By Richard Cowan and Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said on Monday he would not step aside after a second woman accused him of sexual misconduct decades ago, with President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans showing no signs of relenting in their push for his Senate confirmation.
“The truth is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone, in high school or otherwise,” Kavanaugh said in an interview on Fox News Channel’s “The Story with Martha MacCallum,” to air on Monday evening.
The allegations, dating to the 1980s, have put in jeopardy Kavanaugh’s chances of winning confirmation to the top U.S. court in a Senate narrowly controlled by Trump’s party, with high-stakes congressional elections just weeks away.
Confirmation of the federal appeals court judge to the lifetime job would cement conservative control of the Supreme Court and advance Trump’s goal of moving the high court and the broader federal judiciary to the right.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to hear from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who last week accused him of sexual assault in 1982.
Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, said Kavanaugh attacked her and tried to remove her clothing while he was drunk at a party when he was 17 years old and she was 15 when both were high school students in Maryland.
“I am not questioning and have not questioned that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone at some place, but what I know is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone,” Kavanaugh said in the Fox News interview.
He added he was not present at a party like the one described by Ford and noted that others Ford said were at the gathering had no recollection of it.
“I want a fair process where I can defend my integrity and I know I’m telling the truth. I know my lifelong record and I’m not going to let false accusations drive me out of this process. I have faith in God and I have faith in the fairness of the American people,” Kavanaugh said.
He added he “did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter.”
A second woman, Deborah Ramirez, accused Kavanaugh in an article published in the New Yorker magazine on Sunday of sexual misconduct during the 1983-84 academic year when both attended Yale University.
Ramirez is cited by the New Yorker as saying Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drunken dormitory party.
Kavanaugh and his Republican allies portrayed the allegations as part of a “smear campaign” by Democrats who have fought his nomination from the outset.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear that no matter what happened at the hearing, the full Senate would vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“This fine nominee to the Supreme Court will receive a vote in this Senate in the near future,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
“Senate Democrats and their allies are trying to destroy a man’s personal and professional life on the basis of decades-old allegations that are unsubstantiated and uncorroborated,” McConnell added.
Trump, himself accused during the 2016 presidential race of sexual misconduct with numerous women, twice offered words of support for Kavanaugh while in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly.
“Judge Kavanaugh is an outstanding person. I am with him all the way,” Trump said, calling the allegations politically motivated.
‘I AM FRIGHTENED’
In a letter made public on Monday to the committee’s Republican chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley, Ford said she had faced death threats and was relying on her lawyers and Grassley to “agree to conditions that will allow me to testify in a fair setting.”
“While I am frightened, please know, my fear will not hold me back from testifying and you will be provided answers to all of your questions,” Ford wrote.
Protesters opposing Kavanaugh’s confirmation held rallies in Washington, New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere. Dozens were arrested in Senate office buildings. About 200 people gathered in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, chanting: “I believe Christine Ford.”
U.S. Capitol Police reported that 128 people were arrested on charges of unlawfully demonstrating in Senate office buildings.
The committee’s top Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, has called on Grassley to postpone Thursday’s hearing in order to investigate Ramirez’s accusations.
The Kavanaugh controversy is unfolding just weeks before Nov. 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from Republicans, against a backdrop of the #MeToo movement fighting sexual harassment and assault.
Republicans, with a 51-49 Senate majority, can confirm Kavanaugh if they stay united. So far, no Republican senators have said they would vote against him.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Andrew Chung and Gabriella Borter; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)