WASHINGTON — Republicans thundered into an all-out campaign to save Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination Monday as a second woman accused him of a long-ago sexual assault. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of a “smear campaign,” Kavanaugh himself complained of “smears, pure and simple” and President Donald Trump dismissed allegations against his nominee as “totally political.”
McConnell said the Senate would vote soon on confirmation of the 53-year old appellate court judge.
Kavanaugh wrote to leaders of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, “I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from the process. … The coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out.”
Minutes later, McConnell angrily declared on the Senate floor that Democrats have thrown “all the mud they could manufacture” at Kavanaugh.
He said a hearing on Kavanaugh’s first accuser’s claims would occur as scheduled Thursday and the full Senate would vote on his nomination shortly thereafter, though he did not set a date.
Hours earlier, Trump led the defense of his embattled nominee against the latest allegation of sexual misconduct, calling the accusations against him “totally political.”
The combative tone by Kavanaugh and his GOP supporters came a day after a second allegation emerged. That accusation, in a report by The New Yorker magazine, pushed the White House and Senate Republicans onto the defensive and fueled calls from Democrats for further investigation.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called for the “immediate postponement” of any further action on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Trump, at the United Nations for his second General Assembly meeting, called the allegations unfair and unsubstantiated, made by accusers who come “out of the woodwork.” He also questioned the political motivations of the attorneys representing the women, saying “you should look into the lawyers doing the representation.”
On Kavanaugh, Trump stressed: “I am with him all the way.”
The new accusation landed late Sunday in a report from The New Yorker, just a few hours after negotiators had reached an agreement to hold an extraordinary public hearing Thursday for Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who accuses him of sexually assaulting her at a party when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh denies the accusation.
Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told CBS on Monday that the accusations against Kavanaugh sound like “a vast left-wing conspiracy,” using rhetoric that echoed Hillary Clinton’s 1998 description of allegations that her husband, President Bill Clinton, had had affairs.
Trump is suggesting the timing of the New Yorker article is further evidence of what he has been saying privately for days: that the Democrats and media are conspiring to undermine his pick.
The second claim against Kavanaugh dates to the 1983-84 academic year, which was his first at Yale University. Deborah Ramirez described the incident after being contacted by The New Yorker magazine. She recalled that Kavanaugh exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee said they would investigate Ramirez’s accusation. Taylor Foy, a spokesman, complained that Democrats had “actively withheld information” from the Republicans until now.
The New Yorker said the allegation came to the attention of Democratic senators through a civil rights lawyer.
Ramirez was reluctant at first to speak publicly “partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident,” The New Yorker reported. After “six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections” to speak publicly, the report said.
The Associated Press tried reaching Ramirez at her home in Boulder, Colorado. She posted a sign on her front door, indicating she would have no comment.
Joining the maelstrom, Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in her legal fight with Trump, claimed to represent a woman with information about high school-era parties attended by Kavanaugh and urged the Senate to investigate. Avenatti told the AP that he will disclose his client’s identity in the coming days and that she is prepared to testify before the committee, as well as provide names of corroborating witnesses.
A White House official not authorized to speak publicly questioned the accusations coming from Avenatti’s client, saying that the presence of the high-profile attorney — who has publicly taken on Trump and is weighing a 2020 Democratic presidential bid — makes the proceedings a “circus.”
The accusation from Ramirez raises the stakes further for a dramatic showdown Thursday, as Kavanaugh and Ford testify in public about an incident she characterizes as attempted rape — and that he says simply never happened.
Kavanaugh’s nomination hangs precariously. A handful of senators in both parties remain undecided on his nomination. Defections among Republicans would likely block his path to the Supreme Court.
The White House is approaching Ford’s potential testimony with trepidation, nervous that an emotional appearance might not just damage Kavanaugh’s chances but could further energize female voters to turn out against Republicans in November.
Still, the White House and Republicans have cast doubt on Ford’s allegations. The Judiciary panel said it had talked to three other people whom Ford has told The Washington Post were at the party where the alleged assault took place — Mark Judge, Patrick J. Smyth and Leland Ingham Keyser. All three told investigators that they had no recollection of the evening in question, the committee said.
The Post reported Sunday that Keyser said in a brief interview at her home that she still believes Ford, even if she doesn’t remember the party.
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Eric Tucker and Hope Yen in Washington, Nicholas Riccardi in Boulder, Colorado and Jonathan Lemire in Bridgewater, New Jersey, contributed to this report.