WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Friday forcefully denied an anonymous allegation of decades-old sexual assault, the latest unexpected twist in an increasingly nasty Senate confirmation battle.
Facing a Senate Judiciary Committee vote in six days as he fights to replace Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's swing vote, Kavanaugh repudiated a report in The New Yorker magazine that he tried to force himself on a woman when they were 17-year-old high school students.
“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation," Kavanaugh said in a statement issued by the White House. "I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
The latest report followed an announcement by the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California, that she had forwarded a letter containing an allegation to the FBI. The bureau added it to Kavanaugh's background investigation file but is not pursuing a criminal investigation.
"In the letter, the woman alleged that, during an encounter at a party, Kavanaugh held her down, and that he attempted to force himself on her," the magazine reported.
It added: "She claimed in the letter that Kavanaugh and a classmate of his, both of whom had been drinking, turned up music that was playing in the room to conceal the sound of her protests, and that Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand. She was able to free herself."
The classmate implicated in the claim told The New Yorker he had "no recollection of that."
Within hours of the report, NARAL Pro-Choice America called on Kavanaugh to withdraw. The group, which fears he could provide the fifth vote to overturn abortion rights, said his "record makes clear that he does not respect women’s basic rights and bodily autonomy, and now we know this is the case in his private life, too."
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee released a letter of support from 65 women who knew the 53-year-old federal appeals court judge during his high school years at Georgetown Prep, an all-boys Jesuit school in Bethesda, Maryland.
"For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect," the letter said.
With no way of knowing who is telling the truth, most senators withheld comment Friday, including a handful of moderate Republicans and Democrats whose votes will determine Kavanaugh's fate. Key among those are pro-choice Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Collins had a previously scheduled phone call with Kavanaugh on Friday that lasted an hour, but she issued no comment afterwards. The moderate senator has said she will say nothing more about the nomination until she announces her vote.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, defended Kavanaugh as someone who "has been accused of having gambling problems, having financial problems, being hostile towards groups that he has actively fought for and having bad taste in food."
"Every accuser deserves to be heard. But a process of verification is also necessary," Hatch said. "The claims are wholly unverifiable and come at the tail-end of a process that was already marred by ugly innuendo, dishonesty and the nastiest form of our politics."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a former Judiciary Committee chairman, did not address the latest allegation in the Democratic Party's weekly radio address. But he did accuse Kavanaugh of offering misleading testimony during last week's four-day confirmation hearing.
"Judge Kavanaugh’s candor – and therefore his character – is seriously in question," Leahy said. "And his constitutional views are downright extreme."
Republicans countered that Kavanaugh has gone through six FBI investigations since 1993 and nothing like this week's anonymous allegation ever surfaced.
At the hearing, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, asked Kavanaugh a question she asks all judicial nominees: "Since you became a legal adult, have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature?" His one-word response: "No."
Kavanaugh sailed through his hearing by sidestepping most controversial issues. His 12 years and more than 300 opinions on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit took a back seat to his years serving in the White House under President George W. Bush. Most documents from those years were withheld by Republicans.
Since then, Democrats put more than 1,000 questions in writing to the nominee on subjects ranging from Trump's potential legal troubles to Kavanaugh's personal finances and penchant for Washington Nationals baseball tickets. He responded in 263 pages Wednesday night.
On Thursday, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee beat back a half-dozen subpoena requests from Democrats for documents and witnesses on 11-10, party-line votes. Committee chairman Chuck Grassley scheduled the confirmation vote for next Thursday which would leave time for a full Senate vote before the court's new term begins Oct. 1.