WASHINGTON – Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who is among the Democratic senators seeking records from four federal agencies pertaining to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s service in the Bush administration, told PJM he’s “not assuming that there’s anything improper or illegal that these records would display.”
Blumenthal said today that Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats have sent formal requests to the National Archives, the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and the CIA for the Kavanaugh documents. Blumenthal said the lawmakers have the right to review the records under the Freedom of Information Act and the Presidential Records Act.
“This request goes beyond the request already made by the chairman of the committee, Sen. [Chuck] Grassley, for documents relating to his service in the counsel’s office. We want all the documents that are relevant to his service as staff secretary as well,” Blumenthal said during a conference call briefing today with Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron. “This extraordinary step is really a last resort, unprecedented and unfortunate, but necessary to fully and fairly review Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.”
He continued, “Never before has the minority party been forced to use the Freedom of Information Act to gain vital information about a Supreme Court nominee, but there is too much at stake to accept anything less than a complete picture of Judge Kavanaugh’s background.”
A Bloomberg View op-ed by Jonathan Bernstein published today, “Don’t Punish Kavanaugh for Government Service,” argued that Senate Democrats’ extensive requests for documents might set a bad precedent and cause presidents to not nominate lawyers with public service experience in the future.
“The demands of disclosure threaten to rob the court of people with any record of public service,” Bernstein wrote.
PJM asked Blumenthal, “What would you say to criticism that the push for documents from all of these agencies that you mentioned might encourage presidents, in the future, to nominate lawyers who don’t have any public service experience and just have thin public service records?”
“First, I would say most presidents have to assume they really have nothing to hide. I mean, we’re not assuming that there’s anything improper or illegal that these records would display. The reason that they’ve become property of the United States – they’re not the president’s property – they are property of the archivists and they’re available to the public, most of them are, and there is a process to screen them,” the senator responded.
“In the event that there’s classified information or other reasons were given for confidentiality, there’s a specific case, Vaughn v. Rosen, a 1973 case, it provides a standard for reviewing these documents, so there is really no reason for presidents to be apprehensive,” he added.
Blumenthal said there is “no danger” in federal agencies releasing documents related to Kavanaugh’s service as associate in the White House counsel’s office and as White House staff secretary under George W. Bush, arguing that they have a “duty” to allow lawmakers to review them.
“The other point is that his service in the White House was 12 to 15 years ago. Brett Kavanaugh began as staff secretary 15 years ago and he left in 2006, so there is no danger that most of these documents would be in any way in danger of revealing current litigation, strategies or other kinds of confidential information that might imperil national security,” he said.
“There should be no reluctance on the part of presidents to implore people who may want careers on the court. And the third point is that the possible anticipation of review of these documents in connection with a nomination to the court, or any other position, should never be a consideration by a president in asking someone to serve,” he added.
If the National Archives does not respond in a timely manner, Blumenthal said the Democrats would consider responding with legal action.
“The chief request is to the National Archives because they have possession of all of the requests related to Kavanaugh’s service in the White House,” he said. “They have an obligation to respond in 20 days. If they don’t respond, there are legal options that we could take such as going to the United States District Court.”