Trump court pick Kavanaugh issues denial; accuser willing to testify

WASHINGTON, Sept 17 (Reuters) - A woman who has accused Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's U.S. Supreme Court nominee, of sexual misconduct decades ago is willing to publicly testify before a Senate panel set to vote this week on his nomination, her lawyer said on Monday, while Kavanaugh called the allegation "completely false."

Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor in California, has accused Kavanaugh of trying to attack her and remove her clothing in the early 1980s when they were both high school students in a Maryland suburb outside Washington. Kavanaugh, the Republican president's second nominee for a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court, has denied the allegations.

"This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes - to her or to anyone," Kavanaugh said in a statement issued by the White House.

"Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday," Kavanaugh added.

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Brett Kavanaugh through the years
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Brett Kavanaugh through the years
WASHINGTON DC -- NOVEMBER 13: Brett Kavanaugh, aide to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, during a meeting in the Office of the Solicitor General on November 13, 1996 in Washington DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
US Judge Brett Kavanaugh looks on as the US President announces him as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US Judge Brett Kavanaugh (L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump after being nominated to the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President George W. Bush (R) listens to U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Judge Brett Kavanaugh speak, [moments after being sworn-in at a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House], in Washington June 1, 2006.
U.S. President Donald Trump introduces his Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
UNITED STATES - JUNE 01: Brett Kavanaugh speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 1, 2006 in Washington, D.C., after being sworn in to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals. (Photo by Dennis Brack/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) announces US Judge Brett Kavanaugh (C) as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President George W. Bush (L) watches as Brett Kavanaugh (2nd L) is sworn in as a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy (R) in a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House in Washington June 1, 2006. Kavanaugh's wife, Ashley, holds the bible. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES)
WASHINGTON - MAY 22: District of Columbia Circut Court of Appeals nominee Brett Kavanaugh attends a news conference with Senate GOP leadership in the Capitol May 22, 2006 in Washington, DC. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) said that Kavanaugh deserves a straight up-or-down vote in the Senate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh smiles next to U.S. President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WASHINGTON - MAY 22: District of Columbia Circut Court of Appeals nominee Brett Kavanaugh (L) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) hold a news conference in the Capitol May 22, 2006 in Washington, DC. Frist said that Kavanaugh deserves a straight up-or-down vote in the Senate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh smiles next to U.S. President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
WASHINGTON - MAY 22: (L-R) U.S. Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-KY), District of Columbia Circut Court of Appeals nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) hold a news conference in the Capitol May 22, 2006 in Washington, DC. Frist said that Kavanaugh deserves a straight up-or-down vote in the Senate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MAY 22: (L-R) U.S. Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-KY), District of Columbia Circut Court of Appeals nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) hold a news conference in the Capitol May 22, 2006 in Washington, DC. Frist said that Kavanaugh deserves a straight up-or-down vote in the Senate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 09: Brett Kavanaugh testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be U. S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit. (Photo By Chris Maddaloni/Roll Call/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 09: Brett M. Kavanaugh, who last appeared before the committee in late April 2004, is sworn in to testify during a second Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing. At right are former bosses Judge Walter K. Stapleton, of the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Wilmington, Del., and Judge Alex Kozinski, of the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Pasadena, Calif., who introduced Kavanaugh to the committee. Kavanaugh, President Bush's staff secretary, is the president's nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., held the second hearing because Committee Democrats wanted to ask Kavanaugh, formerly an associate White House counsel, more questions about his involvement in the administration's legal policies, particularly on the National Security Agency terrorist surveillance program and the treatment of detainees held by the U.S. military. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON DC -- NOVEMBER 19: Brett Kavanaugh, associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, sits behind Starr during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the possible impeachment of President Bill Clinton on November 19, 1998 in Washington DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON DC -- NOVEMBER 13: Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, center, talks with Deputy Independent Counsel John Bates, left, and aide Brett Kavanaugh, right, and another colleague in the Office of the Solicitor General during the Whitewater Investigation on November 13, 1996 in Washington DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, his wife Ashley Estes Kavanaugh (off frame) and their two daughters stand by US President Donald Trump after he announced his nomination in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh (R) speaks after US President Donald Trump announced his nomination in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, his wife Ashley Estes Kavanaugh and their two daughters stand by US President Donald Trump after he announced his nomination in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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"I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity," he said in the statement.

The accusation has threatened to complicate his nomination, which must be approved first by the Judiciary Committee and then by the full chamber, which is narrowly controlled by Trump's fellow Republicans. A committee vote is scheduled for Thursday, just weeks before Nov. 6 congressional elections.

Some Republicans on the committee have said Ford should have a chance to tell her story, a view also expressed on Monday by White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway.

In television interviews on Monday, Ford's Washington-based lawyer, Debra Katz, said her client would be willing to speak out publicly. Asked if that included testimony under oath at a public hearing before senators, Katz told CBS's "This Morning" program: "She's willing to do what she needs to do."

Katz's comments suggested any public hearing could be explosive. Ford believes Kavanaugh's alleged actions were "attempted rape" and "that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped," Katz told NBC's "Today" program.

Katz told CBS that Ford had consumed a beer but was not drunk.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley plans to speak with Kavanaugh and Ford before the committee's scheduled vote, according to a spokesman for the senator.

Fellow Republican panel member Jeff Flake has urged the committee to delay its vote until it hears from Ford. Another committee Republican, Lindsey Graham, welcomed hearing from Ford but said it should "be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled."

Republicans hold a slim 11-10 advantage on the Judiciary Committee and a 51-49 majority in the Senate.

Even before the allegation emerged, Kavanaugh's fate appeared to rest on two moderate Republican women senators who support abortion rights.

One of them, Senator Lisa Murkowski, told CNN late on Sunday that Republicans "might have to consider" discussing a possible delay. The other, Senator Susan Collins, told the New York Times that the allegations are serious and that Ford should be interviewed. But Collins also questioned why Democrats had not raised them earlier.

Ford had detailed her story in a letter sent to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein in July. The contents of the letter leaked last week and Ford identified herself in an interview with the Washington Post published on Sunday.

Ford has not responded to a Reuters request for comment.

Conway said sworn testimony from both Kavanaugh and Ford on the specific allegation should be considered as part of the record in the judge's hearings. "This woman should not be insulted and she should not be ignored," Conway said in an interview with Fox News.

If Kavanaugh's nomination fails, Trump would get to select a replacement, but that nominee likely would not be confirmed by the Senate before the election. Even if Republicans lose control of the Senate in the midterm elections, they likely would be able to vote on a second nominee before the new Congress is seated in January. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Will Dunham)

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