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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Trump court pick hit by last-minute allegations

Senator Dianne Feinstein said she had received “information from an individual concerning the nomination”

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies during the second day of his confirmation hearing. REUTERS
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies during the second day of his confirmation hearing. REUTERS

A top Democrat vetting President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said Thursday she had passed new information on him to federal investigators, in a move that could stall Republican efforts to get the conservative jurist confirmed this month.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is to vote next week on Mr Kavanaugh, announced cryptically that she had received “information from an individual concerning the nomination.”

She said the individual wanted to remain anonymous and had declined to press the issue themselves.

“I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities,” Ms Feinstein said, without giving further detail.

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The New York Times, citing officials familiar with the matter, said it involved “possible sexual misconduct” between Mr Kavanaugh and a woman when they were both in high school.

Ms Feinstein made the statement shortly after the close of a testy meeting of the Judiciary Committee in which Republicans bulldozed through Democrats’ objections and scheduled a vote on Mr Kavanaugh for September 20.

The White House lashed out at Democrats suggesting Ms Feinstein’s announcement was a political tactic.

“Throughout his confirmation process, Judge Kavanaugh has had 65 meetings with senators – including with Senator Feinstein – sat through over 30 hours of testimony, addressed over 2,000 questions in a public setting and additional questions in a confidential session,” said White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec.

“Not until the eve of his confirmation has Senator Feinstein or anyone raised the spectre of new ‘information’ about him.”

Mr Kavanaugh is crucial to Mr Trump’s determination to tilt the nine-member Supreme Court bench firmly in favour of conservatives for years to come.

The 53-year-old Washington federal appeals court judge was tapped for a lifetime appointment to succeed retired justice Anthony Kennedy, who was often the swing vote between conservatives and progressives on the court.

Republicans want him confirmed this month in time for the opening of the court’s fall session in October.

They also want to beat the November 6 congressional elections, where they risk losing control of Congress to Democrats, who could then possibly defeat the nomination.

Mr Kavanaugh’s late Wednesday submission of a 263-page file failed to clear up Democrat questions about his legal views and personal finances, as well as about contradictions in past and recent testimony on his political record.

“I don’t understand the rush to judgement,” said Ms Feinstein during the committee meeting.

“What we should do is slow down, get the record” of his White House work in the early 2000s, including his views on the legality of torture, she said.

“He will be in a pivotal seat in a closely divided court.”

Last week Mr Kavanaugh underwent four days of grueling hearings on his nomination, with Democrats probing especially his views on abortion and presidential privileges.

Liberals fear he could over time prove the key vote in an effort to restrict abortion rights.

They also fear that if Mr Trump’s legal woes in the Russia collusion investigation end up in the Supreme Court, Mr Kavanaugh’s views of presidential immunity could protect him.

The Judiciary Committee, which has a one-person Republican majority, is expected to vote to approve Mr Kavanaugh. After that the entire Senate, in which Republicans also have a narrow majority, will hold a final vote on the nomination.

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