President Donald Trump on Tuesday renewed support for his Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh ahead of an explosive Senate hearing in which the conservative judge will defend himself against a claim he committed sexual assault as a teenager.
Trump, who has shrugged off a spew of allegations about his own sexual improprieties, told a White House press conference that Kavanaugh has an "impeccable history in every way" and "has gone beautifully up the ladder."
The president repeated his full support for planned hearings in the Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee to hear out both Kavanaugh and his accuser, 51-year-old Christine Blasey Ford.
The showdown was scheduled for Monday, although there were doubts about Ford's willingness to face a grilling over her allegation that a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her down and tried to assault her when he was 17 and she was 15.
While Trump says he wants the scandal fully resolved, he has also made clear his faith in the 53-year-old Kavanaugh, blaming the uproar on Democratic shenanigans.
"I feel so badly for him. This is not a man who deserves this," Trump said, calling Democratic opponents who raised the issue at the last minute "lousy politicians" but "very good at obstructing."
Trump's vote of confidence in Kavanaugh reinforces what is rapidly becoming the latest battlefront in the deeply polarised country ahead of November midterm congressional elections.
And earlier, Trump rejected Democratic calls for an FBI probe.
"I don't think the FBI should be involved because they don't want to be involved," Trump told reporters.
TRT World's North America Correspondent Jon Brain has more.
Trump did not comment directly on the claim by California university professor Ford that a drunken Kavanaugh and one of his friends trapped her in a room and attempted to pull her clothes off at a high school party in 1982 — although he questioned why she had not come forward sooner.
After Ford's lawyer said she was ready to testify under oath about the incident, Democrats with the apparent support of some Republicans urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to postpone a vote on the nomination scheduled for Thursday.
Kavanaugh, whose approval had previously appeared certain, denied the allegations and said he was willing to return to the committee to answer the charge.
Another #MeToo moment
Trump had earlier questioned why the accusation became public only on Friday, after Kavanaugh had undergone four days of questioning in early September.
"This is something that should have been brought up long before this. They had the information in July as I understand it," he said — referring to Democratic lawmakers who were contacted by Ford before she went public.
The allegation stands to derail one of the most consequential appointments to the nine-seat high court in decades.
Evenly balanced for years, the court is expected to tilt decidedly conservative if Kavanaugh is approved, potentially threatening women's access to abortion, restrictions on presidential powers, and efforts to curb gun ownership.
Moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins, whose support is crucial to Kavanaugh's nomination, said both the judge and his accuser should testify under oath.
"I don't know enough about Dr Ford and her allegations yet" to reach a judgement, Collins said in the Senate Monday afternoon.
"I have said that in order for me to assess the credibility of these allegations, that I want to have both individuals come before the Senate Judiciary Committee and testify under oath."
"Obviously, if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying."
It was not clear if the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee would reopen hearings.
Accuser feared public scrutiny
Ford's lawyer, Debra Katz, told US media her client had been ambivalent about the pressure that would come with speaking out publicly.
She first contacted lawmakers about her experience in July, but initially insisted on remaining anonymous, saying the 1982 incident, when she and Kavanaugh both attended private schools in suburban Washington, had been a source of lasting trauma.
"She's now going to have to live with the tremendous efforts by people to annihilate her and to try to discredit her," Katz told CNN.
Ford's challenge evoked the 1991 battle of over the Republican nomination of Clarence Thomas, now the court's most conservative justice.
During his hearings allegations from a former colleague, law school professor Anita Hill, surfaced accusing him of repeated sexual harassment when they worked together.
Hill endured a brutal assault on her personal reputation in hearings and in conservative media, and the all-male Republicans on the committee ultimately backed Thomas.
This time, the Republicans on the committee are also all men.