(NBC) – President Donald Trump leapt to the defense of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh Sunday after allegations of sexual misconduct that had once threatened to torpedo his nomination to the bench resurfaced as multiple prominent Democrats called on Congress to impeach him.
“He is an innocent man who has been treated HORRIBLY,” Trump said on Twitter, referring to the accusations as “lies.” The president also accused critics of attempting to influence Kavanaugh’s opinions and suggested that Kavanaugh “start suing people for libel, or the Justice Department should come to his rescue.”
Kavanaugh was nominated by Trump after the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote on the court. He was sworn in last October after a confirmation process that focused on the allegations — and the protests, controversy and high drama of the Senate hearing that followed.
Trump appeared to be reacting to an opinion-section article written by two New York Times reporters, published late Saturday, whose book on the Kavanaugh nomination will be published this week. In the book, which was summarized in Saturday’s article, the authors wrote that they had found new corroboration for accusations that Kavanaugh exposed himself to Deborah Ramirez, a classmate at Yale. NBC News has not verified that reporting.
The book, written by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, also uncovered a new accusation. Citing two officials, the reporters said that former Yale classmate Max Stier told senators and the FBI about a different episode of alleged sexual misconduct. Two people with first-hand knowledge confirm to NBC News that the FBI was notified of Stier’s claim that Kavanaugh allegedly thrust his penis into the hand of an unidentified female student.
The FBI was made aware of the allegation during the first few days of the supplemental investigation the bureau was asked to conduct by the Senate Judiciary Committee in the midst of his contentious confirmation hearing last year, according to the two people familiar with the allegations.
Stier declined a request for comment from NBC News. The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kavanaugh has strongly denied the allegation by Ramirez as well as accusations by Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school. Ford testified publicly during Kavanaugh’s confirmation process in a widely watched, emotional Senate hearing.
A number of prominent lawmakers spoke out on Sunday about the new allegations, including several Democrats who called for Kavanaugh’s impeachment.
“I sat through those hearings,” Sen. Kamala Harris, a member of the Senate Judiciary Commitee and a Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted. “Brett Kavanaugh lied to the U.S. Senate and most importantly to the American people. He was put on the Court through a sham process and his place on the Court is an insult to the pursuit of truth and justice. He must be impeached.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted that, “Confirmation is not exoneration, and these newest revelations are disturbing. Like the man who appointed him, Kavanaugh should be impeached.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, also a presidential hopeful, tweeted that, “The revelations today confirm what we already knew: During his hearing, Kavanaugh faced credible accusations and likely lied to Congress. I support any appropriate constitutional mechanism to hold him accountable.”
Kavanaugh told the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath last year that the first time he heard of Ramirez’s allegation was in a Sept. 23 article in The New Yorker.
But according to text messages obtained last year by NBC News, in the days leading up to Ramirez’ public allegation Kavanaugh and his team were communicating behind the scenes with friends to refute the claim.
The FBI opened an expanded background investigation into Kavanaugh after pressure from Democrats in Congress initially delayed his confirmation process.
But dozens of people with potential information into the allegations against him were not contacted, according to multiple sources that include friends of both the nominee and his accusers.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on Sunday called Kavanaugh’s confirmation process a “sham.”
“I strongly opposed him based on his views on executive power, which will continue to haunt our country, as well as how he behaved, including the allegations that we are hearing more about today,” Klobuchar, also a presidential candidate, told ABC’s “This Week.” “My concern here is that the process was a sham. I don’t think you can look at impeachment hearings without getting the documents. The House would have to get the documents. And the attorney general is shielding documents.”
“If you recall, we were given this moment just a few days every other hour to look at the documents related to other allegations that have been called in on the FBI tip line,” she continued, adding, “I think the whole thing was a sham and that those documents need to be turned over, as well as the documents that the White House hid from his time in the White House Counsel’s Office. All of that needs to come forward to even look at a proceeding like that.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., defended Kavanaugh later on Sunday, tweeting, “The far left’s willingness to seize on completely uncorroborated and unsubstantiated allegations during last year’s confirmation process was a dark and embarrassing chapter for the Senate.”
“Fortunately a majority of Senators and the American people rallied behind timeless principles such as due process and the presumption of innocence,” he wrote. “I look forward to many years of service to come from Justice Kavanaugh.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told “This Week” that the new claims amounted to “an amazing level of reporting trying to just really dig up any dirt they can on the guy” adding the “far left” was “trying to smear” Kavanaugh.
“And you know what, I bet you the next Democratic debate, they’ll all be saying impeach Kavanaugh, impeach Trump,” Cruz, who is also on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said. “There’s nobody they don’t want to impeach. And at some point, they just have to let the anger go and recognize that the democratic process actually moves on. And I think it’s time for them to do that.”
Last October, Trump offered Kavanaugh and his family an unusual apology after attending his ceremonial swearing-in.
“On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure,” he said at the time.
Almost a year on, Kavanaugh’s tenure has been largely untroubled by the controversy. But the resurfacing of the allegations led to calls for renewed scrutiny against the judge, seemingly drawing Trump’s ire.