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Trump court nominee says he won't be 'intimidated' into withdrawing

Reuters logo Reuters 9/24/2018 By Richard Cowan and Lawrence Hurley
a man wearing a suit and tie: FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh appears before Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington © REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh appears before Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington

WASHINGTON, Sept 24 (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said on Monday he would not step aside after a second woman accused him of sexual misconduct decades ago, with President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans showing no signs of relenting in their push for his Senate confirmation.

"I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process," Kavanaugh, a conservative federal appeals court judge nominated by Trump in July for a lifetime job on the top U.S. court, wrote in a letter to the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee, which is overseeing the confirmation process.

The allegations, dating to the 1980s, have put in jeopardy Kavanaugh's chances of winning confirmation in a Senate narrowly controlled by Trump's party, with high-stakes congressional elections just weeks away.

The committee has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to hear from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor who last week accused him of sexual assault in 1982. A second woman, Deborah Ramirez, accused him in an article published in the New Yorker magazine on Sunday of sexual misconduct during the 1983-84 academic year when both attended Yale University.

Kavanaugh and his Republican backers portrayed the allegations, which the judge has denied, as part of a "smear campaign" by Democrats who have fought his nomination from the outset.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear that no matter what happens at the hearing, the full Senate will vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation.

"This fine nominee to the Supreme Court will receive a vote in this Senate in the near future," McConnell said on the Senate floor.

"Senate Democrats and their allies are trying to destroy a man's personal and professional life on the basis of decades-old allegations that are unsubstantiated and uncorroborated," McConnell added.

Trump, himself accused during the 2016 presidential race of sexual misconduct with numerous women, remained steadfast in his support for Kavanaugh.

"Judge Kavanaugh is an outstanding person. I am with him all the way," Trump said as he arrived in New York to attend the U.N. General assembly, calling the allegations politically motivated.

'I AM FRIGHTENED'

In a letter made public on Monday to the committee's Republican chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley, Ford said she has faced death threats and was relying on her lawyers and Grassley to "agree to conditions that will allow me to testify in a fair setting."

"While I am frightened, please know, my fear will not hold me back from testifying and you will be provided answers to all of your questions," Ford wrote.

Protesters opposed to Kavanaugh's confirmation held rallies in Washington, New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere. Dozens were arrested in Senate office buildings. About 200 people gathered in front of the Supreme Court building, chanting, "I believe Christine Ford."

The committee's top Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, has called on Grassley to postpone Thursday's hearing in order to investigate Ramirez's accusations.

The Kavanaugh controversy is unfolding just weeks before Nov. 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from Trump's fellow Republicans, against a backdrop of the #MeToo movement fighting sexual harassment and assault.

Republicans, with a 51-49 Senate majority, can confirm Kavanaugh if they stay united. So far, no Republican senators have said they would vote against Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh's confirmation would cement conservative control of the Supreme Court and advance Trump's goal of moving the high court and the broader federal judiciary to the right.

Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican member of the committee, castigated Democrats.

"No innuendo has been too low, no insinuation too dirty," Hatch said, adding that the committee should proceed with its Thursday hearing and "then we should vote."

Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, has said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982 when both were high school students in Maryland. She accused him of attacking her and trying to remove her clothing while he was drunk at a party when he was 17 years old and she was 15.

Ramirez is cited by the New Yorker as saying Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drunken dormitory party.

In further evidence of the Republican effort to salvage the nomination, Kavanaugh and his wife were due to appear in an interview to be aired on Fox News later on Monday.

"The coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out. The vile threats of violence against my family will not drive me out. The last minute character assassination will not succeed," Kavanaugh wrote in his letter.

Trump made clear he considered the allegations politically motivated.

"For people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago, and 30 years ago and never mention it - all of a sudden it happens," Trump said. "In my opinion, it's totally political."

Speaking on "CBS This Morning," White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway added, "This is starting to feel like a vast left-wing conspiracy."

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