September 17, 2018

President Donald Trump on Monday defended Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the wake of an accusation of sexual misconduct as a teen-ager, although he appeared to give Republicans in the Senate the OK to hold hearings on the matter.

Speaking to reporters in the White House, Trump said that Kavanaugh has been vetted repeatedly and refused to answer a question about whether he should withdraw, calling it “ridiculous.”

“He is one of the great intellects and one of the finest people that anybody has known. You look at his references — I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” he said. “The FBI has I think gone through a process six times with him over the years where he went to higher and higher positions. He is somebody very special.”

These comments were the first the President has issued publicly since California professor Christine Blasey Ford identified herself in an interview with the Washington Post Sunday as the woman who had written a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein alleging that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. Ford told the Post Sunday that she and Kavanaugh were at a high school house party in the 1980s when Kavanaugh, who had been drinking, pinned her to a bed and groped her in an effort to pull off her clothes. When she tried to scream, Ford told the Post that Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth.

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” she said.

Reports of the allegations had surfaced in the days leading up to Ford’s interview, but her decision to publicly identify herself seemed to signal a shift in what was once thought to be an inevitable confirmation for Kavanaugh. Although the judiciary committee is still slated to vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation Sept. 20, all 10 Democrats on the committee have asked the chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, to delay that until the FBI conducts a full investigation. Some Republicans have also expressed requests for more information, like Sen. Jeff Flake, who sits on the judiciary committee, and Sen. Susan Collins, who is a key target for Democrats looking to block the confirmation vote.

Trump, who said he had not spoken with Kavanaugh recently, expressed confidence that the Senate would handle the allegations accordingly and advocated a desire for more hearings, although he acknowledged that could delay the process.

“I want the American people to be happy because they’re getting somebody that is great. I want him to go in at the absolute highest level. And I think to do that you have to go through this,” Trump said. “If it takes a little delay it’ll take a little delay. It shouldn’t certainly be very much.”

Trump, did however, criticize Feinstein for failing to publicize the letter until the end of Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. “Judge Kavanaugh spent quite a bit of time with Senator Feinstein and it wasn’t even brought up at that meeting and she had this information,” he said. “So you would have thought certainly that she would have brought it up at the meeting — not wait til everything’s finshed and then have to start a process all over again.”

Feinstein’s office has said she did not publicize the letter because the woman requested confidentiality. “The woman in question made it clear she did not want this information to be public,” her spokesman said in a statement Friday. “It is critical in matters of sexual misconduct to protect the identity of the victim when they wish to remain anonymous, and the senator did so in this case.”

Write to Alana Abramson at Alana.Abramson@time.com.

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