WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump praised his Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh on Wednesday but said he would be open to withdrawing his nomination if he finds sexual assault allegations against him to be credible.
"I can always be convinced," Trump said on the eve of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing featuring one of Kavanaugh's accusers.
"If I thought he was guilty of something like this, yes, sure," Trump said at a press conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. "It's possible I'll hear that, and I'll say, 'Hey, I'm changing my mind.
"I want to watch," Trump said ahead of the hearing featuring Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers.
"I look forward to what she has to say," Trump said. "I also look forward to what Judge Kavanaugh has to say. I think it's going to be a very important day in the history of our country."
In prepared testimony released on Wednesday, the 51-year-old Blasey Ford said she feared Kavanaugh would rape her during the attack, which she said occurred in the summer of 1982.
Blasey Ford said the incident left her "drastically altered," but it was her "civic duty" to tell lawmakers what happened.
Kavanaugh also has been accused of exposing himself to a classmate, Deborah Ramirez, during an alcohol-fueled Yale University party a few years later.
And on Wednesday a new woman came forward with explosive allegations, saying she witnessed sexually abusive behavior by Kavanaugh when he was a teenager and claiming she was gang-raped at a party he attended in the early 1980s.
Trump described Kavanaugh as a "great gentleman" and a "great intellect" and said he believed the accusations against the conservative judge were "false."
'BIG, FAT CON JOB'
Trump said he was skeptical because he personally had been the target of "false statements" in the past made by various women.
"I've had a lot of false charges made against me," he said. "People want fame, they want money, they want whatever."
Trump slammed his Democratic opponents over the handling of the Kavanaugh nomination, accusing them of being "con artists" and destroying the 53-year-old judge's reputation.
"It's a big, fat con job," he said. "It's a very dangerous period in our county and it's being perpetrated by some very evil people, some of them are Democrats."
The Kavanaugh nomination has turned into a political firestorm ahead of congressional elections in November and is threatening to derail Trump's push to get a conservative-minded majority on the top court ahead of the vote.
Democrats on Wednesday demanded that Trump withdraw Kavanaugh's nomination or order an FBI investigation after the third woman came forward with allegations against the judge.
"He is asking for a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court where he will have the opportunity to rule on matters that will impact Americans for decades," the 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee said in a letter to the president.
Julie Swetnick said she saw Kavanaugh engage in sexually abusive behavior as a teenager and claimed she had been gang-raped at a party he attended in the early 1980s.
Kavanaugh strongly denied the allegations by Swetnick, 55, who has worked extensively for the federal government including for the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service.
"This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone," he said in a statement. "I don't know who this is and this never happened."
Swetnick said she attended more than 10 parties along with Kavanaugh while growing up in suburban Maryland.
- 'Physically aggressive behavior' -
Swetnick said she saw Kavanaugh behave as a "mean drunk" at the parties.
"I observed Brett Kavanaugh drink excessively at many of these parties and engage in abusive and physically aggressive behavior towards girls, including pressing girls against him without their consent, 'grinding' against girls, and attempting to remove or shift girls' clothing to expose private body parts," Swetnick said.
Swetnick also said she was drugged and gang-raped at a party in approximately 1982 at which Kavanaugh was present.
She did not specifically claim Kavanaugh took part or that he was aware of her rape, but said that he and other boys in his circle engaged in similar behavior.
She said she saw efforts by "Kavanaugh and others to cause girls to become inebriated and disoriented so they could then be 'gang raped' in a side room or bedroom by a 'train' of numerous boys.
"I have a firm recollection of seeing boys lined up outside rooms at many of these parties waiting for their 'turn' with a girl inside the room," she said.
"These boys included Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh," she said. Judge is a boyhood friend of Kavanaugh who has written a book describing the debauchery of his high school years.
Kavanaugh, in prepared testimony released on Wednesday, repeated his denial of Blasey Ford's allegation and said "this effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out."
"These are last minute smears, pure and simple," he said, adding that while he was "not perfect" in high school he "never did anything remotely resembling what Dr. Ford describes."
© Agence France-Presse