MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Just two weeks ago, Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court looked like a done deal. Today it has become lurid and toxic and highly partisan, the ugliest confirmation battle since Clarence Thomas back in 1991. Kavanaugh has been accused now of five - five - different episodes of attempted sexual assault or misconduct. Three were from women who went public with their allegations. Two more came in anonymous reports to the Judiciary Committee, which Kavanaugh was asked about in a call with the Judiciary Committee staff.
NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow has been covering all this from Capitol Hill, and he's back with us now live. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Hey. OK, walk me through the latest allegations we are learning about. And by latest, I mean in the last several hours since I last interviewed you live.
DETROW: Yes. We just got our first look at one of the letters that made them about 45 seconds ago, to give you (laughter) a good indication of that.
KELLY: You're speed-reading then.
DETROW: Yes. Gardner was asked about both of them in a phone call yesterday, and he categorically denied both of them. One of these allegations dates back to 1998, and it came into Senator Cory Gardner's office this week in an anonymous letter. This anonymous person says her daughter was out with Kavanaugh and a friend in 1998 - that would be around the time that he was on Ken Starr's staff - and that Kavanaugh allegedly drunkenly shoved her against a wall. Again, he denies this, and a spokesperson for Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat, points out this was an anonymous letter with no contact information.
The second account dates to the 1980s in Rhode Island. Somebody contacted Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's office and said that he believed that Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge assaulted someone on a boat at the time. Kavanaugh denies this. And in the transcript of the call with staff, staff members for the committee pointed out that this person making this allegation has a pretty long track record of being very anti-President Trump on his Twitter feed.
I should point out with all of this that we've been hearing from Republican and Democratic congressional aides that they've been getting a ton of tips and things coming in. They're trying to look at them, but a lot of these are leading to dead ends as far as committee staff is concerned.
KELLY: Always important to stress that. OK, we did also hear earlier today allegations from a woman who did go on the record. Her name is Julie Swetnick. And what is she alleging?
DETROW: Yeah, she's saying that she went to several parties in the early 1980s that Kavanaugh also attended. And in a sworn deposition, she claims that she saw Kavanaugh drunk, pressing himself against girls without their consent and engaging in other kinds of drunk behavior. She also alleges that she was raped at one party that Kavanaugh attended. Swetnick is being represented by Michael Avenatti. You have heard that name. I have...
KELLY: Oh, yes.
DETROW: ...Heard that name. A lot of listeners have as well.
KELLY: Stormy Daniels' lawyer.
DETROW: Yes, that's right. And the Judiciary Committee has reached out to him. They've had several back-and-forths. They want him to have Swetnick talk to them. At this point, I should point out, NPR is not reporting on some additional details in that deposition.
KELLY: OK, now this all comes - these additional claims that we've learned about today come after The New Yorker article where a woman named Deborah Ramirez says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when they were both in college and then of course the initial allegation that set all this off from Christine Blasey Ford. She alleged that Kavanaugh drunkenly assaulted her at a party when they were both in high school. As these allegations pile up - as I say, we're now at five - are Republicans showing signs of shifting their strategy with tomorrow's hearing looming?
DETROW: It's interestingly the opposite. For a lot of them, each new allegation makes a big subset of Republicans more and more skeptical. President Trump today called this all ridiculous. He called Avenatti a lowlife. You know, Democrats...
KELLY: He also suggested he might be softening a tiny bit and that he's going to listen carefully tomorrow.
DETROW: That is right. It was President Trump continuing to praise Kavanaugh but then suddenly saying he might change his mind. I think many former Cabinet officials have seen both sides of that...
DETROW: ...When it comes to President Trump's support.
KELLY: And what about Democrats? What are they saying?
DETROW: You know, it's interesting. The Avenatti attachment to this latest claim made a lot of Democrats initially skeptical. But Dick Durbin said despite that initial skepticism, he views this pretty seriously.
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DICK DURBIN: This is a signed, sworn declaration under oath with penalty of perjury. I mean, this is serious. This person has really stuck her neck out.
DETROW: Chuck Grassley says he has 20 committee staff members doing the best they can to go through all of this as it comes in.
KELLY: Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, OK - and in a few seconds, what is the man at the center of this storm, Brett Kavanaugh, saying?
DETROW: Brett Kavanaugh - we've seen his initial statement. It's going to be pretty similar to what he said on Fox News earlier this week. He never did any of this. This is totally at odds with how he's lived his life. Interestingly, in the transcript of that phone call, he's getting increasingly credulous going through all these new allegations coming and saying, I've been in the public eye for a while; this never came out before.
KELLY: NPR's Scott Detrow reporting from Capitol Hill - thank you, Scott.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.