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New Kavanaugh accusation raises ‘doubt’ on eve of hearing

It’s the day before a crucial Senate hearing on allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and there’s a new claim of misconduct. Julie Swetnick submitted a sworn affidavit to the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which she said she witnessed Kavanaugh in high school "engage in abusive and physically aggressive behavior." Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff for more.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is the eve of a crucial United States Senate hearing on allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

    But now there is a new claim of misconduct.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The day moved fast, starting with President Trump at the United Nations renewing his defense of his nominee and fellow Republicans.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The Republicans could not be nicer in the way they're handling this. They could have pushed it through two-and-a-half weeks ago, and you wouldn't be talking about it right now, which is, frankly, what I would have preferred.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    At that point, the conversation was about two accusations, Christine Blasey Ford's charge that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school, and Deborah Ramirez's account of him exposing himself in college. Kavanaugh has adamantly denied both.

    But before noon, attorney Michael Avenatti disclosed information about a third accuser. Julie Swetnick submitted a sworn affidavit to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She told of attending over 10 high school parties with Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge and said she witnessed Kavanaugh — quote — "drink excessively at many of these parties and engage in abusive and physically aggressive behavior toward girls that included fondling and grabbing of girls without their consent."

    She said Kavanaugh and Judge also tried to drug girls drinks, so that — quote — "They could be gang-raped in a side room or bedroom by a train of numerous boys. These boys included Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh."

    Swetnick said she was raped at one party attended by Kavanaugh and Judge, but she doesn't specifically allege either was involved in the attack.

    In a statement, Kavanaugh responded by saying — quote — "This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone. I don't know who it is and this never happened."

    Kavanaugh's lawyer also responded and said he will not withdraw his nomination.

  • Beth Wilkinson:

    He's outraged, as you might imagine, by this most recent allegation. He has never met this woman. He doesn't know Ms. Swetnick. He didn't go to parties with her. And we have already have — I have received calls myself from women and men who went to high school with him. No one knows this woman. No one knows — remembers seeing her at any of the parties that they attended.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    President Trump fired back too, targeting Swetnick's lawyer, Avenatti, who also represents adult film star Stormy Daniels.

    She claims to have had an affair with the president.

  • President Donald Trump:

    If you look at this lawyer that just came out, he's a lowlife. He represented Democrats. It's a horrible con game. I think the people are finding it out.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The new accusation brought new chaos on Capitol Hill and new Republican allegations of a smear campaign.

    Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said the committee is looking into the latest allegations, but he said tomorrow's hearing will proceed with only Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford as witnesses.

  • Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa:

    We're doing everything to make her feel comfortable. So she's been waiting for 10 days now to appear. So why would we want to disadvantage her from doing what she offered to do a long time ago? I feel like I have a definite responsibility to hold the hearing, not only for, her but for Judge Kavanaugh.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for Republicans to halt the proceedings.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    I strongly believe Judge Kavanaugh should withdraw from consideration and the president should withdraw this nomination if Kavanaugh or won't do it voluntarily. If he will not, at the very least, the hearing and vote should be postponed while the FBI investigates all of these very serious and very troubling allegations.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Some Senate Republicans, including Jeff Flake of Arizona, are voicing doubts about proceeding.

  • Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.:

    However this vote goes, I'm confident in saying that it will forever be steeped in doubt. This doubt is the only thing of which I am confident about this process.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham raised sharp doubts about the latest accuser.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    This is getting into the Twilight Zone. You're talking about Brett Kavanaugh being a serial rapist during high school as a sophomore in high school. I have a hard time believing you did it then and you have never done it before.

    I do believe it's so important to invite Mr. Avenatti's client to come to the committee and being interviewed by staff. That should happen right now.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Grassley has scheduled a committee vote on Kavanaugh's nomination for Friday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now here in our studio.

    And I want to say, just within the last hour, a lot of fast-moving pieces here. The president continues to hold sway at a news conference in New York so at those U.N. meetings. This news conferences is now into its second hour.

    We can tell you that, not long ago, he was asked, of course, about these allegations by these women against Judge Kavanaugh. And he said at first that these are all false allegations, but then he went on to say that he wants to hear from the women.

    Here's part of what he said.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The Republican senators have delayed this for weeks now.

    They're giving the women a major chance to speak. Now, it's possible I will hear that and I will say, hey, I'm changing my mind. That is possible. We want to give them a chance to speak. And they're given…

  • Question:

    Do you think all three should have a chance? All three should have a chance to…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • President Donald Trump:

    Well, whoever is given a chance. We have delayed it a long time, but they're going to have a big shot at speaking and making their case.

    And you know what? I could be persuaded also.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So President Trump also acknowledged, Lisa, that he has a particular perspective on all this, because he said, he acknowledged that he himself has been falsely accused of sexual misconduct.

    Here's how he commented on that.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I have had a lot of false charges made against me. I'm a very famous person, unfortunately. I have been a famous person for a long time, but I have had a lot of false charges made against me, really false charges.

    I know friends that have had false charges. People want fame. They want money. They want whatever. So when I see it, I view it differently than somebody sitting home watching television, where they say, oh, Judge Kavanaugh, this or that.

    It's happened to me many times.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, the president, Lisa, and other Republicans we have been hearing are pretty dismissive of these newest set of allegations from the woman Julie Swetnick. But these are serious allegations.

    What do we know about them?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    These are incredibly serious allegations.

    We covered some of them in our report at the beginning of the story. But she is saying not just about the role of Mark Judge and Mr. Kavanaugh, what she is accusing them of. She is saying she witnessed parties where there were lines of men waiting outside bedroom doors to molest a woman who she understood to be inside.

    So, incredibly serious allegations. Right now, the committee says it is looking to speak to her, which is a process they have used before with the other accusers in this case. There will be no FBI investigations, say Republicans, not at this point. Democrats, of course, would like Ms. Swetnick to appear in a hearing, which she and her attorney have said she is willing to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what are — I mentioned that some Republicans, the president being very dismissive of what she's saying.

    What are Republicans and Democrats saying about this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    The president seemed to go back and forth. He said he doesn't know a lot about these accusations yet, but he did at one point also say he thought they were false. So, there were kind of conflicting statements from him.

    We have seen just in the last couple of hours a new letter from supporters of Mr. Kavanaugh, high school friends of his, 60 of them, men and women, who say that they do not recall anything like what we heard Ms. Swetnick describing.

    Now, it's notable that all of the women who signed this letter are the same women who signed a letter over a week ago supporting Mr. Kavanaugh, except for two, who are new to this letter.

    Republicans, Judy, are questioning the timing of this accusation, both because of the hearing. And also they question how old Ms. Swetnick was at the time. They're also going farther, though. They're questioning a little bit of her character and saying, if these things happened to you, if you witnessed these parties, why did you continue to go to these parties?

    Democrats, on the other hand, say this is part of mounting evidence of a culture that they believe that Brett Kavanaugh was a part of. Now, what she has — what Ms. Swetnick talked about also matches an account in The New Yorker this weekend by a former ex-girlfriend of his friend Mark Judge.

    This ex-girlfriend said that Judge confided in her that he did in fact get inebriated and have sexual experiences with women who may not have been fully conscious at the time. That's her claim.

    But this is what Democrats are pointing to, as they see some mounting evidence. It's obviously part of a very large debate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And my understanding is that she's reconfirmed that statement today.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. And she — that ex-girlfriend says she's willing to testify as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So to get back to the original reason for this hearing, Christine Blasey Ford, what do we know, Lisa, at this point about how this hearing is going to unfold?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    This is more what we know, the finite universe for tomorrow. Let's talk about the hearing first. We expect about two hours for each witness. It will be about five minutes per senator.

    But the Republican senators are expected to pull that time and yield it all to prosecutor Rachel Mitchell. She is a prosecutor from Maricopa County, over 20 years experience, much of it…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Arizona.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In Maricopa County, Arizona, exactly, Phoenix.

    And much of that has been in sex crimes. Now, notable, Judy, this is going to be a much smaller hearing room than we have seen before. For example, the number of seats for the press are a quarter of what they were with the first Kavanaugh hearing. I suspect the seats for the public and therefore potential protesters also will be smaller.

    But it's going to be a shorter and smaller hearing that Republicans have designed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, what do we know from — there is some polling that has been done about the public and how the American people are viewing, are undertaking in all this. What do we see there?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, I think it's no surprise, like on almost every controversial issue these days, Americans are divided.

    There is a plurality who generally oppose Judge Kavanaugh's nomination right now, 43 percent — 38 percent say they're in favor of it in general.

    But we found there were more interesting sort of highlights when you drill down. The party divide here is vast. Not a shock.

    But when we asked if the charge by Christine Blasey Ford is true, should Judge Kavanaugh be confirmed, and that's if it's true, Democrats, 12 percent said yes, he should be confirmed. But over half a Republican said, if that charge is true, that he should be confirmed.

    So, right now, there's two debates. One, are these accusations true? And then there's a debate we really haven't talked about much, which, if they are true, what does the American public think should happen? All of that right now is lost in a kind of chaotic political situation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, of course, the whole question of whether we will be able to get to truth tomorrow, because many people are saying what we're going to come away with are impressions, and not knowing, because we don't have final evidence — we don't have evidence that dates back to 1982.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    And there's a real challenge for Democratic senators. There are 10 on this committee. If you're a Democratic senator, and you have five minutes to question Judge Kavanaugh, a lot of these senators — I'm not joking — it takes them three minutes to get out a question.

    So their questions must be short. And then Judge Kavanaugh also could have longer answers. It's going to be very difficult to have questions and follow-up in this setting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    While the Republicans will be presumably more focused, because the prosecutor — this practiced prosecutor in Rachel Mitchell is going to be asking all of their questions.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. That's right.

    She pools all of her time. She can have a direct line of questioning throughout her entire timing vs. each senator may have different lines of questions that they want to ask.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are going to be covering every moment of it. And you're going to be there for us.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I'm getting there early.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're going to be there early.

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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