WASHINGTON (AFP) - Three Republican senators key to Judge Brett Kavanaugh's approval to the US Supreme Court blasted President Donald Trump on Wednesday (Oct 3) for mocking the woman accusing his nominee of sexual assault, as he played to a crowd of thousands at a political rally.
The controversy over Judge Kavanaugh's nomination - which could be put to a final vote in the Senate as early as Saturday - comes ahead of November congressional elections in which Mr Trump's Republican Party will battle to keep control of Congress.
Still undecided on backing the conservative judge - whose appointment to the crucial, lifelong post has fuelled a bitter partisan clash - Senator Susan Collins weighed in to denounce the President's comments ridiculing Dr Christine Blasey Ford as "just plain wrong".
Senator Lisa Murkowski called Mr Trump's speech "wholly inappropriate" and "unacceptable", while Senator Jeff Flake, the third Republican swing vote, said there was "no time and no place for remarks like that".
"To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right. I wish he hadn't done it. It's kind of appalling," Mr Flake said.
The stern lawmaker reactions raised fresh doubts over the fate of Judge Kavanaugh, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation reviews allegations by three women that the appeals court judge drank heavily and engaged in sexually abusive behaviour while he was a student in the 1980s.
The FBI was last Friday given a week to probe the accusations - with a vote in the Senate pushed back accordingly.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the FBI was due to present the Senate late on Wednesday with its highly anticipated supplemental investigation report and moved to end debate on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination - setting up a Friday procedural vote and a final vote as early as the following day.
Mr Trump stirred the furious backlash when, at a Mississippi election rally late on Tuesday, he ridiculed Dr Blasey Ford's accusation that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party in 1982, when both attended elite private high schools in suburban Washington.
The White House denied that Mr Trump had derided the university professor.
"The President was simply stating facts that Dr Ford herself laid out in her testimony," spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told journalists.
Senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway likewise argued that Mr Trump's comments were in-bounds in the political battle over Judge Kavanaugh.
"Excuse me, she's been treated like a Faberge egg by all of us, beginning with me and the President," Ms Conway said of Dr Blasey Ford.
'VILE AND SOULLESS ATTACK'
But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, calling Mr Trump's remarks "reprehensible",said the President owes Dr Blasey Ford an immediate apology.
In searing testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Dr Blasey Ford told lawmakers she recalled some important details of the incident at a party in a private home, and was absolutely certain that Judge Kavanaugh was the attacker.
She could not remember other aspects however - prompting Mr Trump to mock her before an auditorium of supporters.
"I had one beer, right?" Mr Trump said, echoing one point Dr Blasey Ford did recall.
"'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.
"But I had one beer. That's the only thing I remember," Mr Trump said.
Mr Michael Bromwich, one of Dr Blasey Ford's attorneys, slammed "a vicious, vile and soulless attack" on his client.
"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."
PROTEST AT SUPREME COURT
It was not clear whether the remarks shifted the dynamic in the battle over Judge Kavanaugh, whose appointment Republicans hope could shift the balance in the Supreme Court decisively to conservatives.
Democrats say Judge Kavanaugh cannot be confirmed with the still-unproven accusations hanging over his head. Judge Kavanaugh steadfastly denies the allegations.
With Republicans holding a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, the loss of any two of their senators would doom Judge Kavanaugh.
None of the three undecided Republicans would say if their views had solidified, one way or another.
Mr Trump on Wednesday tweeted further support for Judge Kavanaugh, writing: "Something very big is happening. He is a fine man and great intellect. The country is with him all the way!"
Outside the US Supreme Court, several hundred people protested against Judge Kavanaugh on Wednesday, carrying signs with messages such as, "We will not be silent," and, "I believe survivors. No on Kavanaugh."
"We've spent all day in senators' offices just throwing ourselves in front of them and saying, 'Please don't do this, this is a disgrace, this is an embarrassment,'" said Ms Lorraine Tripoli, 58.
"We're standing together against Judge Kavanaugh," Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told demonstrators.
More than 650 law professors signed a letter to the Senate, published in The New York Times on Wednesday, saying that at the Judiciary Committee hearing, Judge Kavanaugh "did not display the impartiality and judicial temperament" required for the Supreme Court, and urged that he not be confirmed.