By Richard Cowan and Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump, fighting to shore up his nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court in a divided U.S. Senate, on Tuesday called sexual misconduct allegations against the judge "a con game being played by the Democrats."
In a break from convention, Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans will use an outside lawyer at a high-stakes hearing on Thursday to question Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor who accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1982 when both were high school students in Maryland. Typically, senators themselves do the questioning.
In comments to reporters at the United Nations, Trump escalated his rhetoric in defense of Kavanaugh, a conservative federal appeals court judge whose nomination to a lifetime post on the high court has been imperiled by the decades-old allegations brought by Ford and another woman.
Trump's remarks came a day after Kavanaugh sought to bolster his chances of Senate confirmation with an interview on Fox News in which he denied all the allegations against him.
The Kavanaugh confirmation fight comes just weeks before Nov. 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from Republicans, against a backdrop of the #MeToo movement fighting sexual harassment and assault.
Kavanaugh has denied the allegations by Ford and Deborah Ramirez, who accused him of sexual misconduct during the 1983-84 academic year at Yale University.
Trump said Ford's allegation was 36 years old "and nobody ever heard about it." Of Ramirez's allegation, Trump said, "And now a new charge comes up. And she says, 'Well it might not be him.' And there were gaps. And she said she was totally inebriated, and she was all messed up, and she doesn't know it was him, but it might have been him."
"Oh, gee, let's not make him a Supreme Court judge because of that? This is a con game being played by the Democrats," Trump added.
Kavanaugh and his Republican allies have framed the allegations as part of a "smear campaign" by Democrats who have opposed his nomination from the beginning.
Republicans hold a slim 51-49 Senate majority, meaning Kavanaugh's confirmation prospects may hinge on the votes of a handful of moderate Republican senators who have not yet announced their intentions, These include Senators Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Jeff Flake.
A comment by Murkowski to CNN on Tuesday could be an ominous sign for Kavanaugh. Republican leaders and Trump have rejected Democratic demands for the FBI to investigate the allegations. But Murkowski, asked about an FBI investigation, said, "It would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn't it?"
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated that the chamber will hold a confirmation vote in the aftermath of the Judiciary Committee hearing in which Kavanaugh and Ford will testify. Senator John Thune, a member of the Republican leadership, told reporters the Senate debate on Kavanaugh could begin as soon as Friday or Saturday, with a confirmation vote possible next week.
'A GOOD PERSON'
In an interview with Fox News aired on Monday night, Kavanaugh said he "never sexually assaulted anyone," has "always treated women with dignity and respect" and "did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter." Regarding alcohol, he said he never drank so much that he could not remember what happened the night before.
"I think all of us have probably done things we look back on in high school and regret or cringe a bit, but that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about an allegation of sexual assault. I've never sexually assaulted anyone," Kavanaugh said in the interview, sitting alongside his wife.
"I'm a good person," Kavanaugh added.
Trump gave this assessment of Kavanaugh's Fox News interview: "He was so truthful."
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham disclosed the plan for an outside counsel to question Ford on behalf of the 11 white male Republican senators. The panel's Democratic senators, four women and six men, were expected to question Ford and Kavanaugh but those details were still not final, Senator Dick Durbin said.
Ford's legal team on Monday had objected to the possibility Republicans would use an outside lawyer to question her.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called on McConnell to apologize to Ford "for labeling her allegations a 'smear job,'" adding, "I challenge you, Leader McConnell, if you are so convinced this is a smear campaign, you'll have no problem with an FBI investigation to prove your case."
Kavanaugh's confirmation would firm up conservative control of the Supreme Court and advance Trump's goal of moving the high court and the broader federal judiciary to the right.
Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, said in an interview published in the Washington Post last week Kavanaugh attacked her and tried to remove her clothing while he was drunk at a party when he was 17 years old and she was 15.
Ramirez accused Kavanaugh in an article published in the New Yorker magazine on Sunday of exposing himself to her during a drunken dormitory party at Yale.
Asked whether Ramirez should also be allowed to testify, Trump said, "The second accuser has nothing."
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by David Alexander, Jeff Mason and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Will Dunham)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
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Updated Date: Sep 26, 2018 00:07:49 IST