US President Donald Trump has bluntly questioned the allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a fellow high school student over 30 years ago, and Republicans warned the accuser the window was closing to tell her story before a confirmation vote.
Trump's skepticism, the most explicit challenge top Republicans have so far mounted to Christine Blasey Ford's credibility, came as GOP Senate leaders tried to firm up support for Kavanaugh.
A potentially climactic Judiciary Committee showdown is scheduled for next Monday with both Ford and Kavanaugh invited, but her attendance is uncertain, casting doubt on whether the hearing will be held at all.
Ford has said she wants the FBI to investigate her allegation before she will testify. Democrats support that, but Trump and Senate Republicans have been emphatic that it won't happen.
Despite that glimmer of hesitancy, which few other Republicans have shown publicly, the president stood firmly behind the 53-year-old Kavanaugh, who would fill the second high court vacancy of Trump's term.
"I can only say this: He is such an outstanding man. Very hard for me to imagine that anything happened," Trump said.
The Republicans are resisting all Democratic efforts to slow and perhaps block what once seemed a smooth path to confirmation that would promote the conservative appeals court judge by the October 1 opening of the Supreme Court's new term.
Kavanaugh's glide to approval was interrupted last weekend when word of Ford's allegation became public, but Republican senators are showing no signs of slowing their drive to confirm him as quickly as possible.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley wrote to Ford's attorneys that the hearing was still scheduled for Monday morning, and he pointedly said she must submit her written statement by 10 am on Friday "if she intends to testify" that day.
Ford has contended that at a house party in the 1980s, a drunken Kavanaugh tried undressing her and stifling her cries on a bed before she fled. Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied that claim.
Moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins, who's had her share of clashes with Trump, said she hoped Ford would reconsider a decision not to testify and "it's not fair to Judge Kavanaugh" if she refuses.
"Otherwise, there are these very serious allegations hanging over the head of a nominee who has emphatically denied them," she said on radio.
Australian Associated Press