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Wake Up To Politics - September 24, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, September 24, 2018. 43 days until Election Day 2018. 771 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Kavanaugh nomination threatened by new allegations of sexual misconduct

Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination was further imperiled on Sunday when a second woman came forward to accuse him of sexual assault.

Deborah Ramirez told the New Yorker that in the 1983-84 school year, when she and Kavanaugh were both freshmen at Yale, the future judge "exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away."

Kavanaugh denied the "last-minute allegations," which he called a "smear, plain and simple." In a statement to the New Yorker, the nominee flatly said: "This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen."

In the magazine article, Ramirez called for an FBI investigation of her claim, but "acknowledged that there are significant gaps in her memories of the evening. The New Yorker was unable to confirm Kavanaugh's attendance at the party with other eyewitnesses, although one classmate said he heard about the incident from another student at the time. Two male classmates who Ramirez alleged were also involved in the incident disputed her account.

Ramirez's claims surfaced just as Michael Avenatti, the lawyer best known for representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels in her case against President Donald Trump, announced on Twitter that he represents "a woman with credible information regarding Judge Kavanaugh and Mark Judge," the friend of Kavanaugh's who Christine Ford has said was in the room when Kavanaugh allegedly attempted to rape her while they were both in high school.

Avenatti later said that he is "aware of significant evidence of multiple house parties in the Washington, D.C. area during the early 1980s during which Brett Kavanaugh, MarkJudgeand others would participate in the targeting of women with alcohol/drugs in order to allow a 'train' of men to subsequently gang rape them." He did not provide evidence for his claim, but told Politico that he represents a group of individuals who could corroborate the allegations, including one who was a victim.  

The new allegations against Kavanaugh come ahead of a scheduled Thursday hearing where he and Ford and are both set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearing was made official on Sunday, after prolonged negotiations between Ford and Senate Republicans; some details are still unclear, including whether the witnesses will be questioned by senators or outside counsel. Ford has also called on the committee to subpoena Judge to appear at the Thursday hearing, although Republicans have resisted doing so. In a letter to Judiciary Committee leaders, Judge said that he has "no memory of the alleged incident," but added that he does "not wish to speak publicly" regarding the allegations.

The two other individuals who Ford claimed attended the party where the alleged incident took place, Patrick Smyth and Leland Ingham Keyser, have both said that they have no memory of the party in question as well.

In a letter to Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the panel's top Democrat, called for "an immediate postponement of any further proceedings related to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh" in light of the new allegations. In a follow-up tweet, Feinstein said that Thursday's hearing should be canceled and that the FBI should investigate both Ford's and Ramirez's claims.

Grassley has yet to publicly comment on the newly-surfaced allegations, although a Judiciary Committee spokesperson denied any advance knowledge of Ramirez's claim, despite the New Yorker's assertion that senior GOP staffers learned of the allegation last week. The New Yorker also reported that the offices of at least four Democratic senators had received information about Ramirez's allegation, and at least two had begun investigating it.

Meanwhile, the White House has so far defended Kavanaugh. "This 35-year-old, uncorroborated claim is the latest in a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man," White Hosue spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement to the New Yorker, adding: "The White House stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh."

According to the New York Times, the White House is expected to "take a more aggressive approach to the newly lodged accusations against Judge Kavanaugh," with Trump doubling down in support of the nominee and saying privately that the new allegation showed why his administration should have fought back harder against Ford from the beginning.

The president questioned Ford's allegation in a tweet on Friday morning, asserting that she would have reported the alleged assault to law enforcement authorities at the time if it "was as bad as she says." Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a key swing vote on the nomination, called Trump's tweet "appalling," while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reportedly counseled the president that the remark was not helpful.

Per the Washington Post, Kavanaugh spent last week preparing for a Judiciary Committee hearing by answering questions posed by an array of White House aides, but "grew frustrated when it came to questions that dug into his private life, particularly his drinking habits and his sexual proclivities" and "declined to answer some questions altogether, saying they were too personal."

According to the Associated Press, "the White House views Ford’s potential testimony with trepidation, nervous that an emotional performance might not just damage Kavanaugh’s chances but could further energize female voters to turn out against Republicans in November."

The midterm gender gap between the two parties is already predicted to be severe: an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday found that men prefer a Republican-led Congress by 3 percentage points, while women want Democrats to lead Congress by 25 points. Kavanaugh may yet be confirmed to the Supreme Court, but Republicans are now weighing the political cost of pushing him through, fearful of further galvanizing female opposition to the party ignited by Trump's election and the #MeToo movement.

Get caught up: other weekend news from the Kavanaugh battle...

  • Calendars: "Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh has calendars from the summer of 1982 that he plans to hand over to the Senate Judiciary Committee that do not show a party consistent with the description of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, according to someone working for his confirmation." (New York Times)
  • Inside the Judiciary Committee: "A press adviser helping lead the Senate Judiciary Committee’s response to a sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has stepped down amid evidence he was fired from a previous political job in part because of a sexual harassment allegation against him." (NBC News)
  • Whelan fallout: "The Ethics and Public Policy Center announced Sunday that its president, Ed Whelan, 'will take a leave of absence' from the conservative Washington think tank after peddling a conspiracy theory on social media last week related to a sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh." (Politico)

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The Rundown

Rosenstein: The New York Times reported on Friday afternoon that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggested last year that he secretly record President Trump and discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment, which would temporarily remove Trump from office. The Justice Department has denied the report, saying the comment about taping the president was sarcastic. According to the Washington Post, Trump is unlikely to fire Rosenstein until after the midterm elections, following advice from aides, congressional allies, and friendly Fox News hosts.

Immigration: "Trump administration officials announced Saturday that immigrants who legally use public benefits like food assistance and Section 8 housing vouchers could be denied green cards under new rules aimed at keeping out people the administration deems a drain on the country." (New York Times)

Russia investigation: "A former top White House official has revised her statement to investigators about a key event in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, after her initial claim was contradicted by the guilty plea of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to people familiar with the matter." (Washington Post)

Trending: A new ad by Democratic congressional candidate David Brill features endorsements from six siblings of Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), his opponent. The backstory, via the Wall Street Journal.

White House schedule

POTUS: President Donald Trump is in New York City today for the United Nations General Assembly. At 8:30am, he addresses the "Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem" event, a session on counter-narcotics he is co-hosting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, at the UN Headquarters. He will then spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon, from 9:30am to 2:15pm, at Trump Tower.

At 2:45pm, he participates in a bilateral meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Lotte New York Palace. At 3:45pm, Trump participates in a signing ceremony for the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement.

At 5:45pm, President Trump participates in a bilateral meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. At 6:30pm, he participates in a bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. Finally, at 7:45pm, the President and First Lady host a reception for visiting heads of state.
--- Related: "Trump at the U.N.: Undiplomatic? This Time, Aides Fear the Opposite" (New York Times)

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate meets at 3pm today. At 5:30pm, the chamber will vote on confirmation of Jackie Walcott to be the U.S. Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to the Vienna Office of the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador, and hold a cloture vote advancing the nomination of Peter A. Feldman to be a Commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Walcott, who currently serves as a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, held a number of positions in the State Department under George W. Bush, including as Special Envoy for Nuclear Nonproliferation and as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Security Council.

Feldman has served as Senior Counsel to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee since 2011, conducting oversight over the CPSC and other agencies.

House: No votes are expected today.

*All times Eastern