Kavanaugh allegations lead to White House scramble

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Posted: Sep 17, 2018 6:28 PM
Updated: Sep 17, 2018 6:28 PM

Sexual assault allegations levied against President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee have spurred intensive conversations at the White House over how to proceed, officials and advisers said on Monday.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh was seen arriving to the West Wing just past 10 a.m. ET on Monday, swiftly ducking into the building after stepping from a black SUV. His arrival coincided with a new statement, released by the White House, in which the federal judge again denied the allegations of sexual assault.

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Kavanaugh's once-assured confirmation has now been thrown into question, angering Trump and prompting his aides to evaluate their options moving forward.

Already, White House officials signaled they would not seek to smear Kavanaugh's accuser, California professor Christine Blasey Ford. Instead, a top official insisted she be treated fairly.

"She should not be insulted. She should not be ignored," presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters in the White House driveway on Monday. "She should testify under oath and she should do it on Capitol Hill, but that's up to the Senate Judiciary Committee. They need to decide."

Conway, one of the highest-ranking women in the West Wing, said she'd "spoken at length" with Trump about the allegations. But privately aides wondered how long the President would go without tweeting on the matter, which has upset him and jeopardized, for now, a history-making opportunity to reshape the high court.

Trump's mindset

The President is annoyed because he feels his nominee's name is being run through the mud by Democrats wielding old allegations, White House officials said.

Trump has previously voiced suspicion about the #MeToo movement in private, complaining that allegations made decades later can ruin a man's life, people familiar with those conversations say. He has questioned why women wait so long to come forward if they are telling the truth.

During the 2016 campaign, at least 15 women accused Trump of ranging from sexual harassment and sexual assault to lewd behavior around women. They came forward in the wake of a 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape that was released in October 2016 in which he is caught saying on a hot mic: "And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything ... Grab them by the p****. You can do anything."

But the White House -- through press secretary Sarah Sanders and others -- has dismissed all the allegations against him as old news that had been litigated during the campaign.

When his staff secretary Rob Porter was accused by two ex-wives of spousal abuse, Trump expressed sorrow that a promising young aide's life had been ruined, even as he recognized that Porter could no longer work at the White House.

Trump is also still resentful about how his nomination for Dr. Ronny Jackson to be Veterans Affairs secretary was derailed because of non-sexual allegations, including improper distribution of medication and fostering a hostile workplace.

While of a different nature, Trump views the Kavanaugh situation through the same lens: unfair allegations made to personally hurt him.

Moving forward

On Monday there were no plans for the White House to withdraw Kavanaugh's nomination. Several White House officials said they trying to move forward. But many say they recognize the situation has gotten very precarious and are watching very closely how things play on Capitol Hill.

One official says they will follow the lead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley as the story continues to unfold.

"We'll see where the Senate falls on this," the official said.

The White House recognizes the seriousness of the allegations and are loath to be seen as attempting to smear the alleged victim -- especially given that two of the most important votes in this process involve two key Republican female senators: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. Kavanaugh is expected to answer the allegations directly in conversations with lawmakers.

Separately, one official says there will be intense internal pushback inside the White House if the President or aides go negative against the victim.

The White House has distributed a statement several times over the past four days reiterating Kavanaugh's denial.

"On Friday, Judge Kavanaugh 'categorically and unequivocally' denied this allegation. This has not changed. Judge Kavanaugh and the White House both stand by that statement," White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in the statement.

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