Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) met with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh Tuesday afternoon and pressed him on his past work in the White House, Vermont's senior senator told Seven Days after the meeting.
Kavanaugh spent the early 2000s as a lawyer, and later staff secretary, for president George W. Bush's administration.
“There was a lot of discussion at the time of detainee and torture policy as well as a specialized wiretapping policy,” Leahy said. “I wanted to know how much he was involved in it, because all of these things have been discredited since.”
White House lawyer Don McGahn also attended Leahy's meeting with Kavanaugh, and initially he refused to allow the senator to meet alone with the judicial nominee.
“[McGahn] said, ‘Well, they don’t do one-on-one meetings,’” Leahy recounted. “I said, ‘I’ve been here for 19 Supreme Court nominees, 17 since I’ve been on the Judiciary Committee. I always have a one-on-one meeting.’”
Leahy said McGahn eventually acquiesced and left him alone with Kavanaugh. But even after the meeting, the senator said he still doesn’t have enough information to make a decision about whether to support or oppose the nomination.
In July, President Donald Trump tapped Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., to fill a Supreme Court vacancy left by retired justice Anthony Kennedy. For weeks, Leahy has been raising the alarm about the confirmation process.
“We’re dealing with an incomplete record partly because the Republicans are rushing this through,” Leahy said.
At a Judiciary Committee meeting August 16, Leahy blasted his colleagues, saying that the Senate is failing its duty by refusing to request documents from Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary in the Bush administration. Leahy, the senior-most member of the committee, pointed out that Senate Republicans previously expressed a willingness to request those records.
“In probably one of the fastest U-turns I’ve seen outside of a racetrack, that abruptly changed after a private meeting with White House Counsel Don McGahn on July 24,” Leahy said at the meeting. “Same Republicans who thought it was great to have these records, suddenly, uh-oh, ‘That was then, a few minutes ago. This is now.’ Suddenly, all of Judge Kavanaugh’s staff secretary records were off-limits. Even those that he authored.”
During Tuesday's interview, Leahy said he’s been up front with his Republican colleagues: “It makes me think they’ve got something to hide.”
Leahy said Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was failing to uphold years of committee precedent, established when Leahy himself was chair.
“I made sure that both Republicans and Democrats had all the records they wanted,” Leahy said. “I did that because the senior Republican member of the committee at the time, Jeff Sessions, asked me to and I considered it a fair request.”
Soon after his nomination, Kavanaugh’s record led to questions about whether the nation’s highest court might overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in America. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) met with Kavanaugh on Tuesday morning, and she later told reporters that her concerns about abortion access were eased when Kavanaugh told her that he sees the issue as settled law.
Whatever answers Kavanaugh provides, Leahy has made it clear he won’t be satisfied until he has a chance to review records from the judge’s time working in the White House. Senate confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin September 4.
“I want to get the rest of the records,” Leahy said. “I want to know why the Republicans are trying to jam this through, not releasing documents and rushing a hearing date.”