford but that the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the committee, is not cooperating.

Democrats are insisting that the FBI handle the matter by reopening Kavanaugh’s background investigation rather having committee staff make calls.

Underscoring the uncertainty Kavanaugh faces, three senators considered swing votes on the nomination issued statements Monday calling for a thorough review of the allegations by Ford, a professor in California.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, tweeted that “Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh should both testify under oath before the Judiciary Committee.”

Three red-state Democrats, Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, also called for slowing the process.

“Given the nature of these allegations, and the number of outstanding questions, I believe the Judiciary Committee should hold off on Thursday’s scheduled vote,” Donnelly said.

Heitkamp said it “takes courage for any woman to speak up about sexual assault, and we need to respect Prof. Ford by listening to her and hearing her story.”

Manchin, meanwhile, said Ford “deserves to be heard,” and Kavanaugh “deserves a chance to clear his name” during a hearing.

“I hope they will be given the opportunity to do that as quickly as possible,” Manchin said.

The White House indicated Monday that it is continuing to stand by Kavanaugh but that it expects Ford will offer testimony to the Judiciary Committee.

“This woman should not be insulted, and she should not be ignored,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said during an interview on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends.”

Conway called Kavanaugh “a man of character and integrity” but said that, based on conversations with Trump and senators, she expects Ford to tell her story to the committee, either by phone or in person.

“She should be heard,” Conway said, adding that the process “should not unduly delay the vote on Judge Kavanaugh.”

Conway later tweeted that Kavanaugh is “willing to add to his dozens of hours of sworn testimony.”

Kavanaugh was at the White House on Monday morning, but according to a senior official, he did not meet with Trump. The official said Kavanaugh has been coming to the White House “often” for meetings during the confirmation process.

During a 10-minute phone call with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, early Monday afternoon, Kavanaugh continued to deny Ford’s allegations, according to an official familiar with the call. The official requested anonymity to comment on a matter the official was not authorized to discuss publicly.

Many GOP activists stood firmly by Kavanaugh amid the firestorm and prepared for a drawn-out battle over his nomination.

The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group that has been a major proponent of Republican nominees to the high court, said on Monday that it would launch a $1.5 million advertising blitz to support him, featuring a longtime friend of the federal judge who would speak to his character.

“We are not going to allow a last-minute smear campaign destroy a good and decent man who has an unblemished personal record,” an adviser to the Judicial Crisis Network said in a statement.

During an appearance on ABC’s “The View,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he finds Ford “extremely credible” and believes other senators will, too, if she testifies. He said that should happen after a thorough FBI investigation.

“Trying to rush this through on Thursday is an insult to the women of America and an insult to the majesty of the Supreme Court of the United States,” Schumer said.

In an article published Sunday, Ford told The Washington Post that one summer in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and a friend – both “stumbling drunk,” Ford alleges – corralled her in a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County, Maryland.

While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.

During the NBC interview, Katz characterized Kavanaugh’s actions as “attempted rape,” adding that her client feels “that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped.”

Ford is “not taking a position” on whether Kavanaugh should withdraw his nomination, Katz said. “She believes that these allegations obviously bear on his character and his fitness, and the denials of course bear on his character and fitness.”

On Monday morning, Democrats stepped up calls for a delay in the committee vote.

During a television interview, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said Ford needs to be heard but argued that it would be “too fast” for her to appear on Capitol Hill this week.

“I don’t know if that’s fair,” Durbin, a Judiciary Committee member, said on CNN. “I really don’t.”

In a letter sent later, all 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee urged Grassley to postpone Thursday’s scheduled vote.

“All Senators, regardless of party, should insist the FBI perform its due diligence and fully investigate the allegations as part of its review of Judge Kavanaugh’s background,” the senators said. “Once the FBI has completed its independent work, we hope that we can work together in a bipartisan manner to decide on next steps.”

Sens. Jeff Flake, Ariz., and Bob Corker, Tenn., Republicans who are retiring at the end of this term, have joined Democrats in urging a delay in the vote until the committee hears from Ford.

After her Fox News appearance on Monday, Conway told reporters at the White House that Kavanaugh has been vetted by the FBI on six occasions. That process is “very thorough, I can assure you,” she said.

Amid the uproar, Republicans continued to express anger Monday that Ford’s allegations did not surface until after Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

Feinstein received a letter from Ford in July in which Ford asked to remain anonymous. Ford has said she decided to come forward only when her name began leaking out.

In a statement, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that the Judiciary Committee should handle the allegation through its normal process, which begins with follow-up calls.

“That Democrats have so egregiously mishandled this up until now is no excuse for us to do the same,” said Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber. “If Democrats reject the committee handling this swiftly and in a bipartisan way through regular order, then it’s clear that their only intention is to smear Judge Kavanaugh and derail his nomination.”

Washington Post writers Robert Costa, Sean Sullivan and Gabriel Pogrung contributed to this report.

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