Danger for Trump court pick as assault accuser vows to testify

Washington (AFP) - US President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh ran into serious trouble Monday after a woman who accuses the conservative judge of sexually assaulting her 36 years ago said she is willing to testify before Congress.
Christine Blasey Ford said via a lawyer she is ready to answer questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee on her allegation that a drunken Kavanaugh and one of his friends trapped her in a room and attempted to pull her clothes off at a high school party in 1982.
Kavanaugh, whose approval later this week had appeared certain, has denied the allegations, and said Monday he was willing to return to the committee to answer the charge.
"I have never done anything like what the accuser describes -- to her or to anyone," he said in a statement released by the White House.
"I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation from 36 years ago and defend my integrity."
The newly-surfaced allegations against Kavanaugh make the Supreme Court the latest US institution to be rocked by fallout from the year-old #Metoo movement exposing sexual misconduct.
- Important pick for high court -
Ford's accusation, which became public only on Friday and her identity known only on Sunday, now threatens to derail one of the most consequential appointments to the nine-seat high court in decades.
Evenly balanced for years, the court is expected to tilt decidedly conservative if Kavanaugh is approved, potentially threatening women's access to abortion, restrictions on presidential powers, and efforts to curb gun ownership.
The assault charge emerged after majority Republicans on the committee dismissed Democrats' questions about Kavanaugh's record, scheduling a vote on the nomination this coming Thursday.
But on Monday Republican Senator Susan Collins, whose support is crucial to Kavanaugh's nomination, said both the judge and his accuser should testify under oath.
Kellyanne Conway, Trump's top female aide, also said Ford should be heard out.
"This woman should not be insulted and she should not be ignored," Conway said on Fox News Monday.
"Let me make very clear: I have spoken with the president. I have spoken with Senator [Lindsey] Graham and others, this woman will be heard."
At the same time, she described the 53-year-old Kavanaugh, a Washington federal appeals court judge, as "a man of character and integrity" who has already gone through deep vetting by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Letting Ford testify under oath and Kavanaugh answer the charges "should not unduly delay the vote," she said.
- Democrats: delay nomination -
But Democrats on the committee demanded a delay to allow the FBI to investigate the charge.
Kavanaugh's supporters questioned why the allegation surfaced only after Kavanaugh underwent four days of questioning in early September.
Ford's lawyer, Debra Katz, told US media Monday that her client had been ambivalent about the pressure that would come with going public.
She first contacted Democratic lawmakers about her experience several weeks ago, but asked to remain anonymous, saying the 1982 experience, when she and Kavanaugh both attended private schools in suburban Washington, had been a source of lasting trauma.
She went public Sunday only after the allegations leaked and reporters had discovered her identity, according to Katz.
"She's now going to have to live with the tremendous efforts by people to annihilate her and to try to discredit her," Katz told CNN.
- #Metoo era -
Ford's challenge evoked the 1991 battle of over the Republican nomination of Clarence Thomas, now the court's most conservative justice.
During his hearings allegations from a former colleague, law school professor Anita Hill, surfaced accusing him of repeated sexual harassment when they worked together.
Hill endured a brutal assault on her personal reputation in hearings and in conservative media, and the all-male Republicans on the committee ultimately backed Thomas.
This time, the Republicans on the committee are also all men.
But the new allegations pack a mighty punch coming against the backdrop of the #Metoo movement highlighting sexual misconduct by men in positions of authority -- and just two months before midterm elections that threaten Republican control of Congress.

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