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Brett Kavanaugh’s Nomination in Turmoil as Accuser Comes Forward

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, has denied the accusations of sexual assault.CreditCreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s bid to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was thrown into uncertainty on Sunday as a woman came forward with explosive allegations that Mr. Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers more than three decades ago.

The woman, Christine Blasey Ford, 51, a research psychologist at Palo Alto University in Northern California, said in an interview with The Washington Post that during a high school party in the early 1980s, a drunken Mr. Kavanaugh pinned her on a bed, groped her and covered her mouth to keep her from screaming.

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” the newspaper quoted her as saying. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Judge Kavanaugh has denied the accusations, and in a terse statement on Sunday, the White House said it stood by those denials. It signaled that it had no intention of pulling the nomination.

Ms. Ford’s decision to put her name behind accusations that began to circulate late last week — a choice made after weeks of reluctance — appeared to open a door to a delay in a panel vote scheduled for Thursday. The disclosure also injected a volatile #MeToo element into the confirmation debate, one that is playing out in the overwhelmingly male Republican-led Senate during a midterm election that has energized Democratic women.

One Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, told Politico that he was “not comfortable voting yes” on the nomination until he learned more about Ms. Ford’s account. A single Republican objection on the committee, which has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, could force a delay.

Another Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said on Twitter that “if Ms. Ford wishes to provide information to the committee, I would gladly listen to what she has to say and compare that against all other information we have received about Judge Kavanaugh.” But he said he hoped to keep the process on schedule. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, made a similar statement to Politico.

Ms. Ford’s account comes as Democrats are already raising questions about Judge Kavanaugh’s truthfulness during his confirmation hearings this month. They have accused him of dissembling on a range of issues from his time in the George W. Bush White House, including a breach of secret Democratic files on judicial nominations and discussions about detainee policy and torture.

Senate Republicans in the hours after The Post’s article appeared indicated that they planned to move forward with voting on him. Republicans planned to argue that unless corroborating information came to light, they had no way of verifying her story and saw no reason to delay the vote, according to a person involved in the discussions.

But the revelation prompted a hurried effort by Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary Committee chairman, to set up conference calls to allow Democratic and Republican aides to interview both Judge Kavanaugh and Ms. Ford before Thursday’s scheduled committee vote. A spokesman, Garrett Ventry, said it was routine to hold such calls “when updates are made to nominees’ background files.”

The decision about any delay in the vote could rest on the opinions of two Republican women: Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. Both are publicly undecided about Judge Kavanaugh. Ms. Murkowski was unavailable for comment on Sunday, and Ms. Collins told a CNN journalist only that she had been surprised by the accusations and that Judge Kavanaugh had denied them to her on Friday.

The White House, which has taken great pains to portray Judge Kavanaugh as a champion of women, sought to bolster him by pointing to statements by women who have known him and testified to his character. Those included a letter from 65 women who said that they knew him in high school and that he had “always treated women with decency and respect.”

Advisers to Mr. Trump were trying to avoid publicly assailing the accuser while hoping that the lack of contemporaneous corroboration for Ms. Ford’s account would mean that Senate Republicans could move ahead without addressing it in detail.

More delicately, advisers were privately urging Mr. Trump, who has been accused of sexual harassment by more than a dozen women, not to speak out about the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh on Twitter for fear that he would only inflame the situation.

Still, some of the president’s allies on the right excoriated Ms. Ford — a registered Democrat — as a partisan. But Democrats and their liberal allies rallied around her, praising her courage and deeming her allegations credible.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called the accusations “extremely serious” and said they “bear heavily on Judge Kavanaugh’s character.” She urged critics of his accuser to stop “the attacks and stop shaming her.”

Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, went one step further, invoking Anita Hill, who came forward during Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings to accuse him of sexual harassment.

“I was motivated to run for the Senate after watching the truly awful way Anita Hill was treated by an all-male Judiciary Committee interrogating her about the sexual harassment she endured at the hands of now-Justice Clarence Thomas,” Ms. Murray said in a statement, adding that the hearings must be delayed.

There is an important difference between the two cases, however: Ms. Hill detailed harassment that took place in the workplace, when she and Justice Thomas were adults.

The Post’s article included an interview with Ms. Ford’s husband and her lawyer, Debra Katz, and described a therapist’s notes from 2012 in which Ms. Ford told of the attack. At Ms. Katz’s urging, Ms. Ford also underwent a polygraph examination in early August; the retired F.B.I. agent who conducted the examination, Jerry Hanafin, said in an interview on Sunday that the results showed “no deception indicated.”

Her account has also been detailed in a confidential letter that Ms. Feinstein has shared with the F.B.I. She disclosed its existence on Thursday, although she had been in possession of it at least since August.

Most lawmakers have yet to read the letter Ms. Feinstein sent to the F.B.I., and Senate aides and lawmakers were privately weighing the implications of Ms. Ford’s interview on Sunday. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee said that if Ms. Feinstein had taken the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh seriously, she should have brought them up much earlier.

“It raises a lot of questions about Democrats’ tactics and motives to bring this to the rest of the committee’s attention only now,” the statement said.

But Ms. Katz said that throughout August, while Ms. Feinstein was in possession of the letter, she had checked back with Ms. Katz from time to time to see if Ms. Ford would go public. But Ms. Ford, fearing she would be attacked, wanted to remain private, and the senator respected her wishes, Ms. Katz said.

She said Ms. Ford decided to reveal herself only because journalists began contacting her, and inaccurate stories about her began circulating.

“We do think that Feinstein did well by her, and we do think that people took this decision away from her, and that’s wrong,” Ms. Katz said. “If the #MeToo era teaches us anything, it’s that a person gets to choose when, where and how, and now this person is going to be injected into a life-altering blood bath.”

The New York Times published an account of the letter on Friday. In her interview with The Post, Ms. Ford offered further detail, saying that one summer in the early 1980s, Mr. Kavanaugh and a friend, both “stumbling drunk,” led her into a bedroom at a home in Montgomery County, Md., in suburban Washington, where teenagers had gathered.

The woman was wearing a bathing suit under her clothes. While his friend watched, the woman said, Mr. Kavanaugh pinned her down, grinding his body against hers and trying to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it.

She said she was able to escape when Mr. Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, jumped on top of them, sending all three tumbling. She told The Post that she ran from the room, briefly locked herself in a bathroom and then fled the house.

In the interview, Ms. Ford said the lasting trauma from the attack had “derailed me substantially for four or five years,” and had caused anxiety for years after that.

Judge Kavanaugh, in a statement released last week, said: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

In an interview with The Times on Saturday, Mr. Judge, who had learned from reporters that he was the other student named in the letter, denied that any such episode had taken place.

“It never happened,” he said. “I never saw anything like what was described.” Further, he said it did not match Mr. Kavanaugh’s character: “It is not who he is.”

Ms. Ford’s account opens a window into the exclusive prep school culture in which Mr. Kavanaugh grew up. The alleged assault occurred while he was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School, and Ms. Ford was a student at another private school, Holton-Arms, where she was a cheerleader in her senior year. She graduated in 1984.

In her yearbook, she quoted Elton John’s “Your Song,” dedicating it to her parents and her brothers, Tom and Ralph. She also included four quotes from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: “Don’t be angry, don’t be sad. And don’t sit cryin’ over good times had.”

Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Nicholas Fandos, Maggie Haberman, Michael S. Schmidt, Steve Eder, Rebecca R. Ruiz and Grace Ashford.

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