By Laura King
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — President Trump vigorously defended Brett Kavanaugh on Sunday following a new allegation of sexual misconduct during the Supreme Court justice's college years, as some leading Democratic presidential contenders raised fresh suspicions that Kavanaugh was untruthful during last year's Senate hearings leading to his confirmation to the high court.
In an early-morning tweet, Trump called on the Justice Department to "come to [Kavanaugh's] rescue," and accused critics of trying to deter the justice from rulings favorable to the administration. The president's angry ripostes came a day after the New York Times reported that a male former classmate at Yale had told the FBI about witnessing an episode similar to, but separate from, an already publicized account by a female classmate, Deborah Ramirez, who said an inebriated Kavanaugh had thrust his penis in her face during a Yale party in the 1980s.
The authors of the New York Times story said Kavanaugh did not speak to them about the newly reported allegation.
Last year's contentious confirmation hearings were dominated by allegations that Kavanaugh, as a student at an elite prep school in the Washington suburbs, sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, then a younger girl who went to school nearby.
Despite compelling testimony by Ford, who went on to become an academic in Northern California, Kavanaugh vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and with the backing of the White House and Trump allies like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), his nomination was approved, thus cementing a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
Many of the Democrats who want to challenge Trump in 2020 have frequently referred to the string of sexual-misconduct allegations against the president himself, but there has been little appetite for making the Kavanaugh case a major campaign talking point, in part because the episode was so polarizing. In the ensuing months, the president has often invoked the case at fiery rallies, insisting that Kavanaugh was the wronged party.
But with the campaign season now underway in earnest, the previous allegations, coupled with newly reported information, are again becoming part of the discourse.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California both called for impeachment proceedings against Kavanaugh, with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont saying he supported "any appropriate constitutional mechanism" being used against the newest justice.
Warren tweeted that the new allegation was "disturbing," adding: "Like the man who appointed him, Kavanaugh should be impeached." Harris declared on Twitter that "Brett Kavanaugh lied to the U.S. Senate and most importantly to the American people," and Sanders said on Twitter that he should never have been nominated.
Democratic hopefuls Beto O'Rourke and Julian Castro also echoed the impeachment call.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who, like Harris, sits on the Judiciary Committee and is seeking the Democratic nomination, repeated her deep misgivings about Kavanaugh in an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week," citing his judicial views on the power of the presidency as well as the past and current sexual misconduct allegations.
But Klobuchar said that before impeachment proceedings could be considered, senators would need to examine documents relating to the administration's decision-making surrounding the FBI probe called after Ford's allegations were aired.
Backers of Trump and Kavanaugh quickly rallied to the defense of both men. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, also appearing on "This Week," said the newly surfaced allegation recalls the "shameful circus" of last year's hearings. He predicted at "the next Democratic debate, they'll all be saying impeach Kavanaugh, impeach Trump – there's nobody they don't want to impeach."
On Twitter, Trump blasted "Radical Left Democrats and their Partner, the LameStream Media" for targeting Kavanaugh and "talking loudly of their favorite word, impeachment."
"He is an innocent man who has been treated HORRIBLY," Trump wrote in one tweet. In another, he urged that the justice sue for "liable," later correcting the spelling to "libel." Trump also accused Kavanaugh critics of acting out of unhappiness over high court rulings.
"They are trying to influence his opinions," the president tweeted.
Many commentators, however, called the situation yet another troubling instance of the president seeking to politicize the Justice Department and federal law enforcement by calling on the department to intercede on Kavanaugh's behalf.
The New York Times article focused on Ramirez's student days and her account of a party at which Kavanaugh, then a freshman, "pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her, prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it." The story said the FBI had failed to interview witnesses who may have been able to provide corroborating testimony, and that the paper's 10-month investigation suggested there was evidence to support Ramirez's account.
The New York Times also disclosed a previously unreported allegation: "A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student." The article said Stier, who heads a nonprofit organization in Washington, has not come forward publicly with his account, but notified senators and the FBI at the time.
The authors of the Times story said Kavanaugh declined to answer questions about Stier's account, and the article said the FBI did not investigate his claim.
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