Trump court pick Kavanaugh issues denial; accuser willing to testify

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, on Monday called a woman’s allegation that he sexually assaulted her 36 years ago “completely false,” while a lawyer said the accuser is willing to publicly testify before a Senate panel that is scheduled to vote this week on his nomination.

In a day of fast-moving developments, all 10 Democratic members of Senate Judiciary Committee overseeing the confirmation process sent a letter calling for Thursday’s planned vote to be delayed so the FBI can investigate the allegation.

Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor in California, has accused Kavanaugh of trying to attack her and remove her clothing in 1982 when they were both high school students in a Maryland suburb outside Washington.

“This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes – to her or to anyone,” Kavanaugh said in a statement issued by the White House.

“Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday,” Kavanaugh added.

“I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity,” he said in the statement.

Kavanaugh, whose statement was his second denying the allegation but the first since Ford was publicly identified as his accuser, was at the White House on Monday morning, a White House official said.

Ford’s accusation has significantly complicated his nomination, which must be approved first by the Judiciary Committee and then by the full chamber, which is narrowly controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans.

The high-stakes confirmation fight comes just weeks before the Nov. 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are seeking to take control of Congress from Trump’s fellow Republicans. Kavanaugh is Trump’s second nominee for a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.

Some committee Republicans have said Ford should have a chance to tell her story, a view also expressed on Monday by White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway.

In television interviews on Monday, Ford’s Washington-based lawyer, Debra Katz, said her client would be willing to speak out publicly. Asked if that included testimony under oath at a public hearing before senators, Katz told CBS’s “This Morning” program: “She’s willing to do what she needs to do.”

Katz’s comments suggested any public hearing could be explosive. Ford believes Kavanaugh’s alleged actions were “attempted rape” and “that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped,” Katz told NBC’s “Today” program.

Katz told CBS that Ford had consumed a beer but was not drunk.

Ford was 15 at the time of the alleged incident and Kavanaugh was 17.

‘DUE DILIGENCE’

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley plans to speak with Kavanaugh and Ford before the committee’s scheduled vote, according to a spokesman for the Republican senator.

The panel’s Democratic members pushed for a delay.

FILE PHOTO: Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies during the third day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Alex Wroblewski

“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,” they wrote in a letter to Grassley that was made public by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat.

Republican panel member Jeff Flake has urged the committee to delay its vote until it hears from Ford. Another committee Republican, Lindsey Graham, welcomed hearing from Ford but said it should “be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled.”

Republicans hold a slim 11-10 advantage on the Judiciary Committee and a 51-49 majority in the Senate.

Even before the allegation emerged, Kavanaugh’s fate appeared to rest on two moderate Republican women senators who support abortion rights.

One of them, Senator Lisa Murkowski, told CNN late on Sunday that Republicans “might have to consider” discussing a possible delay. The other, Senator Susan Collins, told the New York Times that the allegations are serious and that Ford should be interviewed. But Collins also questioned why Democrats had not raised them earlier.

Ford detailed her story in a letter sent to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein in July. The contents of the letter leaked last week and Ford identified herself in an interview with the Washington Post published on Sunday.

Ford and her lawyers have not responded to Reuters requests for comment.

Conway said sworn testimony from both Kavanaugh and Ford on the specific allegation should be considered as part of the record in the judge’s hearings. “This woman should not be insulted and she should not be ignored,” Conway said in an interview with Fox News.

If Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, Trump would get to select a replacement, but that nominee likely would not be confirmed by the Senate before the election. Even if Republicans lose control of the Senate in the midterm election, they likely would be able to vote on a second nominee before the new Congress is seated in January.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Steve Holland and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Will Dunham

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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