An additional 88,000 pages of documents from Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh’s time as a lawyer for the George W. Bush White House were released Sunday, even as Senate Democrats complain about the unusual process by which a former Bush aide is vetting which documents can be made public.
A review of the latest trove revealed no obvious bombshells about Kavanaugh, the federal judge whose confirmation hearing is set for the first week in September.
Some of the documents released Sunday show Kavanaugh dealing with issues that arose in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, while others show him being invited to conservative think tank events or being asked about minor issues such as parking. The new batch contains thousands of copies of the same documents and lengthy press releases and clips sent to his attention.
In one series of emails, Kavanaugh is beginning to grapple with the issue of presidential war powers, seeking “the best con law treatises” on the subject. Another exchange with then-White House spokeswoman Anne Womack discusses a question that arose about the prospect of Bush creating a tribunal for the Sept. 11 suspects rather than putting them through the U.S. court system. On Sept. 13, 2001, Kavanaugh advises Womack to say that the administration was not discussing legal options, adding that “even talking about this kind of issue can pose problems down the road.”
Other emails show Kavanaugh being called on for ethics-related advice about gifts and presidential travel, and his work as part of a team that assembled a batch of federal court nominees for a major rollout early in the Bush presidency. At one point, Kavanaugh polled members of the legal staff about whether they were members of the Federalist Society and the American Bar Association, explaining that he had been asked to gather the information “for possible press purposes.”
Sprinkled throughout the new batch of documents are many others that reveal nothing about Kavanaugh’s fitness for the Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh is asked whether memos should be single- or double-spaced. There are invitations to Heritage Foundation events that hundreds of White House officials also received. There’s correspondence related to keeping the airline industry afloat and White House talking points.
So far, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley’s team of lawyers and aides have reviewed more than 200,000 pages of documents while vetting Kavanaugh. These include legal opinions he has written, his committee questionnaire and, mostly, documents from his tenure working as associate counsel for Bush and as a deputy in independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s investigation into the Clinton White House.
But Senate Democrats have taken issue with the fact that the committee as of Sunday has released to the public only half of the 175,000 pages it has received since early August related to Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush administration. The reason is the unusual way the committee is handling the Bush administration documents.
Although Grassley (R) followed the usual procedure of requesting presidential documents from the National Archives, officials there said there are so many documents that it would take them until the end of October to review and send them to the committee. Archives officials said they have “several million” pages of Kavanaugh documents, significantly more than prior Supreme Court nominees such as Judge Elena Kagan, who had roughly 170,000 documents in the archives.
As a workaround, Bush requested the Kavanaugh records directly, and he enlisted former aide and current Bush records representative Bill Burck to oversee the process of releasing them to the public. In a letter to the committee last week, Burck said his team was producing “publicly releasable versions of documents that, in our view, do not contain information covered by a Presidential Records Act exemption or applicable privilege.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, said in a letter to Grassley on Friday that the panel is unjustifiably keeping certain documents confidential.
“Simply stated, this is unacceptable,” she wrote. “The senators and the public must have access to Mr. Kavanaugh’s full record. Additionally, this committee has never allowed a third party to control what information is kept confidential, and should not do so now when we are considering a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
White House spokesman Raj Shah said Friday that the process has been “open, transparent and fair.”
Robert Barnes, Seung Min Kim, Robert O’Harrow, Beth Reinhard and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.