U.S. President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Brett Kavanaugh, appeals court judge, after being nominated as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Trump during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump Casts Doubt on Kavanaugh Accuser’s Credibility

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump for the first time cast doubt on the credibility of the woman who accuses Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, saying she should have filed charges decades ago if the alleged attack was “as bad as she says.”

After days of restraint in which the president backed his nominee while also saying the accuser needed to be heard, Trump lashed out Friday at Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh attacked her decades ago when they were in high school.

“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents,” Trump tweeted. “I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”

The president added in another tweet, "Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?" About two hours later, he wrote on Twitter, "Let her testify, or not, and TAKE THE VOTE!"

Moderate GOP Senator Susan Collins of Maine, whose vote is critical to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, said Friday she was "appalled" by Trump’s tweet, the Portland Press Herald reported.

"We know allegations of sexual assault are one of the most unreported crimes that exist," Collins said at an event in Portland, the newspaper said. She also said she would be willing to let Ford testify later next week than the Judiciary Committee originally planned.

Ford, a California college professor, has said she didn’t tell anyone about the alleged attack at the time. Her lawyer is asking the Senate Judiciary Committee to delay a hearing on her claims planned for Monday until Sept. 27, and to take testimony from witnesses in addition to Ford and Kavanaugh, who strongly denies that any such attack occurred.

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York torched Trump in a tweet that said, "The most powerful man in the world just used his position and platform to attack a sexual assault survivor. This is the same man who has been credibly accused of more than a dozen cases of sexual assault or harassment — who has bragged about committing sexual assault on tape!"

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York called Trump’s statement a "highly offensive misunderstanding of surviving trauma."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told a gathering of conservatives in Washington that Kavanaugh’s nomination won’t be derailed by the accusations.

“In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the Supreme Court,” he said at the Value Voters conference Friday. “Keep the faith, don’t get rattled by any of this.”

The Senate is “not going to slow down, we’re going to keep going ahead” on confirming judges at all levels of the federal judiciary, the majority leader said.

Ford was meeting with FBI officials in San Francisco on Friday to discuss death threats that her lawyers said she has received since her allegation became public, two people familiar with the matter said. Investigating those threats doesn’t give the FBI the authority to look into her underlying accusation against Kavanaugh, one of those people said, although the FBI could do so if Trump requested it.

Trump’s Twitter attack on Ford raises the risk of further alienating women voters -- who already are deserting Republican officeholders -- in the final weeks before the Nov. 6 congressional election. Democrats have a chance to take control of the House and perhaps the Senate.

Republicans are under intense pressure to consider the allegations in a way that doesn’t turn women and independents away from the party while moving the nomination forward as quickly as possible, as Trump and other GOP leaders want.

"The Republicans need women voters, but all hell will break loose (or it will be chaos) if this nomination unravels. If we can’t get the nomination done why vote Republican?" said Dan K. Eberhart, a major GOP donor and chief executive officer of the oil services company Canary Drilling Services LLC, in an email. "The court nominations are how disruptive Trump keeps the peace with the Christian Right and Federalist Society."

Trump said in another tweet that "facts don’t matter" to some Democrats leading the opposition to Kavanaugh. The nominee is under siege from "radical left wing politicians" who are using the sexual assault claim against him to "destroy and delay" his confirmation to the high court, the president said.

A group of about 75 women who have been friends and colleagues of Kavanaugh held a news conference in Washington Friday to support him.

"The allegation against Brett is inconsistent with everything I have known about Brett as a person," said ex-college girlfriend Maura Fitzgerald. "He has always been kind and concerned with the well-being of others."

Trump said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity Thursday night that while he thought Ford should be able to tell her story, the confirmation should move ahead.

"I don’t think you can delay it any longer," the president said.

There is no deadline to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. Senate Republicans held the deceased Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat open for more than a year, refusing to give a hearing to then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Trump eventually appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to the seat.

McConnell, speaking to the conservatives’ group, touted the success he and Senate Republicans have had in transforming the federal judiciary, including the confirmation of 26 appellate court judges since January 2017. He made clear he can threaten to hold Democrats hostage before the election to get Kavanaugh and other judges confirmed. They want to leave town and are under pressure to campaign, he said.

“It won’t surprise you that I’m making my list and checking it twice,” McConnell said.

Public opposition to Kavanaugh is rising, with 38 percent of voters saying they oppose the nomination and 34 percent supporting it, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken Sunday through Wednesday. In July, the same poll found 32 percent in favor versus 26 percent against.

On Thursday, Kavanaugh said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, that he was prepared to come before the panel on Monday to "clear my name" of the allegation.

Ford’s attorney, Debra Katz, said Ford couldn’t appear on Monday as Grassley had planned, according to a Senate aide familiar with the negotiations. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Katz also told the committee by telephone that Ford didn’t want Kavanaugh in the room when she testified and wanted lawmakers, not outside lawyers, to ask her questions to avoid a trial-like setting.

She also asked that other possible witnesses be called to testify, according to the aide. The aide said Republicans who control the committee asked for time to consider the requests.

Ford says that Kavanaugh was drunk at a house party in about 1982, and that he pulled her into a bedroom then pinned her down on a bed, tried to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth to stop her from screaming. She said she was able to escape, but the Washington Post reported that she described the episode to a therapist in 2013 as a "rape attempt."

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.