Southaven, United States - Donald Trump on Tuesday openly mocked the university professor who has accused his Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault, joking about her inability to remember details surrounding the night of the alleged attack.
It marked an aggressive change of tactics after the US president had opted to show restraint towards Christine Blasey Ford, calling her a "very credible witness" following her Senate testimony against Judge Brett Kavanaugh last week.
"I had one beer, right?" Trump said, apparently re-enacting Blasey Ford's questioning by a Senate panel as he addressed a campaign rally in Southaven, Mississippi.
"'How did you get home?' I don't remember. 'How did you get there?' I don't remember. 'Where was the place?' I don't remember. 'How many years ago was it?' I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know," he added, to cheers from supporters.
"'What neighbourhood was it in?' I don't know. 'Where's the house?' I don't know. 'Upstairs, downstairs, where was it?' I don't know. But I had one beer. That's the only thing I remember. And a man's life is in tatters. A man's life is shattered."
The attack quickly drew scorn from critics, who said such mockery was part of the reason survivors of sexual assault are afraid to go public.
"A vicious, vile and soulless attack on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford," tweeted Michael Bromwich, a former high-ranking Department of Justice official who is currently representing the professor.
"Is it any wonder that she was terrified to come forward, and that other sexual assault survivors are as well? She is a remarkable profile in courage. He is a profile in cowardice."
In her emotional testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday that was watched by more than 20 million Americans, Blasey Ford said she was "100 percent" sure Kavanaugh had attacked and attempted to rape her in the summer of 1982, when they were both high school students attending a party.
A defiant Kavanaugh came out with guns blazing, insisting the assault never happened, accusing Democrats of destroying his reputation and condemning his confirmation battle as a "national disgrace."
'Scary time' for men
Speaking to reporters in Washington earlier in the day, Trump had appeared to take aim at the broader #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment, saying that it had reversed the burden of proof required by judicial system.
"It's a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of," he said, adding: "My whole life, I've heard you're innocent until proven guilty. But now you're guilty until proven innocent."
Controversy surrounding the Kavanaugh nomination ahead of November mid-term elections -- in which Republicans are facing an uphill battle to keep control of Congress -- is threatening to derail Trump's push to get a conservative majority on the Supreme Court before the vote.
Under pressure from opposition Democrats and handful of his own Republicans, Trump on Friday ordered a fresh FBI investigation into allegations of Kavanaugh's misconduct during his youth.
Adding to the controversy, lawyers for two of the accusers said Tuesday that the FBI is not interviewing witnesses and following leads that would support their allegations.
FBI accused of inaction
Blasey Ford's lawyers, Michael Bromwich and Debra Katz, also questioned an apparent FBI decision not to interview Kavanaugh, and expressed concern that the agency was not following up on witnesses and evidence they identified for the FBI.
"Despite these efforts, we have received no response from anyone involved in this investigation, and no response to our offer for Dr Ford to be interviewed," they said in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and General Counsel Dana Boente.
In a separate statement on Twitter, John Clune, who represents another accuser, Deborah Ramirez, said FBI agents interviewed her on Sunday and accepted a list of more than 20 witnesses who can support her allegations.
But he said they are not following up at all on Ramirez's account that Kavanaugh thrust his genitals in her face, forcing her to touch them without her consent, during an alcohol-fuelled party when they were students at Yale University in the mid-1980s.
"Although we do not know the status of the investigation, we are not aware of the FBI affirmatively reaching out to any of those witnesses," Clune said in a tweeted statement.
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