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Trump says Supreme Court pick's sex accuser should testify

Until last week, Judge Brett Kavanaugh looked almost certain to win confirmation to the Supreme Court in a victory for President Donald Trump
Until last week, Judge Brett Kavanaugh looked almost certain to win confirmation to the Supreme Court in a victory for President Donald Trump Until last week, Judge Brett Kavanaugh looked almost certain to win confirmation to the Supreme Court in a victory for President Donald Trump AFP
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Washington (AFP)

President Donald Trump piled pressure on the woman accusing his Supreme Court pick of sex assault when they were teenagers, saying Wednesday it would be "unfortunate" if she doesn't testify before the Senate next week -- as she now appears reluctant to do.

Trump's comments essentially amounted to telling Christine Blasey Ford, the California psychology professor at the center of his presidency's newest firestorm: put up or shut up.

"If she shows up and makes a credible showing, that will be very interesting and we'll have to make a decision," Trump said.

Until last week, Judge Brett Kavanaugh looked almost certain to win confirmation in the Senate in a victory for Trump that would potentially tilt the Supreme Court to conservative rulings for decades to come.

Then came the explosive claim by Ford that a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when he was 17 and she was 15.

Trump and his Republican Party have been careful to express readiness to give the judge's accuser a fair hearing.

But with Ford reportedly now reluctant to face a grilling scheduled for Monday in the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, Trump's allies are asking whether Kavanaugh's confirmation can be justifiably delayed further.

"We continue to give her a lot of time. We've held up the whole hearing," Trump told reporters at the White House.

He said that "if she does not show up it would be unfortunate."

- Ultimate goal -

The scandal, erupting just before the Senate Judiciary Committee had been due to vote on Kavanaugh, ignited an uproar fueled by the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.

For Democrats hoping to hurt Trump before November congressional elections, when they hope to retake at least one house of the Republican-dominated Congress, the row is a godsend.

Trump -- who faces a raft of serious allegations of sexual impropriety and was once caught on tape boasting of being able to "grab" women's genitals whenever he wanted -- has trod a fine line.

Instead of the real estate tycoon's usually no-holds-barred combative style, honed during decades of cutthroat business deals, he has been careful to speak about Ford with respect.

However, he has at the same time repeatedly insisted on Kavanaugh's "unblemished" record and suitability for the lifetime appointment to the top court.

On Wednesday he called Kavanaugh "an extraordinary man" and said it was "very hard for me to imagine that anything happened" in the alleged assault.

And despite the support for giving Ford a chance to speak, Trump made clear his ultimate goal: putting more right-leaning judges on the Supreme Court.

"When I first decided to run, everybody said the single most important thing you do is the Supreme Court justice," he said.

- Call for FBI involvement -

The Senate panel has formally invited both Kavanaugh, 53, and Ford, 51, to testify, but Ford's lawyers say now that they want a broader FBI investigation first, rather than a one-day hearing.

"A full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions," lawyers for Ford said in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The letter said that Ford has faced "vicious harassment and even death threats" since going public with her allegations on Sunday.

"As a result of these kind of threats, her family was forced to relocate out of their home. Her email has been hacked, and she has been impersonated online," it added.

Democrats were quick to back her call for a delay.

"I agree with her 100 percent that the rushed process to hold a hearing on Monday has been unfair and is reminiscent of the treatment of Anita Hill," said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.

She was referring to the woman who testified in 1991 against Justice Clarence Thomas when he was a nominee, over workplace sexual harassment claims. Thomas ultimately won confirmation after Republicans ruthlessly smeared Hill's character.

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