No one laughed on Wednesday.
But there was plenty of anger, accusations and acrimony during President Donald Trump’s third wild and tumultuous day at a United Nations conference in New York. The White House planned to focus on combating Iran’s nuclear ambitions, warning that China allegedly is trying to interfere in the midterm elections, and raising hopes that a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea could be within reach.
Trump delivered each of those messages, but each was quickly drowned out by a tit-for-tat between the president and a longtime nemesis as the president’s domestic feuds and battles seeped into his second stint as America’s diplomat-in-chief at the annual UN gathering in his hometown.
And during a lengthy and wide-ranging press conference, the president blasted Senate Democrats for trying to “destroy” Brett Kavanaugh, sidestepped questions about sexual misconduct allegations, sharply criticized Canada, and refused to say whether he thinks the nominee’s accusers are lying.
The president was asked by multiple reporters why he typically sides with men over women accusing them of sexual misconduct. “I knew these people for a long time,” he said of Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and others. “I never saw them do anything wrong.”
Attorney Michael Avenatti released a sworn affidavit from a third woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. In the document, Julie Swetnick says he lined up with other high school-aged boys for gang rapes during parties in the 1980s. Kavanaugh denies the allegations, saying in a statement released by the White House that “this is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone. I don’t know who this is and this never happened.”
But the bombshell accusation came just a day before he and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a much-anticipated hearing about her accusations. And it sent ripple waves that upended Trump’s final day meeting with other world leaders, as he fired back at Avenatti as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sat awkwardly just feet away.
Avenatti also represents adult film actor and director Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford), who has claimed Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, paid her to remain silent about a consensual sexual relationship she had with then-businessman and reality show personality Trump. Despite a Trump claim on Wednesday, Daniels’ accusations have not been disproven.
The president will return to Washington Thursday morning after spending an extra night at his Manhattan tower. When he arrives at the White House, one of the most consequential days of his presidency will already be underway. That’s because, along with the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing, he could meet with Rod Rosenstein to discuss the deputy attorney general’s fate.
During the press conference, Trump said he would “prefer” to keep Rosenstein. The former reality television executive producer and host again flashed his programming chops, announcing he might delay that meeting so it does not conflict with the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing.
Rosenstein and Trump had a lengthy phone call Monday to discuss a New York Times report that the Justice Department No. 2 talked to colleagues about secretly taping the president early in his tenure with the goal of removing him from office. Because Rosenstein is overseeing the Robert S. Mueller III-led Russia election meddling probe, Democratic lawmakers warn firing him would trigger a “constitutional crisis” — and, possibly, legal and political trouble for Trump.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters earlier this week he hopes the deputy AG “stays in place” because “any effort to undermine the Mueller investigation will be obstruction of justice.”
For Trump, much is on the line Thursday: Because many political prognosticators say Democrats could control the House come January, firing Rosenstein could trigger impeachment proceedings. And if Democrats manage to also take the Senate, a failed or withdrawn Kavanaugh nomination would leave Trump unable to secure a major legacy item by putting a second solidly conservative justice on the high court and give it a 5-4 rightward bend that Republicans have eyed for a decade.
The president was more than willing to fight on Wednesday.
He took repeated swipes at Avenatti, first tweeting that the attorney is “a total low-life!” who is only “good at making false accusations.” In the same tweet, he called Avenatti “a third rate lawyer who is good at making false accusations, like he did on me and like he is now doing on Judge Brett Kavanaugh.”
Later, during a photo opportunity with Abe, Trump essentially labeled Avenatti a political hack who lacks credibility: “He represented Democrats. Nobody ever talks about that. He is a Democrat lawyer. Not a very good one, but is he a Democrat lawyer.”
A day after the president declared one of Kavanaugh’s accusers “too messed up” on alcohol to even recall if it was the high court nominee who allegedly assaulted her, he was asked if he thinks the women are lying.
“Next question,” he shot back. Abe sat beside him, expressionless. An annoyed Trump also was in no laughing mood.
Kavanaugh repeatedly came up during Trump’s lengthy press conference Wednesday evening.
Asked what message he would send to young men ahead of the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing, the president issued a warning to America’s males.
“It’s a very dangerous period in our country,” he said, adding it is “being perpetrated by some very evil people.”
“In this case, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I think that is a very dangerous standard for our country,” he said.
The allegations Kavanaugh is facing are ones “that nobody is going to be able to prove,” he said.
Watch: Flake Pleads With Senate: Don’t Make Up Minds Before Thursday’s Kavanaugh, Ford Hearing
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.