ABCNews.com(NEW YORK) -- The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday announced a vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for as early as 9:30 a.m. Friday, just hours after he and one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, are scheduled to tell senators their dramatically different stories about her allegation he sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school.
In the face of strong opposition to Kavanaugh, some Senate Republicans have indicated they are eager to vote on his nomination even before they hear from Ford.
"Immediately following the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee should vote up or down on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination," Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said in a statement Tuesday.
The top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, immediately called the Republican move "outrageous."
"For Republicans to schedule a Friday vote on Brett Kavanaugh today, two days before Dr. Blasey Ford has had a chance to tell her story, is outrageous. First Republicans demanded Dr. Blasey Ford testify immediately. Now Republicans don’t even need to hear her before they move ahead with a vote," Feinstein said in a statement.
The committee's move to schedule a vote, which could still be delayed, comes after some of the strongest language yet from President Donald Trump in defense of his Supreme Court nominee, accusing Senate Democrats of engaging in a "con game" by opposing him.
Calling Kavanaugh a "wonderful human being," the president said Democrats raising questions are not only playing a "con game" but claimed that "they don’t believe it themselves, they know he’s a high-quality person."
"It’s just a game for them but it’s a very dangerous game for our country," Trump said of Democrats.
"I can tell you that false accusations are made against all sorts of people ... it would be a horrible insult to our country if this doesn't happen ... it cannot be allowed to happen," Trump said in New York, answering reporter questions at the end of a meeting at the United Nations with the president of Colombia.
Asked about Kavanaugh's interview that aired on Fox News Monday night, the president said he saw it and that Kavanaugh came off truthful. He specifically highlighted Kavanaugh's remarks about being focused on being number one in his class: "To me, that was so believable ... he was so truthful, and I think it came out, I hope it came out."
The president sought to discredit the accusations against Kavanaugh, saying the claims are "totally unsubstantiated" and essentially scoffing about the fact that they are more than 30 years old.
He specifically sought to discredit the second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, when asked if she should be allowed to testify, saying she "has nothing" and noting that even she admits to being drunk and having gaps in her memory, added, "she said she was totally inebriated and she was all messed up."
She told The New Yorker that when both were freshmen at Yale University, Kavanaugh exposed himself at a drunken dorm party and "thrust his penis in her face."
"And now a new charge comes out and she doesn’t know that it’s him but it could have been him, oh gee, let’s not make him a Supreme Court Justice?" Trump said mockingly, speaking of Ramirez.
Senate Judiciary Committee staff held a call with Brett Kavanaugh Tuesday to discuss the Ramirez allegations. Democrats were involved in the call.
The president advised reporters to "look at the lawyers," suggesting they are politically motivated.
Tuesday afternoon, it was revealed that Senate Judiciary Committee staff held a call with Kavanaugh Tuesday to discuss the Ramirez allegations. Democrats were involved in the call but it wasn't immediately clear what transpired.
Earlier on Capitol Hill, the Senate's top Democrat, New York Sen. Charles Schumer, called on his Republican counterpart, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, to apologize to one of Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.
Ford has alleged that a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party when they were both in high school, pinning her to a bed, groping her and covering her mouth to stop her from screaming. Kavanaugh has categorically denied the claim, saying he's "never sexually assaulted anyone."
On the Senate floor Monday, McConnell called allegations "a Democratic smear job."
"This is what the so-called resistance has become. A smear campaign, pure and simple. Aided and abetted by members of the United States Senate," McConnell said.
On Tuesday, Schumer called McConnell's remarks "shameful."
"Leader McConnell owes an apology to Dr. Ford for labeling her allegations a “smear job.” Let me repeat that, Leader McConnell owes an apology to Dr. Ford for labeling her allegations a “smear job.” And he should apologize to her immediately," Schumer said on the Senate floor.
"It is galling, galling for the Republican leader, who has done more than maybe anyone to politicize the Supreme Court nomination process, to make these trumped up, hyperbolic charges of partisanship by Democrats," Schumer continued. "It is a sad habit of Republicans to accuse the other side of doing what they, in fact, are doing."
A key Republican vote on Kavanaugh, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, said she would be interested in hearing from Deborah Ramirez, the second woman to accuse Kavanaugh.
"If she has serious allegations that she is willing to come forward on and request the opportunity to be heard as Dr. Ford did, I think that there is a process for all of that, a process before the committee. I don't want to see further delay," Murkowski told reporters Tuesday.
“It's very important to take allegations of those who have come forward, to take them seriously and I think we need to go into this hearing with the view that we will listen to Dr. Ford's story," Murkowski said. "We will listen to Judge Kavanaugh's response and then we will weigh what we have heard."
When asked if she agrees with McConnell that this is a “smear campaign,” Murkowski declined to comment directly.
Instead, in a carefully worded response, she said. “I think it is important that we have a process that is viewed as credible and respected.”
Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, another key vote if Republicans hope to get Kavanaugh confirmed, was skeptical.
"I read the New Yorker article, its pretty thin. No one else remembered any of it. This is really kinda getting carried away. It's feeling more like a circus," Corker said.
Corker was more positive about GOP plans to have an outside counsel ask questions of Ford and Kavanaugh when they both appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
"I think it's really smart of them to get outside counsel. Somebody will do something that you guys will run 24/7. Inadvertently, somebody will do something that's insensitive. I would not be wanting to ask questions about something like this. I'm glad they're going to get outside counsel," Corker said.
On Tuesday, the committee said it had hired a former sex crimes prosecutor - a woman - to conduct the Republican questioning of Ford.
Chairman Charles Grassley said he would not release her name for the time being in order to ensure her safety.
Later, McConnell and other Republican leaders appeared more than ever to have their minds made up-- in Kavanaugh's favor.
"We're going to be moving forward. I'm confident we're going to win. I'm confident he will be confirmed in the very near future," McConnell said.
Other Republican leaders talked about Ford's allegations with more skepticism than previously.
"In this case, there's no way the accused can disprove the allegation because he wasn't there, he said. It didn't happen, he said," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said.
Just before, Cornyn said, "As the father of two adult daughters, as I'm approaching this hearing I want to make sure I treat Dr. Ford the same way my daughters would be treated in the event they were making an accusation. Or my mother. Or my wife."
"Certainly difficult to investigate a claim where there's no location, no date, and no witnesses," added Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican.
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Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A group of President Donald Trump's staunchest conservative allies in the House are pushing for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appear on Capitol Hill and testify under oath after reports he suggested secretly recording the president and invoking the 25th amendment to remove him.
"You cannot have the guy who is, in effect, running the Justice Department, in front of subordinates, talk about recording the president, even if it is done in a sarcastic way," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a leading member of the House Freedom Caucus, said Tuesday evening.
The effort comes at a fraught moment for Rosenstein, who will meet with Trump on Thursday in Washington.
On Monday, he traveled to the White House with the expectation of being fired after an explosive report by The New York Times that he discussed recording Trump and the 25th amendment in 2017, after Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey. Rosenstein denied making the comments.
Jordan, who is leading the effort with House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a Trump confidant, has been pushing Republican leaders to ask Rosenstein to appear on Capitol Hill under oath for several days.
"I find no compelling reason why we shouldn't have Rod Rosenstein come before Congress and put up his right hand, and say what he did or didn't say," Meadows said Tuesday. "I get a sense [from leadership] that there's not an appetite for doing it."
The Republicans are contemplating forcing a vote on impeaching Rosenstein if they don't get their way, using a privileged impeachment resolution, which they first considered using earlier this year after a standoff with the Justice Department over sensitive documents related to the Russia investigation.
"All options have been on the table. Certainly any option in our tool bag is certainly an option that we can still deploy," Meadows said, adding that no decision had been made.
It's unlikely the House would vote to table the impeachment resolution, if introduced, before leaving Washington for the month on Friday.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., did not answer questions about Rosenstein's appearing before Congress.
"We've made no decisions, but I understand that he's meeting with the president on Thursday," he said.
Goodlatte said he notified committee Democrats of his intention to subpoena the Justice Department for the memos of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe as soon as Thursday. The Justice Department had previously refused to turn over the records to Congress.
The notes detail McCabe's conversation with the deputy attorney general and Rosenstein's suggestion that McCabe wear a wire to record the president, sources familiar with the memos have told ABC News.
"Those are documents that would tell us something about that meeting without having to deal with the testimony of anybody," Goodlatte said.
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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- While her party’s leaders are plowing ahead with their support for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of the key swing votes, wants the sexual assault allegation to be taken seriously.
“It's very important to take allegations of those who have come forward, to take them seriously and I think we need to go into this hearing with the view that we will listen to Dr. Ford's story, we will listen to Judge Kavanaugh's response and then we will weigh what we have heard,” the Alaska Republican told a massive scrum of reporters. “I think it's important to have the hearing, to get this out on the record and then to move on from there.”
Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor, alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. She is slated to testify before the committee at 10 a.m. on Thursday.
A second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, 53, a former Yale University classmate of Kavanaugh's, told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a dorm room party and "thrust his penis in her face," causing her to "touch it without her consent as she pushed him away."
Kavanaugh denies the allegations.
When asked if she agrees with Leader McConnell that this is a “smear campaign,” Murkowski declined to comment directly.
Instead, in a carefully worded response, she said: “I think it is important that we have a process that is viewed as credible and respected.”
“I support Chairman Grassley in his effort to have a hearing that is dignified, that allows for a level of due process, that allows for the stories of again, both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh to be heard, so I want a process with decorum and fairness,” she told ABC News.
Murkowski left the door open to a possible FBI investigation of the claims, saying “an investigation would certainly clear up some of the questions that are out there,” but adding “as I understand how the process works it is not how the Judiciary Committee to make that ask.”
Capitol Hill has become a wild cat and mouse game, as reporters scramble to track down the key swing votes who could make or break Kavanaugh’s nomination.
West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, another one of those critical votes, trod carefully when speaking with reporters on Tuesday.
Republicans “want to make sure that people are heard,” but added “if there needs to be more and there’s more valid accusations, then they should be heard. Period,” he said.
“The woman or women who desire to be heard need to be heard and he needs to have a chance to clear his name. That's about as clean as I can make it,” he told ABC News.
But many Republicans are making clear they’ve already made up their minds.
“When the public sees how this guy has been abused, I think it's going to, you know, have a surge in popularity,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe said of Kavanaugh.
Like a number of Republicans, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker is questioning the credibility of the latest allegation by Ramirez.
“I read the New Yorker article, its pretty thin. No one else remembered any of it. This is really kinda getting carried away. It's feeling more like a circus,” he said.
Corker agrees with Republican leaders that it’s time to move to a vote soon.
“I think the longer this hangs out there, the more problematic that it is,” he said. “As soon as the hearing is over, I plan to make known what I'm going to do but again, I go into it with positive feelings about him.”
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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace him on the nation's highest court was supposed to calm jittery Republican nerves about a disengaged base.
The worry: that Republican voters would stay home this November in what promises to be a critical midterm election that could see control of both the U.S. House and Senate slip from GOP control.
But after allegations of sexual assault against the nominee have surfaced, the political capital Republicans thought they could spend during Kavanaugh's confirmation fight has evaporated, and the process has become yet another headache for the GOP as the final month of the campaign approaches.
The turmoil surrounding the Supreme Court picks comes amid renewed uncertainty surrounding the fate of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man currently overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
All of the controversy comes in a midterm cycle where the GOP, fresh off passing a major tax overhaul last year and buoyed by a strong economy, was hoping for an economy-centric message to sell to the American people. But recent polling shows that the tax plan is not as big of a selling point as the GOP once thought. A June poll from Quinnipiac found that 46 percent of voters, including 45 percent of Independents, disapprove of the GOP tax plan, and Bloomberg reported this week that a poll commissioned by the Republican National Committee (RNC) shows that by a 2-to-1 margin voters believe the tax plan benefits wealthy Americans.
The allegations against Kavanaugh, which he has repeatedly and aggressively denied, have forced Republican candidates into the difficult and often awkward position of defending Kavanaugh as the controversy surrounding his nomination grows deeper seemingly by the day.
That pressure has been happily applied and ramped up in recent days by their Democratic opponents, who have mostly been on the defensive following Kennedy's retirement and are defending ten U.S. Senate seats this cycle in states that Donald Trump won in the 2016 presidential election.
In North Dakota, GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer has been on his heels in recent days following his comments last week on the allegations brought against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford, who claims Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when he forced himself on top of her at a party, groped her and covered her mouth with his hand when the two were in high school.
"These are teenagers who evidently were drunk, according to her own statement. They were drunk. Nothing evidently happened in it all, even by her own accusation," Cramer told a local North Dakota radio station regarding the incident.
Cramer's comment drew a swift rebuke from his Democratic opponent, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who has the unenviable task of holding on to a seat in a deep red state the Donald Trump won by roughly 35 points in 2016.
"His comments were disturbing and representative of a bigger issue Congressman Cramer has with respecting women and victims of assault or abuse. As a public official elected by the people of our state, he owes North Dakotans answers on his deeply troubling views regarding sexual assault," Libby Schneider, Heitkamp's campaign manager, wrote in a statement, "Regardless of one’s opinion on the Supreme Court nominee, allegations of sexual assault should never be trivialized or diminished – as Congressman Cramer did yesterday."
The episode provided a rare opportunity for Heitkamp, who prior to the allegations surfacing was a target of Republicans hoping to use the confirmation vote as a political cudgel against her, to instead force her Republican opponent into a politically untenable conversation.
Cramer seemed to sink even deeper into the political quagmire on Monday when he questioned whether the allegations against Kavanaugh would be disqualifying even if they are true.
"Even if it’s all true, does it disqualify him? It certainly means that he did something really bad 36 years ago, but does it disqualify him from the Supreme Court?” Cramer said in an interview with local North Dakota television station KX4.
The comments prompted Heitkamp's campaign to release a statement from former U.S. Attorney for the District of North Dakota, Tim Purdon, who said, "From a law enforcement perspective, Congressman Kevin Cramer’s comments are not only disturbing – they’re dangerous and profoundly out-of-line with the law."
A spokesman for Cramer's campaign did not immediately respond Tuesday afternoon to an ABC News request for comment on Purdon's statement.
In Mississippi, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is mounting a challenge from the right to appointed U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, opined on the Kavanaugh allegations in an interview last week on American Family Radio, claiming that "99 percent of the time" allegations of the kind Ford is alleging are "fabricated."
McDaniel has also been hounding Hyde-Smith to fight "tooth and nail" to confirm Kavanaugh, attempting to corner her and challenge her loyalty to President Trump in another deep red state full of many of his most fervent supporters.
Hyde-Smith has responded by forcefully defending Kavanaugh, questioning the timing of the allegations and calling them a "coordinated attack to torpedo his nomination."
In a story reported by the Associated Press last week, Hyde-Smith questioned the timing of the allegations brought forth by Ford, and said, "The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on the allegation. This process should go forward so both sides can be heard."
On Monday, Hyde-Smith again defended Kavanaugh, calling the accusations against him a "major partisan effort underway not just Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, but his character."
Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressional and Cabinet member in President Bill Clinton's administration, who is also running for Hyde-Smith's seat, said last week that the allegations against Kavanaugh "must be fully investigated before the Senate moves forward with the lifetime appointment of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice."
The campaign arm of Senate Republicans, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), did not respond to an inquiry from ABC News this week regarding how they are advising candidates to handle the allegations against Kavanaugh and the political fallout.
The political conundrum that the Kavanaugh nomination has become has also found its way into the gubernatorial landscape as well.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the Republican nominee for governor in the state who previously called the Kavanaugh nomination a "home run," was asked about the allegations against Kavanaugh this week and responded by saying he believes that the Senate should "have a hearing, let every voice be heard and then the Senators should vote."
In Georgia, 30 female leaders in the state sent a letter to Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the GOP nominee for governor this cycle against Democrat Stacey Abrams, urging him to rescind his support for Kavanaugh.
As the potential for a public hearing continues to loom over Kavanaugh's confirmation process, so too does the potential for more Republican candidates to face continuing questions over their support for him.
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ABC News (NEW YORK) -- President Donald Trump, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, was greeted with laughter after touting his administration's accomplishments in a much-anticipated address.
"In less than two years, my administration has accomplished almost more than any other administration in the history of our country," Trump said at the top of his speech, which prompted audible laughter in the hall.
"Didn't expect that reaction but that's OK," he responded.
He said the United States is a "stronger, safer and richer country than when I took office."
"We are standing up for America and the American people and we are also standing up for the world. This is great news for our citizens and for peace-loving people everywhere," he continued.
While he rattled off his administration's achievements and defended decisions that some in the international community have rebuked, the theme of his speech was that every nation had a "sovereign" right to make decisions for themselves.
"We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism," he said at one point, calling on other countries to fend for themselves, too.
Calling out specific leaders for praise, criticism
He praised his administration's progress with North Korea, thanking Kim Jong Un "for his courage and for the steps he has taken, though much work remains to be done."
At last year's address, Trump famously mocked Kim as "Rocket Man" and threatened to destroy North Korea.
In Tuesday's speech, Trump turned that ire to Iran, speaking about the "heartbreaking" tragedy in Syria and saying that any solution to the humanitarian strife in the region "must also address the brutal regime" in Iran.
He called on all nations to "isolate Iran's regime as long as its aggression continues" even as leaders from allies like Japan and France will sit with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this week at the United Nations.
"Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death and destruction. They do not respect their neighbors or borders or the sovereign rights of nations," Trump said. "Instead, Iran’s leaders plunder the nation's resources to enrich themselves and to spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond."
Trump pushed back against criticism of some of his other controversial foreign policy decisions, including moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, levying tariffs on China, withdrawing from the U.N. Human Rights Council and threatening the International Criminal Court.
He said the prospects for peace have been "advanced, not harmed" by the embassy move, adding, "America's policy of principled realism means we will not be held hostage."
On the topic of tariffs, Trump said "China's market distortions and the way they deal cannot be tolerated," noting the tariffs on more than $200 billion in Chinese goods are an act of protectionism.
"America will never apologize for protecting its citizens," he said.
Trump had harsh words for Middle Eastern oil producers, who he claimed are taking advantage of the world markets while receiving military help.
"OPEC nations are, as usual, ripping off the rest of the world. And I don't like it. Nobody should like it," he said. "We defend many of these nations for nothing and then they take advantage of us by giving us high oil prices -- not good. We want them to stop raising prices. We want them to start lowering prices and they must contribute substantially to military protection from now on. We are not going to put up with it -- these horrible prices -- much longer."
While asserting U.S. energy independence, Trump also made a jab at Germany for its Nordstream 2 pipeline with Russia, saying it would make Germany "totally dependent" on the Kremlin. The line drew laughter from German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in the audience.
Defending his team
One of the most controversial decisions announced by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley this year was the country's withdrawal from the body's human rights council.
Trump, defending Haley, said the U.S. "warned that the U.N. Human Rights Council had become a grave embarrassment to this institution, shielding egregious human rights abusers while bashing America and its many friends. Our Ambassador Nikki Haley laid out a clear agenda for reform despite reported and repeated warnings. No actions at all were taken so the United States took the only responsible course."
"We will not return until real reform is enacted," he added.
As for the International Criminal Court, Trump said the body "claims near universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country."
"America is governed by Americans," he said, rejecting what he sees as an infringement on American sovereignty.
Additionally, he said that his administration is "taking a hard look at U.S. foreign assistance."
"Moving forward we are only going to give foreign aid to those who respect us, and frankly, who are our friends," he said.
Weighing in before the speech
Before Trump took the stage this morning, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said he was going to use a "different tone" in his address.
"I think that his speech this morning is going to be a great moment for the president. We've had a tremendous amount of success -- particularly when it comes to the foreign policy front -- over the last year, since he gave his last speech," Sanders said Tuesday on "GMA."
She added, "If you'll remember the rhetoric last year was extremely tough with North Korea. I think you'll see certainly a different tone and a lot of progress has been made on that front, in large part due to the president's leadership."
Trump briefly spoke to journalists as he entered the United Nations, touching on topics like Iran and North Korea.
"I'm not meeting with [Iranian leaders] until they change their tune ... we look forward to having a great relationship with Iran but it won't happen now,” he said.
On Monday, the president attended an event where the topic centered on curbing the use of illegal drugs and cutting off supply chains. The event was followed by an evening reception.
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ABC News (NEW YORK) -- On ABC's "The View" on Tuesday, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” weighed in on their discomfort over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s responses to questions on race.
“When Kavanaugh was asked by Kamala Harris, do you believe someone can be barred from the United States of America by Congress for the president based solely on their race? He wouldn't answer the question,” Scarborough told the hosts of “The View" of the nominee's response to lawmakers during a recent hearing.
That lack of response, Scarborough said, was troubling.
“If you can't even say that we can't discriminate against people based on their race in 2018, you don't belong on the Supreme Court,” Scarborough said.
The panel's discussion about Trump's pick to join the highest court came just days before a highly-anticipated Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexual assault when they were suburban Maryland high schoolers decades ago, were set to testify.
Scarborough served as a member of Congress from 1995 to 2001 as a Republican representative of Florida. While in office, Scarborough was a member of the Judiciary, Government Reform and Oversight, among others.
Scarborough has previously criticized news coverage of Kavanagh’s allegations, which he said are biased against the Supreme Court nominee.
“What we’ve seen in the last week has made me want to call networks and put a 'D' in front of the name of the so-called journalists that have already decided that Brett Kavanaugh is a rapist,” Scarborough said recently on his show. “It’s sick.”
However, in the past, Scarborough on his show also complimented Kavanaugh’s experience and said that writing an article about exempting sitting presidents from “criminal prosecution and investigation” speaks to Kavanaugh’s character.
Brzezinski, his co-host, said on "The View" that Ford's allegation of sexual assault warrants an FBI investigation and that the White House and congressional Republicans should welcome such transparency given the stakes.
"I think there should be an FBI investigation. I think Republicans should call for it," she said. "I don’t know what they have to lose at this point except for, quite frankly, the women vote. "
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File-Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- One year after hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Senator Elizabeth Warren and seven other senators are renewing calls for Senate hearings over the dire states of health and education infrastructure on the islands.
"Hurricane Maria killed about 3,000 American citizens, had a crippling impact on health and education systems in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, had an impact all around the country -- and yet, there hasn't been a single hearing," Warren, D-Mass., said Tuesday, using her time at a committee hearing on a different education bill passed in 2015 to raise the issues.
"When disasters hit, they don't affect only the communities that are directly hit by the eye of the storm," Warren said citing the more than 3,200 displaced Puerto Rican students who are now enrolled in Massachusetts schools.
Warren and seven other senators also sent a letter exclusively obtained by ABC News to Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Tuesday to discuss the "critical challenges in their health and educational systems" that include hundreds of closed schools, hospital closures and a severe shortage of doctors –- with further budget cuts expected.
"We have a responsibility to exercise our oversight responsibilities to ensure that our fellow U.S. citizens struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and Maria – the deadliest natural disaster in recent U.S. history -- receive the resources and assistance they need to recover from these disasters and to rebuild in a long-term, sustainable way," the letter stated.
Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Christopher Murphy of Connecticut, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Tina Smith of Minnesota joined Warren in sending Tuesday’s letter.
ABC News reached out to Senator Alexander’s office for comment.
Warren and eight senators previously requested a hearing in the HELP committee in December 2017, on the same matters, but no hearing was scheduled.
"Given the extent of the damage inflicted upon both territories, as well as the important roles of the departments under this committee's jurisdiction in ongoing hurricane relief efforts, we believe such hearings would be an important part of the Committee's oversight related to hurricane recovery," the senators wrote at the time.
Alexis Ramos, a spokesperson for the Puerto Rico Department of Education told ABC News that since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, 257 schools have closed after thousands of students left the island and its education system.
Five schools remain closed on the U.S. Virgin Islands, Keva Muller, a spokesperson for the Department of Education told ABC News. Those schools are expected to reopen in temporary structures on Thursday. She said the number of students enrolled is "growing, but it’s still not at pre-hurricane," levels.
"A lot of students are returning back to the territory," Muller said, but the department will not know the final enrollment number until all the schools open and have their first day back.
Tuesday’s letter noted that the health care system in Puerto Rico "faces substantial challenges," citing "an exodus of doctors from the island” and a "mental health crisis because so many residents were traumatized by the catastrophe."
"We must find out what went wrong in the preparation for and recovery from this disaster, and make sure that federal and state agencies are better prepared for the next natural disaster," the letter concluded.
During her speech in the Senate committee Tuesday, Warren said, "We hope you will consider this latest request and that we will have a hearing on the devastating impact on Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Island and the rest of the country because of this deadly hurricane."
After she spoke, Alexander said that he had received the letter sent by the group of senators, but did not say if the committee would hold a hearing on the issues.
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ABC News (NEW YORK) -- White House press secretary Sarah Sanders would not offer any assurances that President Trump will allow the special counsel investigation to continue without delay if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein exits the Justice Department, telling "Good Morning America" Tuesday that she doesn’t want to get ahead of the process.
Asked by ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos whether the president has confidence in Rosenstein, Sanders replied: “The president has confidence in the system.”
“That’s not what I asked,” Stephanopoulos responded.
“I’m not going to get ahead of the conversation that’s going to take place, certainly he wants things to take place,” Sanders said of Trump's upcoming meeting with Rosenstein. “There have been a number of incidents that have caused a great deal of concern, not just to the president but to Americans all over the country.”
Sanders repeatedly expressed her view that Robert Mueller’s investigation should wrap up soon because she said he has found nothing that relates directly to the president.
"I'm not going to get ahead of where the president is but he has been very clear he wants this to come to a conclusion,“ Sanders said. “We expect that it should and, again, they've spent a year and a half and found nothing that has anything to do with this president because there was nothing.”
Stephanopoulos pointed out that there have been several convictions as a result of the probe but, again, Sanders denied that any of them had anything to do with the president.
Mueller is leading the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether there was any collusion by members of the Trump campaign, as well as whether the president obstructed justice in his firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Sanders also wouldn't say that the president has confidence in Rosenstein but only that he has "confidence in the system."
The president and Rosenstein had a "very long and good conversation yesterday and they want to continue that in a couple days," she said of the meeting scheduled for Thursday.
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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Reports about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's possible departure from his post on Monday prompted a round of questions and rife speculation about who could take over his responsibilities.
The answer: It could be more than one person.
The documented line of succession at the Department of Justice is a subject that has come up multiple times during the Trump administration, particularly whenever the president publicly criticized either Attorney General Jeff Sessions or Rosenstein, who has been the department’s number two and has overseen the Russia investigation since Sessions recused himself.
That said, while there is an order of succession that could be followed, it isn't set in stone. And it's complicated by Sessions’ recusal.
The trouble with predicting who will be filling Rosenstein's shoes is that there's a chance that President Donald Trump will choose to opt out of the traditional line of succession in favor of picking someone else to replace Rosenstein.
There are different paths that could be taken if Rosenstein leaves.
One possible replacement plan
Earlier this year, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand was seen as Rosenstein's likely replacement by the order of succession laid out in a Department of Justice memo, but she left the Justice Department in February to join Walmart.
Now, since Brand’s position has yet to be filled, the next in line would typically be Solicitor General Noel Francisco, based on succession guidelines laid out in that memo.
However, Francisco would not be able to replace Rosenstein in both title and purview.
Rosenstein has been overseeing the Russia investigation because Sessions recused himself from oversight of the special counsel's investigation. As a result, Rosenstein has been fulfilling his official duties as deputy attorney general, as well as serving as the acting attorney general in respect to the Russia investigation.
If Rosenstein is replaced, however, there is a federal rule that says that one person cannot serve in two "acting" roles at the same time, so the acting deputy attorney general could not also be the acting attorney general for the Russia investigation.
According to federal law, the president can appoint anyone to fill Rosenstein’s shoes if they have served for more than 90 days in certain high-level managerial roles within the Justice Department.
Two sources told ABC News that the White House and the Justice Department have specifically discussed using this route, with one possible plan to make Matt Whitaker, the current chief of staff to Sessions, the acting deputy attorney general -- but Whitaker would not have oversight of the special counsel's investigation. Instead, those sources told ABC News Francisco would be in charge of the Russia probe. But there may also be some debate on that front, as Francisco was previously a partner at the law firm Jones Day, which represents the Trump campaign. Nevertheless, sources told ABC News that administration officials believe Francisco would not have to recuse himself from the Russia probe and would be able to oversee it.
Who is Noel Francisco?
Francisco clerked for late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and served in the Office of Counsel to the President from 2001 to 2003 during the George W. Bush administration.
In 2003, he served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, according to his current Department of Justice biography.
Before his current post as solicitor general at the Department of Justice, Francisco was a partner at the law firm Jones Day, which also counted White House Counsel Don McGahn as a partner.
The prospect of having Francisco as the acting deputy attorney general has been floated for months since Brand's departure, but back in April, Trump confidante, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie didn't seem to think it would be a good fit.
"If Rod Rosenstein were to be fired, this doesn't solve any problems. If the president -- that's what the president is doing, who is going to be in charge, Noel Francisco, the solicitor general? I can tell you, Noel Francisco, very talented lawyer, but to be solicitor general, you have a specific skill set. And running a Russia collusion investigation is probably not one of them," Christie said on ABC's "This Week".
Mary McCord, visiting professor at Georgetown Law's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, worked with Francisco briefly at the Department of Justice, as she is a former acting assistant attorney general for national security.
She said that Francisco "is a conservative thinker" and has worked extensively on Supreme Court cases in his role as solicitor general.
"He's certainly capable of taking on that acting role," she said of the prospect of Francisco taking over as deputy attorney general should Rosenstein leave.
"He's certainly a smart person who knows how the department works," she said.
How Trump could pick someone else
There is also another path for Trump to have a hand in picking a possible replacement for Rosenstein.
A portion of the U.S. Code stipulates that an individual's first assistant can serve as their temporary replacement, and in the case of Rosenstein, that would mean the role could go to Ed O'Callaghan, who was named acting principal associate deputy attorney general in April.
Separately, the Federal Vacancies Act, which has since been updated and called the Vacancies Reform Act, allows for Trump to pick anyone from any executive agency to fill an emptied position temporarily as long as they were approved by the Senate to serve in their current role.
The act stipulates that if a person in a Senate-confirmed role, like deputy attorney general, "dies, resigns or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office," the act allows for Trump to pick a temporary replacement for only 210 days.
The language in the act does not specifically address if it applies to someone who is fired or dismissed.
"There's some disagreement in the law about whether the Vacancies Act applies if someone is fired as opposed to resigns," said David Lewis, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University.
"The Vacancies Act is an effort by Congress to limit the president's ability to use temporary appointments to circumvent the Senate's right to have a say in presidential nominations," said Lewis. Temporary presidential appointments do not require Senate confirmation.
As of Monday afternoon, Rosenstein remains at his post. He is expected to meet with the president on Thursday.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It was at last year’s United Nations General Assembly that President Donald Trump launched a verbal assault on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, chiding him as a "Rocket Man ... on a suicide mission for himself,” and made a dramatic debut with blunt talk about putting “America first” over multilateral cooperation.
But as he attends this year’s United Nations General Assembly -- in what will be his second time attending the gathering of heads of state as president -- Trump returns as a known quantity.
“Last year, there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty about what President Trump would be like and what he would do and how to talk to him,” Jon Alterman, the director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Middle East program said. “I think people have sort of figured out how to deal with that. I think they’ve sort of figured out how to deal with the president.”
Trump will deliver his address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, which Haley says the president will use to tout his foreign policy successes over the last year and the way forward.
Alterman points to French President Emanuel Macron as an example of another world leader who has figured out how to successfully navigate a productive relationship with the president.
Trump honored Macron earlier this year with what was the first official state visit invitation extended during his presidency and has been the only such visit since.
With many world leaders now feeling more confident in their relationships with the president, Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Michael Green said some leaders will be looking to subtly buck the president and engage in subtle acts of defiance even as they will look to publicly project unity with the U.S. leader.
A case in point, Green said is Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s expected meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“It’s being interpreted by analysts in Tokyo -- correctly, I think -- as a little bit defiant of President Trump; a little bit of a declaration or a statement that, like other world leaders, Abe is going to do his own thing, because Donald Trump is not helping him out the way he had hoped on North Korea and trade,” said Green, who is the organization's senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair.
Both Abe and Macron are among a list of world leaders confirmed by the White House to have bilateral meetings with the president in New York. He will also have meetings with the leaders of South Korea, Egypt, Israel and the U.K.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., didn’t rule out the possibility that additional pull-aside meetings could be added to the president’s schedule. Asked about the possibility that Trump could meet with Iran’s leader, Haley said: “If Rouhani requested a meeting, it'd be up to Trump to decide if he wanted to.”
Those bilateral meetings are in addition to the center-stage events at the gathering.
On Monday, the president attended an event that served as a global call to action for cooperation around curbing the use of illegal drugs and cutting off supply chains. The event was followed by an evening reception along with the first lady for all heads of delegations.
“He wants to talk about protecting U.S. sovereignty, foreign aid and how generous the U.S. is, but also will lay down a marker that we’ll just be generous that share our values and want to work with us -- not those that say they hate the US,” Haley told reporters Thursday.
On Tuesday evening, Trump and the first lady will host a reception for this year's and next year's Security Council members, their foreign ministers and spouses, Haley said.
The president is set to chair a U.N. Security Council meeting the next day that was originally scheduled to be focused on Iran, but was broadened out to the topic of nonproliferation because of concerns about the fissures an Iran-focused meeting could expose among allies.
“We broadened the topic,” Haley said of the decision. “We were addressing so many issues. The administration thought it'd be valuable to expand that. President didn't want to be limited. Iran certainly part of that discussion. It will be interesting to see leaders' different
Joining the president in New York for his visit will be several other high-ranking members of his administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump.
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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Comedians mocked Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Monday after he discussed his virginity and claimed a decades-old social calendar would help to exonerate him from sexual assault allegations.
“He claims he kept calendars detailing his social engagements from 1982 that will help to exonerate him,” Jimmy Kimmel said on “Live” Monday. “What 17-year-old keeps calendars of his social engagements? No wonder he was a virgin!”
Kavanaugh defended himself in an emotional interview on Monday after a second woman accused him of sexual misconduct over the weekend.
"I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter," Kavanaugh said during a Fox News interview on Monday. "Yes, people might have had too many beers on occasion. In high school I think all of us have done things we look back on in high school and cringe a bit.
"But that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about an allegation of sexual assault and I never sexually assaulted anyone," he added.
President Donald Trump also defended Kavanaugh on Monday, calling him a "fine man" and "a great scholar."
“This is a fine man and we certainly hope he will be confirmed and quickly. His family has suffered. His family has suffered," Trump said. "What’s going on is not something that should happen. Brett Kavanaugh is an absolutely outstanding person and hopefully, he will be confirmed quickly.”
Kavanaugh's interview aired on Monday, a day after a former Yale University classmate claimed he sexually assaulted her at a party 35 years ago.
Stephen Colbert also chimed in on the Kavanaugh saga over on “The Late Show.”
"Wow. Seriously that’s not good. I mean you expect that kind of thing at Dartmouth, but Yale,” Colbert said. “At least, please, please tell me his penis was wearing a bow tie.”
The nominee vehemently denied the woman's claims, as well as allegations levied by Christine Blasey Ford, who claimed he sexually assaulted her at a separate party when they were both in high school.
Kavanaugh said he wouldn’t “let false accusations” drive him out of the Supreme Court nomination process, but Kimmel says he has another gig in mind for the judge.
“So if he doesn't get to be on the Supreme Court, maybe he'll be ‘The Bachelor,’” Kimmel joked.
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Brett Kavanaugh, the president's embattled Supreme Court nominee, spoke out Monday in an extraordinary and emotional interview with Fox News, saying, "I've never sexually assaulted anyone" and insisting, "I'm not going anywhere."
The interview, which aired Monday evening, followed a day-long effort by President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans to save Kavanaugh's nomination after a second accuser's story surfaced in The New Yorker on Sunday. A former Yale University classmate, Deborah Ramirez, claims Kavanaugh exposed himself at a dorm party and "thrust his penis in her face."
With his wife Ashley at his side and his voice breaking at times, Kavanaugh emphasized his desire for a "fair process" -- a phrase he used more than a dozen times.
"I’m not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process and we’re looking for a fair process where I can be heard and defend my integrity my lifelong record. My lifelong record of promoting dignity and equality for women starting with the women who knew me when I was 14 years old. I’m not going anywhere," Kavanaugh said.
"I am a good person. I have led a good life. I tried to do a lot of good for a lot of people. I am not perfect. None of us is perfect. I am not perfect, but I’ve never, never done anything like this," Kavanaugh said later.
MacCallum asked Kavanaugh why, if neither of the allegations has merit, he's facing them at all.
"I don't know," Kavanaugh said. "But I want a fair process where I can defend my integrity. I know I am telling the truth. I know my lifelong record. I am not going to let false accusations drive me out of this process. I have faith in God and I have faith in the fairness of the American people.
"America is about fairness -- hearing from both sides," Kavanaugh continued. "I didn't do this or anything resembling this. This is wrong."
Asked if he believed there should be an FBI investigation into the two allegations, Kavanaugh declined to answer. "I want to be heard," he said.
Ashley Kavanaugh, who hasn't spoken publicly since the allegations surfaced, stood by her husband. She hasn't once doubted his accounts over the last few weeks, she said.
"I have known him for 17 years. This is not at all -- it's really hard to believe. He is decent, kind, good. I know his heart. This is not consistent with Brett," she told Fox anchor Martha MacCallum.
Kavanaugh addressed the allegation by Christine Blasey Ford that, while drunk, he sexually assaulted her at a party when they were both in high school, pinning her on a bed and covering her mouth with his hand to stop her from screaming.
"I was never at any such party," he told MacCallum. "The other people who alleged to be present have said they do not remember any such party. A woman who was present, another woman who was present who was Dr. Ford’s lifelong friend has said she doesn’t know me and never remembers being at a party with me at any time in her life.
"The truth is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone, in high school or otherwise," he said. "I am not questioning and have not questioned that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone at some place but what I know is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone."
MacCallum later asked Ashley Kavanaugh whether, as a woman, she sympathized with "the idea that some women would suppress a memory and not be able to talk about it until many years later."
"I don't know what happened to her. I don't want to go there," she responded. "I feel badly for her family. I feel badly for her through this process. This process is not right."
She also spoke of the impact the allegations have had on her own family -- and how they've had to explain the situation to their two young daughters.
"This process is incredibly difficult. Harder than we imagined, and we imagined it might be hard," she said.
"It's very difficult to have these conversations with your children, which we had to have," she said. "But they know Brett and they know the truth, and we told hem at the very beginning of the process, this will be not fun sometimes. You're going to hear things that -- people feel strongly -- and you need to know that and just remember, you know your dad."
Brett Kavanaugh also emphatically denied the latest allegation of sexual misconduct brought by Ramirez about their time at Yale.
"I never did any such thing. Never did any such thing. The other people alleged to be there don't recall any such thing. If such a thing had happened, it would have been the talk of the campus," Kavanaugh said.
Kavanaugh did acknowledge drinking in high school and in college, and he emphasized that the drinking age was 18 when he was in high school in Maryland.
"Yes, people might have had too many beers on occasion. In high school I think all of us have done things we look back on in high school and cringe a bit," he said. "But that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about an allegation of sexual assault and I never sexually assaulted anyone."
Kavanaugh also said he never had "anything close to intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter."
"You are saying through all of these years in question you were a virgin?" MacCallum asked.
"Correct," Kavanaugh said. Pressed for details, Kavanaugh said, "Many years after. I will leave it that."
The interview came three days before Kavanaugh and Ford are both expected to tell their stories at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday before senators vote on his confirmation.
Earlier Monday, in New York, the president had nothing but praise for Kavanaugh.
“We hope he’s going to be confirmed he’s a fine, fine man, a great scholar, great at everything he’s ever done, and it would be sad indeed if something happened to reroute that,” Trump said. “This is a fine man and we certainly hope he will be confirmed and quickly. His family has suffered. His family has suffered. What’s going on is not something that should happen. Brett Kavanaugh is an absolutely outstanding person and hopefully, he will be confirmed quickly.”
A few hours before that, Trump called the allegations "totally political."
“I am with Judge Kavanaugh and I look forward to a vote and for people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago and 30 years ago and never mention it and all the sudden it happens, in my opinion, it's totally political. It is totally political," the president said.
In his interview with Fox News, Kavanaugh confirmed that the president has offered his continued support.
"I know he is going to stand by me. He called me this afternoon and said he is standing by me," Kavanaugh said.
Meanwhile, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell kept up Monday's Republican offensive on Kavanaugh, speaking defiantly on the Senate floor.
"Senate Democrats and their allies are trying to destroy a man's personal and professional life on the base of decades-old allegations that are unsubstantiated and uncorroborated," McConnell said.
"This is what the so-called resistance has become. A smear campaign, pure and simple. Aided and abetted by members of the United States Senate," he said.
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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- National protests against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh escalated on Monday with more than 120 people arrested on Capitol Hill, celebrities weighing in on social media, and nationwide walkouts.
Capitol Hill police said 128 people were arrested for "unlawfully demonstrating" outside of senators' offices and in the main rotunda of the Russell Senate Building. About half as many protesters were arrested for protesting Kavanaugh on Thursday.
The protests were organized by various groups, including the Women's March, Planned Parenthood, NARAL and others who strongly oppose Kavanaugh's nomination.
The surge in opposition to Trump's pick for the high court comes one day after a second woman came forward with a new sexual misconduct allegation.
Deborah Ramirez, 53, told The New Yorker Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a dorm room party at Yale University when she was 18. Her story comes on the heels of allegations by Christine Blasey Ford, a Northern California professor, who plans to testify Thursday before Congress that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when she was 15 at a party in Maryland, where they grew up.
Around the same time as the majority of the arrests, walkouts were also taking place in workplaces and schools around the country – including at Yale – by women and men wearing black.
Their message? Believe the accounts of the two women who have shared stories of sexual misconduct with Kavanaugh and stop his nomination.
Kavanaugh, who has repeatedly denied the accusations, again called them "false" on Monday and said he would not withdraw from the process.
"I’m not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process and we’re looking for a fair process where I can be heard and defend my integrity my lifelong record. My lifelong record of promoting dignity and equality for women starting with the women who knew me when I was 14 years old. I’m not going anywhere," he said in an interview with FOX News.
Protesters largely targeted senators who are key to Kavanaugh's potential confirmation to the Supreme Court. Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who said Friday she remained undecided, had protesters outside her office Monday morning, as did another undecided Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Many protesters also crowded the office of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, the Republican senator from Iowa.
They shared their own stories of sexual assault and called on senators to stand with survivors.
One woman said she took a train from Boston on Sunday night to join protests on the Hill. Standing in a Senate building hallway surrounded by fellow protesters and Capitol Hill police, she told the crowd her own story as a rape survivor.
"He raped me as he choked me," she said in a video that later circulated Twitter with thousands of retweets. "And when I heard Professor Ford say that Kavanaugh had his hand over her mouth, I believed her. You do not forget someone choking you, you do not forget someone putting their hand over their mouth and you thinking they're going to die," she said, her voice quaking.
"For God sake, for all the boys and girls who have been assaulted over the years, for God sake, when will you stand up for the American people, for democracy?" the woman said, a plea to the senators on the Judiciary Committee, as a fellow protester put a hand on her shoulder.
High-profile celebrities also chimed in on social media, posting photos in all-black and cataloging walkouts on television sets.
Many referenced Time's Up, a group that formed after a New York Times story about Harvey Weinstein unveiled the culture of sexual assault in Hollywood.
Girls for Gender Equity, a non-profit based in Brooklyn, New York, that aims to create more opportunities for women and girls, arranged protests at the Supreme Court and a walkout at City Hall in New York City.
"We hear you, we see you, we believe you," protesters chanted at the walkout in New York.
It was meant to "create an environment where survivors are heard and listened to," Emily Carpenter, a long-time member of the organization and sexual assault survivor, told ABC News at the protest. "The expectation should be, 'when I come forward I will be supported. When I come forward people will say what do you need, how can I help you,' not have that person be attacked."
Carpenter had a message for Ramirez and Ford.
"I would say thank you, a million times thank you," Carpenter said. "We know it’s not easy and I wouldn’t fault you for not coming forward because I know that it’s difficult, but the fact that you did encourages so many other people," she said.
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Ahead of her much-anticipated appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford is telling lawmakers that "fear will not hold me back from testifying" against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Ford, who claims Kavanaugh assaulted her during a high school party in the early 1980s, wrote committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley a letter offering to both publicly testify and tell lawmakers in person what took place.
"While I am frightened, please know, my fear will not hold me back from testifying and you will be provided with answers to all of your questions," she wrote of her planned testimony on Thursday. "I ask for fair and respectful treatment."
Kavanaugh has adamantly denied the allegations.
Grassley, in a written response to Ford obtained by ABC News, offered reassurance that his committee is seriously looking into the allegation and stressed that he looks forward to hearing personally from her.
"Both of you deserve a credible and fair process in a secure and professional setting," he wrote.
The latest volley comes just hours after Kavanaugh wrote a letter addressed to Grassley and the top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein defending his reputation and saying, "I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process."
"There is now a frenzy to come up with something—anything—that will block this process and a vote on my confirmation from occurring. These are smears, pure and simple. And they debase our public discourse. But they are also a threat to any man or woman who wishes to serve our country. Such grotesque and obvious character assassination—if allowed to succeed—will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from service."
"I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process," he continues."The coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out. The vile threats of violence against my family will not drive me out. The last-minute character assassination will not succeed."
Earlier Monday, President Trump offered a full-throated defense of his Supreme Court nominee in the face of the new allegations of sexual misconduct, calling the claims “totally political.”
"He is a fine man with an unblemished past and these are highly unsubstantiated statements from people represented by lawyers," the president said as he arrived at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. "Judge Kavanaugh is an outstanding person and I am with him all the way."
He continued, "For people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago and 30 years ago and never mention it, all of a sudden it happens, in my opinion, it's totally political. It’s totally political."
On Sunday, The New Yorker reported that a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh's claimed the nominee exposed himself to her at engaged in unwanted contact at a dormitory party 35 years ago.
Kavanaugh has denied the latest claim, saying the alleged incident "did not happen."
“The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple," he said in a statement issued by the White House Sunday night.
White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec said the accusation is part of a "coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man." She said the White House "stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh."
"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 Sunday night.
A source directly involved in the White House effort to get Kavanaugh confirmed told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl that there is no backing down – that Kavanaugh will testify on Thursday regardless of whether Christine Blasey Ford testifies or Democrats boycott.
There is no consideration of a Plan B, or a replacement nominee, according to the source.
The White House wants to push for a Judiciary Committee vote as early as Thursday, immediately following Kavanaugh’s testimony, the source said.
The overall strategy, the source said, is to mount an all-out defense of Kavanaugh’s character, not to forensically attempt to disapprove what they consider unfounded allegations.
“We are not going to play Hardy Boys on this,” the source said.
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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein came to the White House on Monday and met with Chief of Staff John Kelly with the expectation that he would be fired, but remains in the post, sources tell ABC News.
“At the request of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he and President Trump had an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories. Because the President is at the United Nations General Assembly and has a full schedule with leaders from around the world, they will meet on Thursday when the President returns to Washington, D.C,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
President Donald Trump has already spoken to another official about becoming the acting deputy attorney general, sources told ABC News.
The news came on the heels of reporting that at a May 2017 meeting between Rosenstein and then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Rosenstein suggested that McCabe or others wear a wire when speaking with the president, according to memos McCabe made of the conversation, sources familiar with them told ABC News. The meeting took place a week after President Donald Trump had fired James Comey as director, the sources said.
Additionally, sources told ABC News that, according to the memos, Rosenstein told McCabe he could recruit members of the president’s Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office for being unfit. Rosenstein believed he would be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to sign on, according to the sources.
After Comey's firing, ABC News previously reported that Rosenstein was so upset with the White House for pinning Comey’s dismissal on him that he was on the verge of resigning.
Rosenstein remained on the job and a week later assigned Robert Mueller as special counsel to look into allegations that the Russian government tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe early last year.
The White House, as of Friday evening, had not commented specifically on the story about the May meeting.
The Office of Special Counsel declined to comment on questions about Rosenstein's potential departure.
McCabe on Monday expressed concerns about the news and its possible implications for the Russia probe.
"There is nothing more important to the integrity of law enforcement and the rule of law than protecting the investigation of Special Counsel Mueller. I sacrificed personally and professionally to help put the investigation on a proper course and subsequently made every effort to protect it," McCabe said in a statement. "To be clear, I had no role in providing information of any kind to the media stories about events following Director Comey's firing. If the rumors of Deputy AG's Rosenstein's departure are true, I am deeply concerned that it puts that investigation at risk."
Trump, speaking at a rally in Springfield, Missouri, once again attacked his Justice Department.
"Look what's being exposed at the Department of Justice and the FBI," the president told a packed house Friday night. "You have some real bad ones. You see what's happening at the FBI – they’re all gone, they’re all gone. But there’s a lingering stench and we’re going to get rid of that too."
Rosenstein issued a second statement not long after the president spoke.
“I never pursued or authorized recording the President and any suggestion that I have ever advocated for the removal of the President is absolutely false," Rosenstein said.
Trump has repeatedly called the Russia investigation a "Witch Hunt" and asserted he has done nothing wrong. He does not, however, have direct authority to fire Mueller — that authority belonged to Rosenstein and now could belong to Noel Francisco, the solicitor general.
Rosenstein was confirmed as the second highest ranking official in the Justice Department, with wide bipartisan support, just over a year ago.
But Rosenstein’s name was in the headlines since just weeks after he began his new role at the Department of Justice after reports that he signed off on an FBI raid of the home and offices of Trump’s longtime former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
The raid, which was connected to the special counsel’s investigation, was approved by Rosenstein, who has overseen the investigation since Sessions recused himself.
The president called the raid “an attack on what we all stand for” and a “disgrace.”
The president later tweeted that Rosenstein was “conflicted” in his role supervising the investigation.
In Congress, part of the comfort with Rosenstein stemmed from his resume. He served both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as the politically-appointed U.S. Attorney in Baltimore before coming to headquarters.
In Baltimore, he brought a series of public corruption cases against Democrats in local and state office. At the time, defense lawyer Robert C. Bonsib, a former state and federal prosecutor, told the Washington Post he considered Rosenstein “the poster child for the professional, competent, ethical and fair-minded prosecutor.”
Rosenstein also appeared to have the backing of intelligence community veterans. In July, he received a standing ovation at the Aspen Security Forum, a gathering of past and current senior officials in U.S. intelligence and law enforcement circles. Speaking there, he took pains to avoid commenting on the Mueller probe. But he did make clear he believes Russia was trying and continues to try to undermine U.S. elections.
“These actions are persistent, they are pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not,” Rosenstein told the audience.
In the months leading up to Rosenstein’s tension with the White House, Republicans and Democrats called for legislation to protect the investigation led by Mueller.
Many Republicans — including those close to the president — publicly warned against firing Mueller or Rosenstein.
"It would be a mistake and there would be consequences that the president would come to regret," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who dined with President Trump and other GOP leaders in April at the White House.
That same day at a news conference, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said that he’d received "assurances" that Trump wouldn't fire Rosenstein or Mueller.
But Joe diGenova, a former federal prosecutor who was in discussions to join Trump’s legal team, said earlier in the week that he supported the decision.
"I would fire Rosenstein in a New York minute; without any question," diGenova told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein on the “Powerhouse Politics” podcast earlier this year.
Trump legal confidant Joe diGenova urges president to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
“Rod Rosenstein is so incompetent, compromised and conflicted that he can no longer serve as the deputy attorney general,” DiGenova said in an appearance on Fox News’ ‘Hannity’ earlier this year.
Before becoming deputy attorney general, Rosenstein was the longest-serving U.S. attorney, serving in Maryland. Rosenstein served throughout both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama’s administration's, holding the position for 12 years.
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