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Hatch said he believes Kavanaugh, calls accuser 'mistaken'

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SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Monday the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct is "mistaken" and he believes Kavanaugh is "a very strong, decent man."

Hatch said in an interview with CNN that Kavanaugh told him during a telephone conversation Monday that "he didn't do that and he wasn't at the party" where the incident is alleged to have occurred, so "clearly somebody's mixed up."

The senator said he thinks Kavanaugh's accuser is "mistaken. She's mistaken something that I don't know. I don't know her." Asked if he believes Kavanaugh, Hatch responded, "I sure do."

The senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee considering President Donald Trump's nominee to the high court, Hatch described Kavanaugh as "upset, but he handled it well. He's a very strong, decent man."

Earlier Monday, Hatch had issued a statement saying he supports "efforts to begin our due diligence" to deal with the newly public allegation. "As I said last week, any accuser deserves to be heard."

Both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist who has accused him of sexually assaulting her in the 1980s when they were in high school, have said they are willing to testify.

The committee is expected to hear from Kavanaugh and Ford on Monday.

Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock said during the senator's call with Kavanaugh, the nominee "continued to categorically deny the allegations" and "also suggested to Sen. Hatch that Dr. Ford may have mistaken someone else for him."

Whitlock said Hatch looks forward to hearing more from Ford "in whatever format" the committee chairman arranges so that senators "can do their due diligence and get to the truth between their conflicting accounts."

Hatch said in his statement he's "deeply disappointed by the way Senate Democrats have so grossly mishandled these accusations thus far. It seems in bad faith to hold this information from Republicans and from the FBI" for more than a month.

He said Democrats are now suggesting "at the final hour that the only path forward is delaying the confirmation to allow the FBI to investigate" and called for the minority party to work with Republicans to keep the confirmation on schedule.

"By working with us to get the facts expeditiously — and by maintaining Chairman (Chuck) Grassley's initial timeline — Democrats can prove that their first priority is the truth, not politics," Hatch said.

He said he stands by Grassley, R-Iowa, in trying to maintain what's known as regular order. Hatch, who's retiring after 42 years in the Senate, has participated in many confirmation hearings for nominees to the high court.

Whitlock said "regular order" requires a background call between the committee chairman, the ranking member and potential witnesses before a public hearing could be discussed.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, is rejecting that plan, saying there's more that senators don't know, according to The Associated Press.

Whitlock said Hatch is in favor of an open hearing if that is what Grassley decides.

Mitt Romney, the Republican in the race for Hatch's seat, tweeted Sunday that he concurred with a statement issued by Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Romney later said in a statement he was agreeing with Graham's "position that professor Ford needs to be heard. Her accusation is serious; she deserves to be given a full and respectful opportunity to testify before the Judiciary Committee."

Graham said while he agreed with concerns expressed by the committee about "the substance and process" of the latest allegations, he would "gladly listen" to what Ford has to say and compare it against all other information about Kavanaugh.

The South Carolina senator also said, "If the committee is to hear from Ms. Ford, it should be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled." A committee vote had been set for Thursday.

Utah's Democratic Senate candidate, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, called Ford's allegation "credible and disturbing" and said the Senate vote should be delayed "until a thorough, public and transparent investigation is completed."

Wilson said there is an attempt to make the allegation a partisan issue.

"It takes a lot of courage for a victim of sexual assault to step forward and share their story, especially when it concerns a powerful legal and political figure," she said in a statement.

The concerns expressed by the committee questioning the timing of the allegations and the motives of Democrats in bringing them forward "perpetuates the pattern of shaming a victim," Wilson said.

"This attitude continues to plague our national dialogue around sexual misconduct," she said.

Other members of Utah's congressional delegation also reacted Monday to the situation.

A spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah and also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the committee "is scheduled to hear from Judge Kavanaugh and his accuser next Monday. Sen. Lee looks forward to hearing their testimony,” Conn Carroll said.

“Any accusation of sexual misconduct is very serious — especially when an accusation is against a nominee for a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court," Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said in a statement.

"I trust the Senate Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Grassley, will ensure that the accuser has an opportunity to be heard and that proper steps are taken to get to the truth,” Curtis said.

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said in a statement, "Allegations of sexual misconduct are extremely serious and deserve close scrutiny," adding she is "disappointed that the Democrats waited until the 11th hour to bring this issue up."

But Love said she is "pleased that both Judge Kavanaugh and Christine Ford are willing to speak with the Senate Judiciary Committee and I believe that the committee should pursue the full story.”

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said in a statement: “Christine Blasey Ford deserves to be heard and Judge Kavanaugh should have an opportunity to respond.”

A spokesman for Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Lee Lonsberry, said, "Rep. Bishop trusts that the Senate will do its duty and thoroughly vet Judge Kavanaugh."

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