With newfound aggressiveness, GOP ramps up Kavanaugh fight

WASHINGTON (AP) — Brett Kavanaugh says he won’t let “false accusations drive me out of this process” as he, President Donald Trump and top Republicans mount an aggressive drive to rally the public and GOP senators behind his shaky Supreme Court nomination.

Trump and Republican leaders accused Democrats on Monday of a smear campaign by using accusations by two women of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh in the 1980s to try scuttling his Senate confirmation. There were no immediate indications that the emergence of a second accuser had fatally wounded Kavanaugh’s prospects, but the nominee took the unusual step of defending himself in a television interview that underscored the GOP’s new-found combativeness.

Kavanaugh, 53, said on the conservative-friendly Fox News Channel that he wasn’t questioning that his initial accuser, psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, may have been sexually assaulted in her life. But he added, “What I know is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone,” a remarkable assertion for a nominee to the nation’s highest court.

Kavanaugh’s TV appearance came three days before a crucial Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at which he and his chief accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, were slated to testify. That session loomed as a do-or-die wild card for Kavanaugh in which a split-second facial expression, a tear or a choice of words could prove decisive.

On Monday, Trump called the accusations among “the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., angrily accused Democrats of slinging “all the mud they could manufacture” and promised a full Senate vote soon, but specified no date.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York retorted that if McConnell believed the allegations were a smear, “why don’t you call for an FBI investigation?” He accused Republicans of “a rush job to avoid the truth.”

The similar wording and arguments that Republicans used suggested a concerted effort to undermine the women’s claims and portray an image of unity among GOP senators while pressing toward a confirmation vote.

Despite the forceful rhetoric by Kavanaugh and his GOP supporters, it remained unclear how three moderate Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski — would react to the latest accusation.