WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump sided with his embattled Supreme Court nominee, defending Judge Brett Kavanaugh against allegations of sexual assault as the White House walked a fine line in addressing accusations that revived memories of the president's own #MeToo moments. Time and again, Trump has defended powerful men against the claims of women.
The president dismissed any notion that Kavanaugh's nomination should be withdrawn, calling that a "ridiculous question" while accusing Democrats of playing politics by not zeroing in on the accusation against the judge until days before the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.
But Trump's defense was somewhat measured. He allowed that there might need to be a "little delay" in the Senate confirmation process to deal with the explosive allegation that Kavanaugh forced himself on a woman at a high school party more than 30 years ago.
"I'd like to see a complete process. ... I want him to go in at the absolute highest level. And I think to do that you have to go through this. If it takes a little delay, it'll take a little delay," the president said.
"They'll go through a process and hear everybody out. I think it's important," Trump continued. "But with all of that being said, it will, I'm sure, work out very well."
Trump's somewhat muted response underscored the politically perilous situation the White House found itself in.
Kavanaugh's nomination had seemed to be on a glide path until Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, said Sunday that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a drunken high school party in the 1980s. Kavanaugh denied the allegation.
Both were invited to testify about the matter before the committee next Monday, which could create a made-for-TV spectacle that Republican leaders had hoped to avoid.
White House aides met behind closed doors cognizant of two realities: that scuttling the Kavanaugh nomination and finding a replacement would likely postpone confirmation hearings until after what could be a difficult midterm election, while pushing back too hard in his defense could alienate female voters as well as female senators who could hold the judge's future in their hands.
Until he spoke Monday afternoon, Trump had stayed out of sight as the allegations swirled. He received closed-door updates on Hurricane Florence while tweeting about supposed FBI conspiracies against him and wishing the nation a happy Constitution Day.
The White House tone for the day was set by one of the administration's few high-ranking female voices, Kellyanne Conway, who said Ford's voice should be heard.
"She should not be insulted. She should not be ignored. She should testify under oath, and she should do it on Capitol Hill," said Conway, a senior White House adviser.
Still, the administration continued to push forward the nomination and summoned Kavanaugh to the White House, where he spent time with White House counsel Don McGahn and other aides.
Trump's advisers both inside and outside the White House urged the president not to attack Kavanaugh's accuser, fearful of repercussions among the electorate.
The president has not always shown that restraint. His campaign was nearly derailed in October 2016 when a video from TV's "Access Hollywood" emerged that captured him boasting about groping women. After a reluctant apology, Trump returned to denying any wrongdoing, dismissing more than a dozen women who accused of him of sexual misconduct, including mocking some of them for not being attractive enough for him to seduce.
Days later, at a surprise news conference ahead of a presidential debate in St. Louis, Trump showed a willingness to support allegations against others, appearing with four women who accused former President Bill Clinton, the husband of Trump's opponent, of sexual misconduct.
Even as the #MeToo movement gained steam, giving a voice to women who said they were abused by powerful men, the White House has steadily denied accusations against the president. Trump has frequently voiced support for men who faced accusations.
He backed longtime friend Roger Ailes, the Fox News executive accused of misconduct by more than two dozen women, and later hired Ailes' onetime aide Bill Shine to be his White House communications director. He publicly defended Rob Porter, an aide who resigned after his two ex-wives accused him of spousal abuse. And he backed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore despite accusations that Moore pursued relationships with underage women. All three men denied the allegations.
"Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation," Trump wrote on Twitter in February. "Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?"
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Ken Thomas in Washington and Zeke Miller in Palo Alto, California, contributed to this report.