Trump court nominee says he won’t be ‘intimidated’ into withdrawing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said on Monday he would not step aside after a second woman accused him of sexual misconduct decades ago, with President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans showing no sign of relenting in their push for his Senate confirmation.

“I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process,” Kavanaugh, a conservative federal appeals court judge nominated by Trump in July for a lifetime job on the top U.S. court, wrote in a letter to the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee, which is overseeing the confirmation process.

The allegations, dating to the 1980s, have put in jeopardy Kavanaugh’s chances of winning confirmation in a Senate narrowly controlled by Trump’s party, with high-stakes congressional elections just weeks away.

The committee has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to hear from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor who last week accused him of sexual assault in 1982. A second woman, Deborah Ramirez, accused him in an article published in the New Yorker magazine on Sunday of sexual misconduct during the 1983-84 academic year when both attended Yale University.

Kavanaugh has denied the allegations by Ford and Ramirez.

Trump, himself accused during the 2016 presidential race of sexual misconduct with numerous women, remained steadfast in his support for Kavanaugh.

“Judge Kavanaugh is an outstanding person. I am with him all the way,” Trump said as he arrived in New York to attend the U.N. General assembly, calling the allegations politically motivated.

Protesters opposed to Kavanaugh’s confirmation held a series of rallies in Washington, New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere. The Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, has called on the panel’s Republican chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley, to postpone Thursday’s hearing in order to investigate Ramirez’s accusations.

Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican member of the committee, blamed Democrats for the new allegation.

“No innuendo has been too low, no insinuation too dirty,” Hatch said in a statement, adding that the committee should proceed with its Thursday hearing.

“Then we should vote,” Hatch said, a view also expressed by fellow committee Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

“What we are witnessing is the total collapse of the traditional confirmation process for a Supreme Court nominee,” Graham said. “It is being replaced by a game of delay, deception and wholesale character assassination.”

The controversy over Kavanaugh is unfolding just weeks before Nov. 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from Trump’s fellow Republicans, against a backdrop of the #MeToo movement fighting sexual harassment and assault.

Republicans, with a 51-49 Senate majority, can confirm Kavanaugh if they stay united. So far, no Republican senators have said they would vote against Kavanaugh.

Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, has said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982 when both were high school students in Maryland. She accused him of attacking her and trying to remove her clothing while he was drunk at a party when he was 17 years old and she was 15.

Ramirez is cited by the New Yorker as saying Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drunken dormitory party.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

‘THESE ARE SMEARS’

In his letter on Monday, Kavanaugh said of the allegations against him: “These are smears, pure and simple.”

“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,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Dozens of people were arrested in Senate office buildings adjacent to the U.S. Capitol. About 200 people gathered in front of the Supreme Court building, chanting, “I believe Christine Ford.”

“I don’t believe Brett Kavanaugh should serve on the Supreme Court. At a minimum, we need a hearing and investigations on all of the charges against him,” said protester Sarah Newman, a 44-year-old Washington resident.

Women’s March, a group that grew out of a January 2017 demonstration against Trump, was one of the organizers of the protests.

Trump made clear he considered the allegations politically motivated.

“For people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago, and 30 years ago and never mention it – all of a sudden it happens,” Trump said. “In my opinion, it’s totally political.”

White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said the White House took the new allegations seriously and that Ramirez should contact the committee if she also wants to testify.

But speaking on “CBS This Morning,” Conway added, “This is starting to feel like a vast left-wing conspiracy.”

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump talks with his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh at his nomination announcement in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Kavanaugh’s confirmation would cement conservative control of the Supreme Court and advance Trump’s goal of moving the high court and the broader federal judiciary to the right.

Reporting by Richard Cowan, Lawrence Hurley, Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Andrew Chung and Gabriella Borter; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Will Dunham

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Reuters: Top News

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