US President Donald Trump drew strong criticism from both Republicans and Democrats after mocking Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her decades ago.
At a campaign rally in Mississippi rally on Tuesday, the audience laughed as Trump ran through a list of what he described as holes in Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last week, she testified that Kavanaugh pinned her on a bed, tried to take off her clothes and covered her mouth in the early 1980s when the two were teenagers. Kavanaugh has denied Ford’s allegations.
“How did you get home? ‘I don’t remember,'” Trump said at the rally Tuesday in Southaven. “How did you get there? ‘I don’t remember,’ Where is the place? ‘I don’t remember,’ How many years ago was it? ‘I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.'”
Imitating Ford, he added, “But I had one beer – that’s the only thing I remember.”
It marked the sharpest criticism by Trump of Ford since she came forward publicly with the allegation last month. He had previously called Ford a “very credible witness” while continuing to back Kavanaugh.
Ford’s lawyer Michael Bromwich called Trump’s attack “vicious, vile and soulless”.
“Is it any wonder that she was terrified to come forward, and that other sexual assault survivors are as well?” Bromwich tweeted. “She is a remarkable profile in courage. He is a profile in cowardice.”
Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake told NBC’s Today show on Wednesday that mocking “something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right.”
“I wish he hadn’t done it,” Flake said. “It’s kind of appalling.” Flake is a key GOP vote in the confirmation battle, and while he said last week he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh, he also called for an expanded FBI investigation that resulted in a one-week delay. Flake has not said how he will vote if the nomination comes up this week.
Republican Senator Susan Collins, who is also considered a swing vote on the Kavanaugh nomination, called Trump’s remarks “plain wrong”.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who is also wavering on the nomination, said Trump’s comments were “wholly inappropriate” and “unacceptable”.
Trump was also lambasted online, including by many Democrats.
Feminist author Jessica Valenti tweeted: “I don’t have it in me to say something outraged about Trump mocking Dr Blasey Ford. It’s all just so horrible and depressing.”
Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted that Ford “deserves better”.
Dr. Ford is a profile in courage. She knew what she was up against when she came forward but spoke out because she felt it was her civic duty. She deserves better.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) October 3, 2018
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defended Trump on Wednesday, saying the president was simply “stating facts”.
She also accused Democrats of “literally trying to undercut the voice of the American people when they elected Donald Trump”.
The president was in Mississippi on Tuesday, looking to use his influence to sway the outcome of a low-profile election that could tip the balance of the Senate.
As Republicans fight headwinds ahead of the November 6 midterm elections, Trump sought to rally his supporters behind Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to fill the seat of Thad Cochran, who retired in April. She faces three candidates – Republican Chris McDaniel and Democrats Mike Espy and Tobey Bernard Bartee – in next month’s special election for the remainder of the two-year term.
Trump spent much of the rally, however, lamenting the treatment of Kavanaugh by Democrats, whose attacks, he said, had taken their toll on the judge’s family.
“A man’s life is in tatters,” he said. Of Democrats, he added, “These are really evil people.”
He raised questions about the drinking habits of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy in an attempt to turn the tables on Democrats who have gone after Kavanaugh’s beer drinking. Trump told the crowd they should do an online search for “Patrick Leahy slash drink”. Leahy’s office didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment on Tuesday.
Republican officials and the White House expect Hyde-Smith’s race to go to a runoff under the state’s election rules that force a showdown between the top two finishers if no candidate wins at least 50 percent of the vote on November 6. With Republicans defending majorities in the House and Senate next month, officials cast Trump’s visit as an attempt to get ahead of a potentially perilous situation.
Officials said Trump is seeking to boost Hyde-Smith as close as possible to the 50 percent threshold and lend momentum for a possible runoff. Depending on how Republicans perform on November 6, the eyes of the nation could fall on a November 27 Mississippi runoff in what could become an expensive and high-profile race to determine control of the Senate.
Hours before Trump’s speech, Ford’s lawyers sent a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray saying they had received no response from anyone involved in the reopened background investigation of Kavanaugh.
Ford’s lawyers said it is “inconceivable” that the FBI could conclude its investigation, which could happen as early as Wednesday, without interviewing either her, Kavanaugh or all of the other witnesses whose names she had provided. In the letter, the lawyers ask for a call with Wray or the supervisory special agent in charge of the investigation.
Trump ordered the FBI to reopen the investigation into Kavanaugh last week after a dramatic last-minute demand by Senator Flake during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote on the nominee. Before casting the decisive vote in favour of Kavanaugh, Flake asked the panel to request that the Trump administration pursue an FBI probe of the explosive allegations against Kavanaugh. A day before the vote, both Ford and Kavanaugh offered emotional testimony on the allegations.
The controversy over Kavanaugh is unfolding against a backdrop of the #MeToo movement fighting sexual harassment and assault.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in three women in the US experience some form of sexual violence in their lives. About 63 percent of sexual assaults in the US are not reported to the police. More than 90 percent of sexual assault survivors on US college campuses do not report the incident.