White House Open to Hearing on Second Kavanaugh Misconduct Claim

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration is “open” to the Senate Judiciary Committee holding a hearing with Deborah Ramirez, the woman who accused Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in college, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Sanders, speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday, didn’t specify whether the White House would support a public or private hearing involving Ramirez, who was quoted in the New Yorker magazine as saying that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken party at Yale University when they were students.

“Certainly we would be open to that, and that process could take place on Thursday,” Sanders said. “The president has been clear --- let them speak."

The Judiciary Committee plans a Thursday hearing that will include Kavanaugh, along with his principal accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, who alleges sexual misconduct during high school. The panel has announced no plans to hear publicly from Ramirez. Instead, bipartisan Judiciary Committee staff will seek to interview Ramirez privately about her allegation, said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican.

Kavanaugh’s Defense

Sanders’s comments came as Republicans are trying to save Kavanaugh’s nomination. Kavanaugh appeared on Fox News on Monday to refute the allegations against him while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky promised he will get a floor vote soon.

“No matter how loudly my Democratic colleagues try to say otherwise,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Tuesday, “we have never been and do not wish to be a society in which a single uncorroborated allegation can float out across decades and wield veto power over somebody’s life.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York called on McConnell to apologize to Ford for calling her allegations a “smear.” “We must respect these women and judge Kavanaugh by handling these allegations with seriousness,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

A defiant and sometimes emotional Kavanaugh said on Fox that he "never sexually assaulted anyone," defending himself in a televised interview against allegations that threaten to unravel his confirmation.

Kavanaugh, interviewed with his wife, said President Donald Trump called him Monday afternoon "and he said he’s standing by me." Kavanaugh insisted that he’s not withdrawing his nomination and said, "I want a fair process where I can defend my integrity."

The interview gave Kavanaugh a chance to make his case in advance of Thursday’s hearing. Ford says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her during a Maryland house party when they were in high school.

"I was never at any such party," he said on Fox News. He said he may have met Ford, who went to a different school, but he added, "We did not travel in the same social circle. She was not a friend, not someone I knew."

Trump’s Support

Hours after the Fox interview, Trump underscored his support for Kavanaugh on Twitter, accusing Democrats of "working hard to destroy a wonderful man, and a man who has the potential to be one of our greatest Supreme Court Justices ever."

The claim reported by the New Yorker dates to the 1983-84 academic school year, when Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale. Ramirez said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a dormitory party.

The New Yorker said Ramirez had hesitated to speak publicly, partly because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged episode and there were “gaps” in her memory. She decided to come forward after “assessing her memories” and consulting with her lawyer, the magazine said.

At least one senior member of the panel, GOP Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, yesterday called Ramirez’s allegation “phony.”

Asked by reporters why he thinks that, Hatch responded, “Because I know it is, that’s why.”

Committee Vote

Hatch, a strong Kavanaugh backer, told reporters he expects the committee to vote on confirmation by the end of the week. It’s not clear how soon a vote by the full Senate would follow. The Supreme Court begins its new term on Oct. 1.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said he believed Ford as well as Ramirez. He said Kavanaugh should submit to a lie-detector test, as Ford says she has done.

"If Judge Kavanaugh wants to set this record straight, there are easy ways for him to come forward," Coons said on CNN. "An interview on Fox News doesn’t quite rise to that standard."

The Fox News interview with Kavanaugh and his wife, Ashley, while his nomination is pending is without parallel, as every Supreme Court nominee in recent memory has avoided media interviews during the Senate confirmation process. Fox News is Trump’s favorite network, and he often critiques his aides when they appear there.

The new allegations raised broader questions about a nominee whose confirmation seemed all but certain two weeks ago.

Seating Kavanaugh on the nation’s top court -- or not seating him -- could affect the fight for control of Congress in the Nov. 6 election. Republicans are looking for Kavanaugh to cement a conservative majority on the court, while Democrats say he could provide the fifth vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Allegation

Ford, a California college professor, alleges that Kavanaugh pinned her down and tried to remove her clothes at a party three decades ago.

Kavanaugh told Fox News, "I am not questioning and have not questioned that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone at some place, but what I know is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone.”

He said other allegations by lawyer Michael Avenatti were "totally false and outrageous." Kavanaugh he didn’t have "anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter."

He acknowledged that high school seniors drank beer at the time, when the legal age was 18, and "people might have had too many beers on occasion" and might "regret or cringe a bit." But he said he never was unable to remember what had happened.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, whose vote is critical to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, wouldn’t say Monday whether she’s closer to a decision. "There’s a hearing on Thursday," she said. Fellow GOP moderate Susan Collins of Maine also said she hadn’t made a decision.

FBI Probe

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Judiciary Committee member, said, "unless something new breaks I’m not going to take this guy down." He rejected calls by Democrats for an FBI investigation, saying, "This is ridiculous to say you’re going to find something by the FBI we don’t already know."

Hatch, asked by reporters if Ford’s allegations were phony, said, “I think she’s sincere, at least I hope so. But I think she’s sincerely wrong.”

Ford said in a letter to Grassley she’s willing to meet with senators one-on-one in addition to Thursday’s testimony.

"I will answer any questions you have," Ford said in the letter. "I have one motivation in coming forward -– to tell the truth about what Mr. Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge did to me." Judge was a classmate of Kavanaugh who Ford said witnessed the incident.

Ford said she has turned down numerous requests to appear on television programs to discuss her claims.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York again called for an FBI inquiry for the allegations -- a step Trump and the GOP have rejected -- and said on the Senate floor that McConnell "is afraid of what might come out, what the truth is."

Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii said, "They continue to want to get this person on the court as soon as possible, regardless of any facts, nothing."

Separately, Avenatti, the lawyer for adult film star Stephanie Clifford, who says she had an affair with Trump before he was elected president, said on Twitter that he represents a woman “with credible information regarding Judge Kavanaugh.” Avenatti, who has said he’s considering running for president as a Democrat, said his client isn’t Ramirez.

Avenatti said Monday it’s "highly likely" his client will go public with sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh in the next 48 hours. "This is a very dynamic situation. We need to make sure our ducks are in a row and adequate security precautions are in place," Avenatti said in an interview. He declined to provide more details.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.