WASHINGTON - Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called late Sunday for a delay in further consideration of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after a second woman accused him of sexual misconduct.
"I am writing to request an immediate postponement of any further proceedings related to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh," Feinstein wrote in a letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley, the committee's GOP chairman.
Her letter came after the New Yorker magazine reported that Debbie Ramirez, a classmate of Kavanaugh's at Yale University, said he exposed himself at a party when they were both first-year students.
Ramirez, who told the magazine that they both had been drinking at the time of the incident, acknowledged some gaps in her memory but said she remembered another student shouting Kavanaugh's name.
"I would think an F.B.I. investigation would be warranted," Ramirez said.
In a statement issued by the White House, Kavanaugh denied the accusation and called it "a smear, plain and simple."
"I look forward to testifying on Thursday about the truth, and defending my good name - and the reputation for character and integrity I have spent a lifetime building - against these last-minute allegations," he said in the statement.
The new charge further roiled Kavanaugh's nomination hours after the Senate Judiciary Committee had agreed to allow Christine Blasey Ford to testify Thursday about her claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
In her letter, Feinstein asked "that the newest allegations of sexual misconduct be referred to the FBI for investigation, and that you join our request for the White House to direct the FBI to investigate the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford as well as these new claims."
Republicans had agreed to delay a committee vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation until after the hearing with Ford took place, but many members of the GOP have said they are eager to move on with the process.
Before Ramirez's allegation was made public, some Republican senators indicated that they were unlikely to waver in their support for Kavanaugh.
"What am I supposed to do, go and ruin this guy's life based on an accusation?" Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on "Fox News Sunday." Ford's allegations that Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party in the early 1980s would be too thin to hold up in court, Graham said. "I don't know when it happened, I don't know where it happened, and everybody named in regard to being there said it didn't happen. I'm just being honest: Unless there's something more, no, I'm not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh's life over this."
Democrats insisted Sunday that Kavanaugh's denials were not believable, and a public appearance would do little to sway their support for Ford.
"There are so many indications of his own lack of credibility," Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said of Kavanaugh on CNN's "State of the Union." Her concerns about Kavanaugh's "very ideological agenda" and "inability to be fair," she said, predate Ford's allegations.
The New Yorker reported that at least four Democratic senators were aware of Ramirez's account and at least two had begun investigating it.
The magazine described an incident in which a male student exposed himself to Ramirez during a party. She acknowledged lapses in her memory of the episode, but said she remembered Kavanaugh standing to her right and laughing while he pulled up his pants, according to the magazine.
In a statement, White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the administration "stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh" and described Ramirez's claim as "uncorroborated" and part of a "coordinated smear campaign" by Democrats.
The claim "is wholly inconsistent with what many women and men who knew Judge Kavanaugh at the time in college say," she said.
A senior White House official also said the president wants to stick with Kavanaugh and believes people are out to smear him.
Ford's attorneys said Sunday that they agreed to the hearing despite the committee's refusal to let her speak after Kavanaugh's testimony, interview other people she identified as present at the party where the alleged assault took place, or ask the FBI to look into her allegations in advance of her appearance. Senate Democratic leaders sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Sunday urging him to direct the FBI to conduct an investigation into Ford's claims, arguing it would only take a few days.
Ford's lawyers also said they had not been told whether the Republican senators on the committee would themselves ask Ford questions or defer to staff or an independent lawyer to question her. It is customary that senators ask their own questions during public hearings. But there is a potential political risk if the all-male, all-white roster of Republicans on the panel - few of whom have any experience questioning sexual assault victims - grills Ford in a way that reminds viewers of 1991, when Anita Hill told the panel that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had repeatedly sexually harassed her. Thomas was confirmed.
"The Anita Hill hearing was a disaster, but they did have an FBI investigation; they did have other witnesses," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," charging that Republican senators had "predetermined the outcome" and set up a "he said, she said" showdown around Ford's allegations.
"The Senate, Congress, failed the test in 1991," Murray continued. "How the Senate handles this, and the Senate Republicans handle this, will be a test of this time, in 2018, in the 'Me Too' movement, can we do better? And I feel we are failing that if we don't do it correctly."
Ford alleges that Kavanaugh pinned her on a bed, drunkenly groped her, tried to take off her clothes and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. Ford said a friend of Kavanaugh, Mark Judge, was in the room - but neither he nor others who she said were at the party have claimed any knowledge or memory of the incident, although at least one said she believes Ford's allegations.
Ford told The Post one person at the party was a boy named "PJ." Patrick J. Smyth, a friend of Kavanaugh who signed a letter of support for his nomination, has told the Judiciary Committee that he has no knowledge of the party and has never witnessed Kavanaugh behave improperly toward women, according to a letter from Smyth's attorney that the committee made public on Sunday. Through his lawyer, Smyth declined to comment Sunday.
Ford said her friend Leland Keyser also was at the party. In an email to the committee, an attorney for Keyser wrote that she "does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present." In a brief interview with The Washington Post, Keyser said she did not recall the party but believed Ford's account.
Last week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said that if Democrats gain control of Congress in the midterm elections, they will continue to investigate Ford's allegations. When asked Sunday if she agreed with the idea, Hirono noted that Maryland - the state in which Ford alleges the assault took place - has lifted the statute of limitations on criminal prosecutions of most forms of sexual abuse, adding that "there may be an investigation along those lines."
"This is a situation that is not going to go away," she said.
But Republicans have argued that more FBI scrutiny would be superfluous.
"Their role in this case is not to determine who is telling the truth," Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said Sunday on "Meet the Press." "I hope that we will get to the truth" during the Judiciary Committee hearing, he added.
President Trump also has backed the hearing, but he has questioned Ford's credibility, suggesting in a tweet last week that if the alleged assault was "as bad as she says," she would have filed charges at the time.
That tweet rankled at least one key swing vote on Kavanaugh's nomination, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who said last week that she was "appalled" by Trump's tweet.
The fate of Kavanaugh's nomination is likely to hinge on Democratic and Republican senators such as Collins whose votes are uncertain.
"If one Republican senator should decide that Dr. Ford's allegations, assertions, are true and that they are serious, it could make a big difference," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."
Meanwhile, Republicans said they hoped that Trump would not weigh in with any more tweets.
"I would advise the president to let us handle this," Graham said Sunday.
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