WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats on Tuesday of opening “the flood gates of mud and muck” against Brett Kavanaugh as Republicans sought to portray efforts to derail the Supreme Court nominee over accusations of sexual assault in the 1980s as “the politics of personal destruction.”
President Donald Trump told reporters on the White House lawn that he still supports Kavanaugh but said it is “a scary time for young men” who could become the subject of false accusations. He suggested it was troubling that people were found “automatically guilty” and had to prove their innocence.
Trump also said in response to a reporter’s question that it “would not be acceptable” if Kavanaugh had lied to Congress during his testimony.
Democrats are raising questions both about the truthfulness of Kavanaugh’s sworn testimony to the Senate and whether he has the temperament for the lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
McConnell’s combative remarks about Democrats came as Trump and lawmakers await the FBI’s reopened background check on the accusations against the 53-year-old jurist. Kavanaugh, whose Senate confirmation has been thrown into doubt by the accusations, has denied the claims by all three women.
The FBI has finished interviewing Kavanaugh friend Mark Judge, who was said to have attended a high school gathering in the early 1980s where Christine Blasey Ford says she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh. A lawyer for Judge, who has denied any wrongdoing, declined to say when the interview finished or what Judge was asked.
The agency is under White House orders to complete its probe by week’s end but can interview anyone it wants, according to a person who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Democrats are pressing the investigators to expand their list of witness interviews but have agreed with the timeline. McConnell has said the Senate will vote on Kavanaugh this week.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation hinges on a handful of key Republican and Democratic senators who have not yet fully tipped their votes, including Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. The votes from the three Republicans and those of red-state Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota will largely determine whether Kavanaugh is confirmed.
Both Murkowski and Collins on Tuesday said they are satisfied with the scope and pace of the FBI’s background investigation.
But asked about McConnell pledge to move forward with a vote this week, Murkowski told The Associated Press that McConnell “talked about a vote a last week, too.”
Collins, who was riding with Murkowski on an underground Senate train, smiled and told her colleague, “Good answer.”
Flake, meanwhile, on Tuesday said senators have to give Kavanaugh some leeway for his combative testimony las week, given the nature of the accusations against him. But he also said the judge’s interactions with members of the Judiciary Committee were “sharp and partisan and that concerns me.”
“We can’t have this on the court. We simply can’t,” Flake said at an event hosted by The Atlantic.
The White House aides and allies said Tuesday that they remained optimistic Kavanaugh would be confirmed but frustrated with the delay on a vote. Some thought the drip-drip of new stories about the judge’s college drinking exploits may help their case, arguing that the reports are veering away from the original accusation of assault.
McConnell is expected to lead the efforts to whip support for Kavanaugh, along with senators who are close to the key swing votes. Trump is unlikely to make direct appeals to the lawmakers on the fence, as he does not have particularly close relationships with those senators.
“Hopefully, they’ll have a vote by the end of the week and it will be a positive vote, but it will be dependent on what comes back from the FBI,” Trump said.
Schumer said Kavanaugh seemed willing to “mislead senators about everything from the momentous to the mundane” to ensure his confirmation.
“Is he telling the truth? That issue supersedes all the others,” Schumer said Tuesday.
Schumer said that to assert that Ford went public with her allegation for political reasons is “so unfair, is so wrong.” The New York lawmaker said the claims of Kavanaugh’s accusers deserve a full investigation but stressed that the FBI review should be finished this week.
McConnell said Democrats are intent simply on stopping Kavanaugh’s nomination, no matter what it takes.
He said that soon after the revelation of a letter by Ford asserting that Kavanaugh abused her at a high school gathering in Maryland, “The floodgates of mud and muck opened entirely on Brett Kavanaugh and his family. Out of the woodwork came one uncorroborated allegation after another, each seemingly more outlandish than the last.”
“The politics of personal destruction were willfully unleashed” by Democrats, McConnell said, adding, “This is not politics as usual.”
Among the allegations McConnell criticized was one brought by a “tabloid lawyer” he did not name whose client has alleged she was victimized at a party attended by Kavanaugh friends and for which “there conveniently happened to be zero witnesses.” Julie Swetnick made that assertion in a sworn statement and is represented by Michael Avenatti, who also represents adult film actress Stormy Daniels in her claim that Trump paid her for silence about an alleged 2006 affair.
Meanwhile, a report released Tuesday by police in New Haven, Connecticut, says Kavanaugh was accused of throwing ice at a man during an altercation at a bar while in college. Kavanaugh was questioned after the 1985 altercation, but wasn’t arrested. The report says 21-year-old Dom Cozzolino told police that Kavanaugh threw ice at him for “some unknown reason.” Cozzolino said he then got hit on the ear with a glass.
A witness told police the man who threw the glass was Chris Dudley, Kavanaugh’s close friend. Dudley and Cozzolino didn’t immediately return messages on Tuesday.
The White House noted that Kavanaugh wasn’t arrested or charged and questioned the incident’s relevance.
Kavanaugh has emphatically denied Ford’s allegation that he sexually assaulted her at a gathering when they were teens. He has also denied an accusation from Deborah Ramirez, a classmate at Yale, who said he exposed himself to her at a dorm party more than 25 years ago. A third claim from Swetnick accuses Kavanaugh of excessive drinking and inappropriate treatment of women at parties in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh denies that as well.
Former classmates have stepped forward to challenge Kavanaugh’s testimony about his drinking. Charles “Chad” Ludington, who said he was a friend of Kavanaugh’s at Yale University and now teaches at North Carolina State University, called Kavanaugh “a frequent drinker, and a heavy drinker.” But the White House released statements from two other Yale classmates Monday who said they never saw Kavanaugh black out or treat women with disrespect.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo, Catherine Lucey Mary Clare Jalonick and Matthew Daly in Washington and Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.
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