Washington (AFP) – Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s pick to fill a crucial Supreme Court vacancy, has seen his once seemingly secure Senate confirmation engulfed by accusations of sexual abuse that allegedly took place decades ago in his youth.
Just two weeks ago, there was only one version of Kavanaugh on public display: the 53-year-old, esteemed conservative judicial thinker, irreproachable family man and coach to his daughter’s baseball team.
But since then, three women have come forth with serious allegations that paint a far different portrait of the judge as a young man — a hard partying, heavy drinking student who two of the women say sexually assaulted or abused them.
A third, who came forward on Wednesday, alleged she was gang-raped at a party Kavanaugh attended as a teenager and that she had seen him on other occasions behave abusively toward girls.
“These are last-minute smears, pure and simple,” Kavanaugh was to say Thursday when he appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee to defend himself against the most serious of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford.
The 51-year-old California psychology professor has said he pinned her down, held his hand over her mouth and attempted to remove her clothes at a party when Kavanaugh was 17 and she was 15.
Now fighting for his future, Kavanaugh was once thought to be an almost unbeatable Republican choice for the Supreme Court, where he would ensure a conservative majority in decisions involving America’s most sensitive issues.
Trump has vociferously defended Kavanaugh as a “fine man” and keen intellect facing charges that he denounced as “totally political.”
But in a news conference on Wednesday, the president for the first time said he would be open to withdrawing Kavanaugh’s nomination if he finds the testimony against him credible.
Kavanaugh, who was tapped for the post by Trump in July, has emphasized his long record as a judge and legal scholar, as well as his traditional family values and his loyalty to his wife Ashley and their two daughters.
“The Supreme Court must never be viewed as partisan,” Kavanaugh insisted during his Senate confirmation hearings, which were often disrupted by the shouts of protesters, many of them women who fear the conservative judge’s appointment could throw doubt on the future of abortion rights in the United States.
Kavanaugh, a native of the capital, has served on the important Washington appeals court for more than a decade.
He began his career as a clerk to Anthony Kennedy, the justice long considered a critical swing vote on the Supreme Court, and will succeed him on the bench if confirmed.
He graduated from prestigious Yale University, where his second accuser, university classmate Deborah Ramirez, said he exposed himself to her during a drunken party.
In the 1990s, he led an investigation into the suicide of Bill Clinton aide Vince Foster, who was linked to the Whitewater controversy that began as a probe into the presidential couple’s real estate investments.
– Practicing Catholic –
Kavanaugh later contributed to prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s report into Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which outlined several grounds for Clinton’s impeachment.
He went on to become part of George Bush’s legal team working on the 2000 Florida recount, which resulted in Bush winning the presidency.
After Bush moved into the White House in 2001, he recruited Kavanaugh as legal counsel before later naming him to the appellate court in 2003.
But Kavanaugh’s nomination languished for three years, as Democrats fumed over his participation in Bush’s recount team. He was eventually confirmed in 2006.
In 2012, Kavanaugh was part of a panel that scrapped an Environmental Protection Agency measure aimed at reducing air pollution in the United States.
He recently voiced disagreement with a court decision allowing a teenage unauthorized immigrant to get an abortion.
A devout Catholic, Kavanaugh is active in various religious groups and is a fervent supporter of gun owners rights.