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‘I could be convinced’: Trump sends mixed message on Kavanaugh charges

“They’re going to have a big shot at speaking and making their case,” President Donald Trump said of the women accusers. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Kavanaugh Confirmation

In a sprawling press conference, the president told reporters he would watch a high-stakes Senate hearing with an open mind — but also that ‘evil’ people are behind many public charges of sexual misconduct.

Updated

In a Monday night television interview, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh seemed confident that President Donald Trump had his back.

“I know he’s going to stand by me,” Kavanaugh told a Fox News interviewer. “He called me this afternoon and he said he’s standing by me.”

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But in an upbeat, sprawling Wednesday news conference, Trump — who taunted and flattered reporters and seemed to be enjoying his own spectacle — left himself an escape hatch. Instead of delivering an unequivocal defense of his embattled court pick, he at once seemed to support and undermine his no-longer-out-of-central-casting nominee.

“They’re going to have a big shot at speaking and making their case,” he said of the women accusers, although only one of them is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Saying that he intends to watch tomorrow’s hearing, he added: “I could be persuaded, also” about the accusations. Trump said he would withhold any final decision until he had watched the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who has accused Kavanaugh of assault when they were both teenagers.

“I could be convinced of anything,” Trump added.

It was a disquieting hour for Kavanaugh’s team and Republicans, who see Kavanaugh as their final shot at getting a Supreme Court Justice confirmed ahead of the midterm elections. One person in Kavanaugh’s inner circle said that he was not tuning in and was not sure if Kavanaugh, himself was watching — even as Trump broached the possibility of choosing a “replacement.”

Trump’s oddest defense — evoking George Washington and wondering out loud “didn’t he have some bad things in his past?” — seemed like cold comfort.

At the same time, Trump made abundantly clear that he treats charges of sexual misconduct against rich and powerful men like himself with deep skepticism, invoking his own experience with such charges to call them malicious.

“I’ve been a famous person for a long time,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me…. People want fame, they want money, when I see it, I view it differently.”

At one point, Trump even said that “evil” people lurk behind many such charges, and indicated that even a substitute nominee could face unfounded or unprovable allegations.

“I could pick a woman and she could have charges made from many years ago,” Trump said.

It was a typical Trumpian move, leaving his final position unclear — a frustrating exercise for Team Kavanaugh and Senate Republicans akin to nailing Jell-O to a wall.

Brett Kavanaugh

Also typical was the way Trump managed to make the story about himself. Trump told reporters that he had been wrongly accused by four women who “got paid a lot of money to make up stories about me.” (Trump cited the Fox News host and informal Trump adviser Sean Hannity, among others, as a source of vindicating information.) In fact, he was accused during the 2016 presidential campaign of sexual misconduct and assault by more than a dozen women.

Some Kavanaugh critics said that bringing in his own story would not help Trump’s nominee on the eve of tomorrow’s high-stakes hearing, at which he will be questions about the accounts of three different women.

“He did Kavanaugh no favors by comparing the allegations against him to the ones against Kavanaugh,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice. “Everyone knows Trump is lying when he dismisses the allegations against himself.”

The press conference, hastily scheduled at the Palace Hotel in New York City on Trump’s final night attending the United Nations General Assembly, overall was an entertaining free-for-all. The president happily jousted with reporters, even granting a question to his sometime-nemesis, CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta, and conceding at one point that the “failing New York Times” was actually thriving.

The Senate Judiciary Committee's room

At another point, he called on a reporter for Kurdistan TV, calling him “Mr. Kurd” and proclaimed that Kurds are “great fighters! I like them a lot.”

In between the theatrics, Trump also made major news: he said he has no plans to fire his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, on Thursday, and may possibly cancel their planned meeting all together to focus his attention on his embattled Supreme Court nominee.

He also admitted that he canceled a one-on-one meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau because “we’re not getting along at all with their negotiators.”

And in response to a question about his charge earlier today that China was interfering in U.S. politics in an effort to undermine Trump, in retaliation for his crackdown on trade with China, the president allowed that he may no longer consider Chinese president Xi Jinping a friend. He then suggested he might call Xi tomorrow.

Trump’s ebullient mood was not shared by Kavanaugh, who spent hours holed up at the White House with counsel Don McGahn a day earlier, huddling with the man who first recommended his name to Trump, preparing for what may prove to be the most important day of his life.

Trump agreed that it was a weighty moment, although he suggested that the lesson of the Kavanaugh saga to date was that men everywhere are at risk of being smeared with false allegations that are difficult to disprove. Trump cited the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” while fretting that the formula risked being reversed.

“I think it’s going to be a very, very important day in the history of our country,” Trump said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story had the wrong day of the week for the president’s news conference.

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