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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi’s two Republican U.S. senators are expressing continued support of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith issued statements Monday saying they think Democrats are unfairly trying to damage the reputation of Kavanaugh, who is a federal appeals court judge.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear Thursday from Kavanaugh and a woman who says he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s. Kavanaugh denies wrongdoing.

Hyde-Smith says any sexual assault is “unacceptable,” but she believes there’s “a major partisan effort” to undermine Kavanaugh’s character and nomination.

Wicker says he sees “a coordinated campaign designed to smear Judge Kavanaugh” and Senate Democrats “are not interested in truth or justice.”

Hyde-Smith and Wicker are both on the ballot in November.

Senate Judiciary hires outside counsel to question Kavanaugh accuser

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee announced Tuesday night that panel Republicans have hired outside counsel Rachel Mitchell to question Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.

Mitchell, according to a news release from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, is on leave from her role as deputy county attorney in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. There, she also is the chief of the special victims division.

“I promised Dr. Ford that I would do everything in my power to avoid a repeat of the ‘circus’ atmosphere in the hearing room that we saw the week of September 4,” Grassley said in his Tuesday night statement. “I’ve taken this additional step to have questions asked by expert staff counsel to establish the most fair and respectful treatment of the witnesses possible.”

The move comes as Kavanaugh’s historic hearing, in which he and Ford will testify, approaches on Thursday and parties on both sides clash over whether a second woman’s recent allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by the nominee will also be discussed during the hearing.

Kavanaugh has denied both women’s allegations.

“The truth is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone in high school or otherwise,” Kavanaugh said in a Fox News interview Monday night.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that he did not think men should be “disqualified” from listening to the evidence and making decisions, but pointed to the hiring of the outside counsel, who he referred to as a “female assistant.”

“As I said earlier, and I think you already know, we have hired a female assistant to go on staff and to ask these questions in a respectful and professional way,” McConnell said. “We want this hearing to be handled very professionally, not a political sideshow like you saw the — put on by the Democrats when they were questioning Judge Kavanaugh.”

Meanwhile, committee lawyers have reached out to lawyers for Debra Ramirez, who detailed separate allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior against Kavanaugh to The New Yorker, and asked whether she has any evidence, in addition to what was printed in the magazine, to support her accusations, and whether she would provide the evidence to the committee.

Ramirez’s attorney John Clune tweeted “Our client stands by the facts of the New Yorker story as reported.” He also said, “We are in contact with the Senate Judiciary Committee to determine the best process to provide Senators with additional information. We remain adamant that an FBI investigation, where all witnesses are questioned under threat of perjury, is the only way to get the truth. Our client remains willing to cooperate with such an inquiry.”

At least one Senate Republican appeared open to the idea of such an investigation. CNN asked Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a key swing vote, if there should be a full FBI probe into the allegations.

She responded, “It would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn’t it?”