Donald Trump has strongly defended his embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but for the first time indicated he could withdraw his support amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
With the Senate preparing to hold a key hearing on Thursday that could determine whether Republicans can salvage his nomination, the US president said he would watch it, adding that he was "open to changing my mind."
But as he offered a robust defence of Judge Kavanaugh, Mr Trump also described how past accusations of sexual misconduct against himself had influenced the way he views similar charges against other men.
His comments came during a freewheeling press conference at the United Nations, during which Mr Trump also confirmed that he had refused to meet Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister.
He said relations with Canada were not good, raising the spectre of collapsing the Nafta trade agreement.
Mr Trump also said he believed Iran’s leaders would soon be begging him to make a deal, and praised letters he had received from Kim Jong-un as "magnificent".
In lighter moments during the press conference, which lasted well over an hour, the US president quoted Sir Elton John, did impressions of rival politicians, declared "I love the Kurds!” and told a New York Times reporter: "Without me, you’d be out of business."
As most of the questioning focused on allegations against Judge Kavanaugh, Mr Trump recounted at length his own experiences of being accused of sexual misconduct.
He said: "I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me. It’s happened to me many times. When I see it, I see it differently from someone at home watching TV. Does it affect me, in terms of my thinking, absolutely."
Mr Trump added: "This is beyond the Supreme Court. This has everything to do with our country. It’s a big, fat con job. You’re guilty until proven innocent and that’s a very dangerous standard for our country."
Trump tells reporter to sit down after she asks her question again. Trump: "Ive had many false accusations." pic.twitter.com/tk2jYwAARj
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) September 26, 2018
He blamed Democrats, who he called "evil" for what they had "done" to Judge Kavanaugh and his family.
The president said a hearing involving Judge Kavanaugh and an accuser in front of the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday would be a "very important day in the history of our country".
Despite his backing for Judge Kavanaugh the president said he could be convinced otherwise, and he was not ruling out withdrawing the nomination if he found accusers convincing.
He said: "They are giving the women a major chance to speak. It’s possible that I’ll hear that and I’ll say I’m changing my mind.
"I can always be convinced. If I thought he was guilty of something like this, yes sure. I want to watch. I want to see."
Mr Trump’s comments about his accusers drew swift reaction from an attorney for Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump’s reality TV show "The Apprentice," who says Trump made unwanted advances toward her, then defamed her by saying she lied about it.
"It is offensive that in purporting to stand by a Supreme Court nominee who has been accused of sexual assault, Mr. Trump has chosen once again to defame and attack women, including our client, who had the courage to come forward to tell the truth about his own unwanted assaultive behaviour," said Mariann Wang.
Judge Kavanaugh is heading into a charged public Senate hearing on Thursday that could determine whether Republicans can salvage his nomination and enshrine a high court conservative majority.
The Senate Judiciary Committee – 11 Republicans, all men, and 10 Democrats – will hear from just two witnesses: Judge Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor who accuses him of attempting to rape her when they were teens.
Republicans have derided her allegation as part of a smear campaign and a Democratic plot to sink Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. But after more allegations have emerged, some GOP senators have allowed that much is riding on Kavanaugh’s performance.
Judge Kavanaugh himself has repeatedly denied all the allegations, saying he’d never even heard of the latest accuser and calling her accusations "ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone."
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In the press conference Mr Trump also said he would "prefer not" to fire Rod Rosenstein, his deputy attorney general.
Mr Rosenstein has been accused of plotting to secretly record the president, and of discussing removing Mr Trump from office for being unfit. He has vehemently denied the allegations. The two men were due to meet on Thursday at the White House.
Mr Trump also said the US would have been drawn into a war with North Korea if it were not for him.
He said: "If I wasn’t elected, you would have had a war. We have a very good relationship. He (Kim Jong-un) likes me, I like him. I really believe he wants to get it done. He wants to make a deal, I want make a deal."
However, he would not set deadlines for North Korea to denuclearise.
Mr Trump said: "We’re not playing the time game. If it takes two years, three years or five months."
He dismissed as "fake news" reports that he was laughed at during the opening moments of his speech before the UN General Assembly this week. Mr Trump said the audience was "not laughing at me, they were laughing with me."