WASHINGTON: With the FBI poised to report as soon as Wednesday night on sexual misconduct allegations against US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s mocking remarks about one of Kavanaugh’s accusers raised concerns among three Republicans whose votes could decide the confirmation fight.
Several people with information related to allegations against Kavanaugh told Reuters they had not heard from the FBI, suggesting its report may be narrower than was desired by some of the lawmakers who demanded it just days ago.
Dr Christine Blasey Ford, a college professor from California who accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her in 1982 when they were high school students, has not been contacted by the FBI, her attorneys said.
As Senate Republican leaders marched toward a final vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, perhaps over the weekend, the three Republicans who could be key to whether Kavanaugh is confirmed, criticized Trump for his remarks about Ford at a political rally in Mississippi on Tuesday night.
Senators Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski were among lawmakers who objected to Trump’s comments about Ford’s testimony on the alleged assault.
Ford, who testified last week at an extraordinary Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, said she could not remember the precise date or location of the alleged assault or how she got home later but offered a detailed account of the incident. She said a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her down, tried to remove her clothing and covered her mouth when she screamed.
Imitating Ford’s testimony, Trump, who was himself accused during the 2016 presidential race of sexual misconduct with numerous women, said: “What neighbourhood was it in? I don’t know. Where’s the house? I don’t know. Upstairs, downstairs, where was it? I don’t know. But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.”
“And a man’s life is in tatters,” Trump added.
Flake told NBC’s Today show that “there’s no time and no place for remarks like that, that discuss something this sensitive at a political rally … It’s kind of appalling.”
Collins told reporters: “The president’s comments were just plain wrong.” She did not respond when asked if his comments would affect her vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Asked whether Trump’s comments would affect her vote, Murkowski told reporters: “I am taking everything into account. The president’s comments yesterday mocking Dr Ford were wholly inappropriate and, in my view, unacceptable.”
A day after the hearing, Trump had called Ford “a very credible witness” who provided “very compelling” testimony.
Kavanaugh has denied Ford’s accusation as well as allegations by two other women, all dating from the 1980s.
‘Clearly a reason’
Flake was instrumental last Friday in getting Trump to order an FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh, a conservative federal appeals court judge nominated by Trump for a lifetime job on the top US court.
Trump limited the investigation to no more than a week.
Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, complained in an interview with Reuters that the White House had not responded to requests for documents detailing its instructions to the FBI about the scope of its investigation of Kavanaugh.
“There’s clearly a reason for that and I assume the administration doesn’t want members of Congress and the public to see it,” Durbin said.
It was not immediately clear whether the FBI report, which will be made available to senators, would be released to the public.
The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn, said the report could be given to senators as soon as Wednesday. Republican Senators John Kennedy and Roy Blunt said the FBI report should be made public.
Trump’s fellow Republicans control the Senate by a 51-49 margin. If all the Democrats oppose Kavanaugh, Trump cannot afford to lose the support of more than one Republican for his nominee, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tiebreaking vote. No Republicans have said they will vote against Kavanaugh.
Opposition among Americans to Kavanaugh has increased since last week’s hearing, Reuters/Ipsos polling data showed on Wednesday.
In the latest seven-day average in a survey of 4,057 US adults, 41 percent of respondents opposed Kavanaugh, 33 percent supported him and 26 percent said they did not know. Opposition to Kavanaugh grew 4 percentage points after the hearing, apparently driven by people who previously were undecided.
In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Trump did not back away from his rally comments, instead attacking Kavanaugh’s Democratic critics. Trump said when he goes to political rallies, which are organized by Republicans, he sees that voters are angry at the “vicious and despicable” way Democrats are treating his nominee.
At a White House briefing, Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders defended his remarks in Mississippi and said he was not concerned the comments may have jeopardized the votes of key senators. “The president was stating the facts” about the gaps in Ford’s recollection of the alleged incident, Sanders said.
The FBI has interviewed Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh who Ford said was in the bedroom where Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her.
Judge has denied any memory of such an incident, as have at least three others with information about Ford’s allegations and those of a second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who has said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when they were Yale University students.
A person familiar with the matter said the FBI questioned Ramirez for more than two hours on Sunday and that she provided the FBI with a list of more than 20 possible witnesses.
Two Yale classmates of Ramirez told Reuters on Tuesday that they had reached out to the FBI over the weekend but had not yet heard back.