Washington (AFP) - Donald Trump's embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was hit by a second accusation of sexual misconduct Sunday, leaving Republicans scrambling to save a confirmation that until recently had seemed all but certain.
The latest claims of impropriety during Kavanaugh's youth came as he was already facing a dramatic hearing where his testimony was to be weighed against that of a university professor who has separately accused him of assault.
Senate Democrats are now investigating a bombshell claim by Deborah Ramirez, 53, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a 1980s college party at Yale University, thrust his genitals in her face and caused her to touch them without her consent, according to The New Yorker.
Ramirez told the magazine she had become inebriated during a drinking game and was on the floor when the alleged incident took place.
She added afterward, she remembered hearing a person shout from down a hallway, "'Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie's face.'"
"I remember hearing and being mortified that this was out there," she said.
Kavanaugh denied the story, calling it "a smear, plain and simple."
"The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so," the conservative judge said in a statement.
- Investigation demands -
Like Christine Blasey Ford, the professor accusing him of assaulting her when they were teenagers, Ramirez wants the FBI to investigate the incident, and Democratic lawmakers are backing their demands.
Ramirez's call for an investigation came despite her admission to the New Yorker that there are gaps in her memory of the incident, and that she expects her memories to be questioned as she had been drinking.
Ford, meanwhile, agreed to testify Thursday after an increasingly ugly weeklong standoff that saw her forced to leave her California home as she faced death threats and the president openly attacked her credibility.
Kavanaugh, who strongly denies the allegation, said he wishes to testify as soon as possible to clear his name following Ford's claims that he attacked her at a 1980s high school party.
According to The New York Times, the federal judge has calendars from the summer of 1982 he plans to share with senators showing he was out of town most of that time with no indication of the party of concern.
The two parties will testify separately -- first Ford, followed by Kavanaugh's response -- the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed.
On Sunday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the judiciary committee, urged the panel to halt proceedings in light of the latest allegation.
"I am writing to request an immediate postponement of any further proceedings related to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh," she said in a statement.
"I also ask that the newest allegations of sexual misconduct be referred to the FBI for investigation, and that you join our request for the White House to direct the FBI to investigate the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford as well as these new claims."
Meanwhile, Democratic senator and committee member Richard Blumenthal echoed demands for an investigation.
"The Senate simply cannot in good conscience vote on this nomination without a full fair FBI investigation of all these allegations," he said.
Separately, lawyer Michael Avenatti -- who represents adult film star Stormy Daniels in the dispute over her claim she was paid to remain silent about an alleged tryst with Trump -- shared an email exchange on Twitter in which he promised the committee evidence of further misconduct by Kavanaugh at 1980s house parties, related to another unidentified accuser.
- Confirmation in the balance -
At stake is not only the fate of Trump's hand-picked Supreme Court nominee, but also Republican chances in November's midterm elections that face increased risk if the polarizing confirmation battle drags on.
White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec dismissed Ramirez's allegation as "the latest in a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man."
"The White House stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh," her statement added.
Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham -- a member of the panel that must approve Kavanaugh's nomination before it goes to the full chamber -- summed up the position of many Republicans by saying he did not expect Ford's testimony to change his mind.
"What am I supposed to do? Go ahead and ruin this guy's life based on an accusation?" he told Fox News Sunday.
Republicans, who hold a paper-thin majority in the Senate, can ill afford defections if Kavanaugh is to be approved.
After days of relative restraint, Trump lashed out at Ford on Friday, contending that Ford's decision to wait before going public shows the incident probably was not "as bad as she says" -- even if this runs counter to what experts say is the typical reaction of sexual assault victims afraid or embarrassed to report.
But Susan Collins -- a Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee -- said she was "appalled" by Trump's tweet.
Trump's outburst saw an outpouring of sympathy for Ford -- and outrage at the president -- as thousands of women, and men too, shared why they had kept silent after being assaulted, under the Twitter hashtag #WhyIDidntReport.