Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday that Democrats will sue the National Archives if they do not comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents relating to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s service in the George W. Bush White House.
The threat is the latest escalation in a long-running disagreement with Senate Republicans over the Kavanaugh vetting process, and one of the few procedural weapons Democrats can use to slow progress on a Supreme Court confirmation some see as inevitable
“We stand ready to sue the National Archives for Judge Kavanaugh’s full records, if necessary,” Schumer said. “The American people deserve a methodical and thorough examination of a nominee to the Supreme Court who will wield immense influence on their lives.”
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee filed a FOIA request for records generated during Kavanaugh’s service as staff secretary to Bush from 2003 to 2006. Committee Republicans limited their request for documents to the judge’s time in the White House counsel’s office, from 2001 to 2003 — the GOP argues his counsel’s office work product is most relevant to his substantive legal views, while his burgeoning staff secretary records are of an administrative nature.
Republicans see an audit of Kavanaugh’s staff secretary records as especially unnecessary in view of his service on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Since his elevation to the federal bench 12 years ago, the judge has written 307 opinions and joined many more, leaving little doubt as to his positions on a range of issues. They further claim a questionnaire he submitted to the Judiciary Committee is far-reaching and comprehensive, and compares favorably with other recent Supreme Court nominations.
Still, Democrats argue a review of Kavanaugh’s full body of White House work is essential to the Senate’s deliberations, particularly if he was connected to controversial Bush-era national security decisions. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin in particular has suggested that Kavanaugh misled senators respecting his involvement in the Bush administration’s detainee policies during his 2006 confirmation hearing for the D.C. Circuit.
In 2007 I sent Brett Kavanaugh this letter asking to explain his inaccurate and misleading testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. I’m still waiting for an answer. pic.twitter.com/c7XoGJKDSj
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) July 10, 2018
Schumer also decried the process by which the George W. Bush presidential library — which houses the Bush archives — is releasing records to the Senate. The minority leader accused the library of partisan chicanery, since a Republican lawyer named Bill Burck is overseeing the distribution process. Burck worked with Kavanaugh in the Bush administration.
“The small percentage of documents the Judiciary Committee will get to see are being pre-screened by a political operative named Bill Burck – a longtime Republican lawyer and former deputy to Brett Kavanaugh when he worked in the White House counsel’s office,” Schumer said in a separate statement on the Senate floor. “A deputy to Brett Kavanaugh is now determining what of Brett Kavanaugh’s record should be there, someone who was a lawyer for Steve Bannon, a lawyer for Reince Priebus, a lawyer for McGahn, the White House counsel.”
But GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, pointed out that prominent liberal attorneys managed records dispersal during the confirmations of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“Bruce Lindsey — who was national director of President Clinton’s 1992 campaign, senior lawyer and ‘fixer’ in the White House, and longtime CEO of the Clinton Foundation — reviewed Justice Kagan’s documents,” Grassley said during a Thursday hearing. “Leslie Kiernan, also prominent in Democratic politics, reviewed Justice Sotomayor’s documents before the Senate received them.”
“If these individuals could review nominees’ documents before producing them to the Senate, Mr. Burck can as well,” he added.
Schumer will meet with Kavanaugh next week. The judge’s confirmation hearings will begin on Sept. 4.
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