Senate Republicans clash with Democrats over access to Kavanaugh's White House records

PHOTO: Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh glances at reporters during a meeting with Sen. James Lankford on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 19, 2018.PlayManuel Balce Ceneta/AP
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Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has insisted that, ahead of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, the documents that will be available as part of his vetting process will compromise "most likely the largest document production in history for a Supreme Court nomination."

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Grassley said Tuesday that he predicts the Senate will receive "up to a million pages" of documents and accused Democrats of holding up his request to the National Archives for those records.

But Democrats accuse Republicans of denying them access to a critical part of Kavanaugh’s history: His records while serving as White House staff secretary under George W. Bush – a little-known but critical position in any administration, where the job is to manage the information flow in and out of the Oval Office.

"They argue that we don’t need to see documents from that part of his career, but they have no argument against it. They don’t think we need them, we think we do. Why not show them to us?" Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer asked on the Senate floor.

Grassley, however, has argued that Kavanaugh’s record as staff secretary is irrelevant to his judicial philosophy and that making it available would run the risk of disclosing classified information.

"These documents are both the least relevant to Judge Kavanaugh's legal thinking and the most sensitive to the executive branch," Grassley said in a Senate floor speech Tuesday. "The staff secretary is the inbox and the outbox of the Oval Office."

The "inbox/outbox" nature of the job is part of the reason why Democrats want it to be included, as they say it can give any number of insights into Kavanaugh’s views that could be relevant to his judicial philosophy.

"For Republicans to suggest that records related to his position as White House staff secretary aren’t relevant to the committee’s review of his nomination is distressing," Sen. Dianne Feinstein said, noting that Kavanaugh himself has referred to his tenure as staff secretary in describing the full measure of his record.

Yesterday, Schumer’s office circulated a quote from a 2010 speech given by Kavanaugh to underline that point: "When people ask me which of my prior experiences has been most useful to me as a judge, I tell them that all of them have been useful, and I certainly draw on all of them. But I also do not hesitate to say that my five and a half years in the White House – and especially my three years as Staff Secretary for President Bush – were the most interesting and in many ways among the most instructive."

Senate Democrats have also noted that Republicans made requests for all documents related to the White House employment of then-nominee Elena Kagan, who had served in the White House Counsel’s office and the Domestic Policy Council. Then-Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy co-signed a letter with ranking member Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general, to request "all records preserved in her staff files" for both positions.

"Democrats have asked that requests to the National Archives and the Bush Library follow the same standard that Republicans demanded for Justice Elena Kagan when they were in the minority. We’re simply asking for the same treatment," Feinstein said in a statement.

A senior administration official argued, in response to the Kagan comparisons, that the Senate did not ask for her records during her tenure as solicitor general during the Obama administration, which Kagan herself said was the right decision during her confirmation hearing.

The administration official also argued that the most instructive part of Kavanaugh’s record will be the 300-plus opinions he wrote over 12 years as a sitting appeals court judge, and that no Supreme Court justice has ever been asked "to produce every scrap of paper they have ever touched, especially those that are most sensitive," referring to Kavanaugh’s documents accrued during his tenure as staff secretary.

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