Washington - The first documents from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s time in George W. Bush’s White House were released Thursday as the Senate begins to review the judge’s unusually lengthy public record for confirmation hearings this fall.
The 5,700 pages from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House counsel’s office were posted on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website after being compiled by a lawyer representing the former president.
But Democrats and others scrutinizing President Donald Trump’s nominee quickly cried foul, saying Republicans are “cherry-picking” from the initial cache of 125,000 Bush documents.
Kavanaugh’s five years in the Bush White House, as White House counsel and staff secretary, are subject to a fierce dispute between Senate Republicans and Democrats about the scope of documents being made available. The battle over the paper trail has come to dominate the debate over confirming the 53-year-old appellate judge to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
The thousands of papers released Thursday are being pored over by activists and media organizations for insight into Kavanaugh’s legal thinking, but it’s unclear how revealing the papers will be. One of the initial pages was a discussion of lunch plans.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee has promised the most transparent process yet. The panel eventually plans to make available more than 1 million documents on Kavanaugh, including his 300 court cases as an appellate judge.
But Democrats complain that Bush’s lawyer has been able to selectively review and release documents on an expedited basis without full oversight from the National Archives and Records Administration.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the GOP’s unusual process of tapping Bush’s lawyer, Bill Burck, to conduct an initial review and release of the documents is a conflict.
“We are seeing layer after layer of unprecedented secrecy in what is quickly becoming the least transparent nominations process in history,” Schumer said.
Kavanaugh’s extensive time in public service means there’s a long, voluminous record of documents.
The Archives is screening nearly 1 million pages related to Kavanaugh’s time in the White House to make sure none of the material is subject to executive privilege under the Presidential Records Act. It says the review will not be completed until the end of October.
Seeking to expedite the process, Senate Republicans have moved to obtain documents directly from Bush’s team. That screening process is being run by Burck.
In a letter to Grassley last week, Burck made 125,000 documents from the Bush White House available to the Judiciary Committee on a confidential basis, with release pending a decision from the Archives that none of the material should be held back under the Presidential Records Act. But the Archives said it does not have the resources to do the screening, according to Burck, because of its work on the committee’s request for the 1 million pages.
In response, Burck said he was making some of the pages publicly available, even without Archives review.
“In light of the constraints on NARA’s resources, and in the interest of expediting appropriate access,” Burck said he would begin producing documents to the committee on a “rolling basis.” More documents are expected, possibly later this week.
Democrats argue that the expedited process may allow key parts of Kavanaugh’s record to be rolled out on GOP terms.
At particular issue are documents from Kavanaugh’s time at the Bush White House. Republicans want to release only paperwork from his work in the counsel’s office, but Democrats also want records from his three years as staff secretary, where he touched almost every paper that reached Bush’s desk.
The White House files are on top of thousands of other pages being culled from Kavanaugh’s work on Kenneth Starr’s team investigating President Bill Clinton, and from Kavanaugh’s judicial career.
Lawmakers have previously posted thousands of other documents related to Kavanaugh, including his questionnaire and his more than 300 court cases as an appellate judge.
Republicans are eager to confirm Kavanaugh this fall, before the November midterm elections, to deliver on a top Trump priority.
Because Republicans hold a majority in the Senate, confirmation is likely, but with Senate narrowly divided 51-49, they cannot afford a defection in their ranks, if all Democrats vote no. Dates have not yet been set for Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.