Donald Trump's mockery of a woman who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault was “appalling”, according to a Republican senator who will play a crucial role in deciding whether the Supreme Court nominee is confirmed.
Speaking to supporters in Southaven, Mississippi, the president poured scorn on the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and sought to point out what he said was its inconsistencies.
“How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know,” Mr Trump said on Tuesday night, mimicking Ms Ford. His comments were in sharp contrast to those from just a few days earlier when he said: “I thought her testimony was very compelling and she looks like a very fine woman to me, very fine woman.”
On Wednesday, with the FBI still carrying out an additional background check into Mr Kavanaugh and speaking to some of his friends and former colleagues, Jeff Flake, a senator from Arizona, said Mr Trump’s comments were wrong.
“There's no time and no place for remarks like that. To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right. It’s just not right. I wish he hadn't had done it,” Mr Flake told NBC News. “It’s kind of appalling.”
A second Republican senator, Susan Collins, echoed Mr Flake’s view. “The president’s comments were just plain wrong,” he told reporters, according to Reuters. She did not respond when asked if his comments would affect her vote on whether or not to confirm Mr Kavanaugh.
A third swing voter, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said: “I thought the President's comments yesterday mocking Dr Ford were wholly inappropriate, and in my view unacceptable...I am taking everything into account."
The views of Mr Flake, Ms Collins and Ms Murkowski are expected to play a central – and perhaps deciding – role in determining whether Mr Trump is able to appoint his second justice to the Supreme Court in less than two years.
Mr Flake last week stunned colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee, by saying his vote for the nominee was dependent on the FBI carrying out a fresh probe to answer the concerns raised by Democrats and others. “This country is being ripped apart here,” said Mr Flake. “We ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important.”
Ms Collins has long been seen a swing voter on subjects such as a legal access to abortion, something critics of Mr Kavanaugh say he may be prepared to overturn if he was elected to the court. Other voters seen as essential to the 53-year-old appeals’ court judge confirmation are Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
Both Mr Manchin and Ms Heitkamp are fighting for re-election in states that Mr Trump won easily and they have tried to stress their independence from Democratic orthodoxy when they have needed to. Both voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court last year, with Ms Heitkamp saying he was highly qualified and appeared like a “fairly standard conservative judge”.
The delay in confirming Mr Kavanaugh, who has been widely praised by Mr Trump, came after several women stepped forward to accuse him of sexual assault or misconduct. He has denied all the accusations as a smear campaign.
Last week, Ms Ford testified before the committee in an appearance that many found moving. She told the senators she did not want to be there. “I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school,” she said.
The same day, Mr Kavanaugh testified himself, in a hard-edged appearance in which he rebutted her claims. He said his life had been turned upside down by the allegations.
Two other women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Smetnick, have made allegations against Mr Kavanaugh. Ms Ramirez said Mr Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her during a drunken dormitory party at Yale University, while Ms Smetnick claimed she was present at more than ten parties where Mr Kavanaugh and a friend, Mark Judge, drugged young women so they could be gang-raped.
If was initially claimed that the White House and Republican leadership were trying to limit who the federal agents could speak to. Michael Avenatti, a lawyer representing Ms Smetnick said she had sent a sworn testimony to the committee but that it had not responded.
Earlier this week, Mr Trump said he was not trying to control or limit the probe. “I want them to do a very comprehensive investigation. Whatever that means, according to the senators and the Republicans and the Republican majority, I want them to do that,” Mr Trump said. “With that being said, I'd like it to go quickly.”
He said the agents should speak to Ms Smetnick and and Mr Kavanaugh if they wanted to. “It’s up to them. I think the FBI should interview anybody they want, but within reason.”
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