Tue, 16 Oct 2018
19
Rome

US President Donald Trump sided with his embattled Supreme Court nominee, defending Judge Brett Kavanaugh against allegations of sexual assault as the White House walked a fine line in addressing accusations that revived memories of the president's own #MeToo moments.

Time and again, Trump has defended powerful men against the claims of women.

The president dismissed any notion that Kavanaugh's nomination should be withdrawn, calling that a "ridiculous question" while accusing Democrats of playing politics by not zeroing in on the accusation against the judge until days before the Senate Judiciary Committee was poised to vote on his nomination.

"He's an outstanding intellect. An outstanding judge. Respected by everybody. Never even had a little blemish on his record," Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday.

Politically perilous situation

But Trump's defence was somewhat measured. He allowed that there might need to be a "little delay" in the Senate confirmation process to deal with the explosive allegation that Kavanaugh forced himself on a woman at a high school party more than 30 years ago.

"I'd like to see a complete process. ... I want him to go in at the absolute highest level. And I think to do that you have to go through this. If it takes a little delay, it'll take a little delay," the president said.

"They'll go through a process and hear everybody out. I think it's important," Trump continued. "But with all of that being said, it will, I'm sure, work out very well."

Trump's somewhat muted response underscored the politically perilous situation the White House found itself in.

Kavanaugh's nomination had seemed to be on a glide path until Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, said on Sunday that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a drunken high school party in the 1980s. Kavanaugh denied the allegation.

Both were invited to testify about the matter before the committee next Monday, which could create a made-for-TV spectacle that Republican leaders had hoped to avoid.

White House aides met behind closed doors cognizant of two realities: That scuttling the Kavanaugh nomination and finding a replacement would likely postpone confirmation hearings until after what could be a difficult midterm election, while pushing back too hard in his defence could alienate female voters as well as female senators who could hold the judge's future in their hands.

Until he spoke on Monday afternoon, Trump had stayed out of sight as the allegations swirled.

He received closed-door updates on Hurricane Florence while tweeting about supposed FBI conspiracies against him and wishing the nation a happy Constitution Day.

The White House tone for the day was set by one of the administration's few high-ranking female voices, Kellyanne Conway, who said Ford's voice should be heard.

"She should not be insulted. She should not be ignored. She should testify under oath, and she should do it on Capitol Hill," said Conway, a senior White House adviser.

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