U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed the latest accuser of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as “drunk” and “messed up” on Tuesday, as Republicans prepared for a potentially explosive hearing over the judge’s suitability.
Despite the swirling controversy over the nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a preliminary vote for Friday at 9:30 am (1330 GMT). If approved by the panel, Kavanaugh would go on to face a vote in the full Senate.
Taking the political lead in the high-stakes battle over the future of the court, Trump rejected a claim by Deborah Ramirez that Kavanaugh was the person who dropped his pants and thrust his penis in her face at an alcohol-fueled Yale University dorm party about 35 years ago.
He said Democratic support for her allegations, as well as those of initial accuser Christine Blasey Ford, amounted to a “con game” to defeat a person he said was perfectly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court bench.
“The second accuser has nothing. She thinks maybe it could have been him, maybe not,” Trump told reporters in New York. “She admits that she was drunk. She admits that there are time lapses.”
“Thirty-six years ago, nobody ever knew about it or heard about it, and now a new charge comes up and she said it might not be him, and there were gaps and she said she was totally inebriated, and she was all messed up,” Trump said.
“The Democrats are playing a con game. They know it’s a con game,” he said. “It’s a shame that you can do this to a person’s life.”
The committee’s top Democrat meanwhile hit back at the decision to schedule a vote before Blasey Ford had been heard.
“It’s clear to me that Republicans don’t want this to be a fair process,” said Dianne Feinstein, describing the move as “outrageous.”
– Second accuser –
Trump’s latest attacks came two days before the panel holds a hearing in which Blasey Ford is expected to detail her allegation that Kavanaugh tried to tear her clothes off in an assault during a party around 1982, when both were students at elite private high schools in Washington.
Kavanaugh, who has strongly denied the charge, will separately appear at the hearing.
With midterm Congressional elections looming in November, the sight of the 11 male Republican committee members cross-examining Blasey Ford had risked appearing disrespectful and a turn-off for female voters.
To skirt the challenge, Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced Tuesday late Tuesday he had hired an experienced female prosecutor to question the witnesses during the hearing.
“I’m committed to providing a forum to both Dr Ford and Judge Kavanaugh on Thursday that is safe, comfortable and dignified,” he said.
Securing another conservative justice on the bench is crucial to Republican hopes to turn the court sharply to the right for years to come, with huge implications for law on abortion rights and affirmative action programs.
But since Blasey Ford’s charges, one and possibly two more women have come forth with similar allegations of sexual assault or abuse when he was young.
On Sunday, The New Yorker published Ramirez’s story, which took place at Yale during 1983-84.
On Monday, Michael Avenatti, a lawyer who represents a porn star claiming to have had an affair with Trump, has said he is also representing a third Kavanaugh accuser, whose identity and story he said would be revealed on Wednesday.
– Explosive hearing looms –
Republicans said they were determined to push the nomination through the narrowly-divided Senate as soon as possible, rejecting Democratic calls to freeze the process to let the FBI investigate all of the allegations.
“What message will we send right now in 2018 and the Me Too movement if the Senate rushes through this?” asked Democratic Senator Patty Murray.
There was no guarantee of full Republican support ahead of the hearing, which could prove to be explosive.
At least four Republican senators, including two women who have been outspoken against sexual abuse, have withheld judgment, acknowledging the potential validity of Blasey Ford’s allegation despite the amount of time that has passed and the paucity of hard evidence.
But the party’s leadership vowed to push ahead.
“We’re looking for the truth here. I don’t think because you happen to be a male you’re disqualified from listening to the evidence and making a decision based upon the evidence,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“I’m confident we’re going to win. I’m confident that he will be confirmed in the very near future.”