United States Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1982 will be called to testify in the Senate next Monday, complicating what had appeared to be a smooth confirmation process.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley canceled a vote on Kavanaugh planned for Thursday and said that the nominee and his accuser, California university professor Christine Blasey Ford, will both appear in the US Senate next Monday to testify under oath about the alleged incident.
"To provide ample transparency, we will hold a public hearing on Monday to give these recent allegations a full airing," Grassley said in a written statement, according to The Guardian.
With Kavanaugh's once-safe nomination for a lifetime job in the top US court now appearing in jeopardy, the conservative federal appeals court judge nominated by President Donald Trump had meetings at the White House on Monday and called the allegation of sexual assault "completely false."
Trump also defended his Supreme Court pick. He was quoted as saying by The Guardian that Kavanaugh "looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation". Characterising the matter as a "little delay", the US president dismissed any notion that Kavanaugh's nomination should be withdrawn, calling that a "ridiculous question". Trump also accused Democrats of playing politics by not zeroing in on the accusation against the judge until days before the Senate Judiciary Committee was poised to vote on his nomination.
"He's an outstanding intellect. An outstanding judge. Respected by everybody. Never even had a little blemish on his record," Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday.
The woman's accusation
Ford had initially accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct anonymously. She revealed her identity later in an interview with The Washington Post.
She said that as a high school student in suburban Maryland decades ago, a "stumbling drunk" Kavanaugh had pinned her to a bed, groped her and attempted to undress her. She said that when she tried to scream, Kavanaugh had covered her mouth with his hand. "I thought he might inadvertently kill me," Ford told The Washington Post. "He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing."
Kavanaugh denied the allegations on Friday, saying: "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time."
He issued a fresh denial on Monday, saying that he is willing to "refute" Ford's "false allegation" before the Senate Judiciary Committee "in any way the committee deems appropriate", CBS News reported.
In a statement on Monday night, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said that last Wednesday, it had received a letter from July concerning the allegation and had forwarded it to the White House counsel. The FBI added that the alleged misconduct "does not involve any potential federal crime".
Political implications of allegations
Democrats clashed with cautious Republicans on Monday as both parties grappled with an increasingly messy nomination fight weeks before the pivotal midterm elections. The political implications are still being sorted out. But with the control of the Congress at stake this fall, there are tremendous risks for both sides.
Republicans have risked further alienating female voters " particularly in the nation's suburbs " by embracing Kavanaugh after the allegation surfaced. Democrats, who seized on the development as justification to delay the high-stakes nomination, could energise complacent Republican voters if they are viewed as playing politics with the sensitive allegation.
For now, it is unclear whether the Republicans, who control the Senate Judiciary Committee, will allow Ford to testify publicly. While party support for an investigation grew on Monday, top Republicans seemed to prefer that Ford's testimony be limited to telephone interviews.
Republicans were eager to avoid images of Ford facing tough questioning from the all-male Republican membership of the Senate panel.
With inputs from agencies