US President Donald Trump has been criticised for attacking Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
Donald Trump ditched his earlier restraint on Friday in the scandal threatening his Supreme Court nominee, instead going on the attack against the woman accusing the would-be justice of sexual assault when they were teens.
The US president previously toed the Republican Party line in standing by Judge Brett Kavanaugh while also insisting that the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, be given a respectful, fair hearing.
But the gloves have come off, reflecting Trump's fear that time is running out to get the conservative judge confirmed — and tilt the Supreme Court firmly to the right for years to come — before November elections when Republicans risk losing control of Congress.
"TAKE THE VOTE!" Trump tweeted, telling the Republican-controlled Senate to get on with the confirmation.
In comments that tore up days of a relatively cautious approach, Trump rejected the credibility of Ford's claim to have been sexually assaulted by a drunken Kavanaugh when they attended neighbouring private schools near Washington in the early 1980s.
Trump used a string of tweets to blame the entire row on "radical left wing politicians" seeking to "destroy and delay" Kavanaugh's confirmation.
And while Ford — a California psychology professor who has yet to give a full public account — wants an FBI investigation into her claim, Trump says the fact that she remained silent until now shows the incident probably never happened.
"I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr Ford was as bad as she says," Trump wrote, "charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents."
"Why didn't someone call the FBI 36 years ago?"
The senior Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, called Trump's logic "a highly offensive misunderstanding of surviving trauma."
"1000s & 1000s of strong women have kept being assaulted to themselves for a variety of understandable reasons," Schumer tweeted. "The president doesn't even try to understand trauma survivors — he'd rather use their pain for political purposes."
More concerning for Trump might have been the angry reaction of one of his own Republican senators, Susan Collins, who sits on the Judiciary Committee.
"I was appalled by the president's tweet," she said in comments broadcast by CNN.
"We know that allegations of sexual assault are some of the most under-reported crimes that exist. So I thought that the president's tweet was completely inappropriate and wrong."
Trump's outburst saw a new #MeToo era hashtag storm the internet, with #WhyIDidntReport the top trending conversation starter on US Twitter Friday, as people, mostly women, vented outrage over past transgressions and voiced solidarity with Ford.
Showdown next week?
The scandal, which broke a week ago, has already delayed what previously seemed to be Kavanaugh's certain confirmation.
Republicans are furious over what they say was the deliberate timing of the last-minute revelation of Ford's allegation, accusing Democrats of seeking to prevent the process from finishing before the November midterm elections, when Democrats hope to recapture at least one chamber of Congress.
For their part, Democrats say Republicans are mounting an unseemly rush to get Kavanaugh into the nine-member Supreme Court while they still control the legislature.
The high-stakes political battle could reach boiling point next week.
Kavanaugh has repeatedly agreed to testify before the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee, saying he wants to clear his name.
A distinguished judge seen as favouring conservative interpretations of the constitution, he has not been accused in other sexually related cases and no further witness has come forward to corroborate Ford's claims.
Ford's lawyers are rejecting pressure for her to testify early next week, resulting in a drawn-out negotiation over the timing of what promises to be an explosive piece of political theatre.
The latest Republican offer was for Wednesday. However, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein, quickly countered to say that Thursday was the earliest day acceptable.
Even so, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell told supporters on Friday that he has no doubt about the outcome.
"Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court," he said to applause. "We're going to plow right through it."
Meanwhile, both the protagonists in the drama have already suffered.
Kavanaugh has seen his near coronation in the lifetime judicial appointment transformed into a fight for his basic reputation.
Ford, who until now was unknown to the wider public, finds herself a lightning rod in everything from Washington power politics to the #MeToo movement of women breaking silence on decades of workplace harassment by powerful men.
Her lawyers say the professor's life has been turned upside down.
"She has been receiving death threats, which have been reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and she and her family have been forced out of their home," Ford's lawyers said in a letter published by US media.