WASHINGTON (CN) – With Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s agenda for the first time on Thursday, the fight over access to documents from his time in the White House boiled over as Republicans denied Democrats’ attempts to force the committee to issue subpoenas for his records.
As expected, a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination was delayed for a week, but the committee still met for a business meeting to consider a batch of judicial nominations as well as several pieces of legislation.
Democrats have complained throughout Kavanaugh’s nomination process that Republicans have put up roadblocks preventing them from viewing emails and other documents Kavanaugh handled during his time working for President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006.
“It honestly makes me wonder, what in Judge Kavanaugh’s records are Republicans hiding?” Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said at the meeting Thursday.
Some of the documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House have been made available for senators to review with the understanding that they remain secret. Some Democrats have released these so-called committee confidential documents in the week since Kavanaugh’s nomination hearing, while the committee has cleared others for public release.
But Democrats are unhappy with the handling of other documents they have not been able to see, including more than 100,000 records on which the Trump administration has claimed privilege. As a result, Democrats requested the committee issue six subpoenas on Thursday, but their attempts failed in a series of 10-11 votes that fell along party lines.
The first subpoena came from Feinstein, who asked that the committee request the National Archives turn over records from Kavanaugh’s time as White House staff secretary. She said senators have seen “only a subset” of the documents from this time period, which could shed light on whether he worked on a whole range of controversial political issues raised during the Bush administration.
“Providing advice and consent on a Supreme Court nominee is one of our most serious obligations,” Feinstein said. “The stakes, as I’ve said, are extremely high. He will be in a pivotal seat on a closely divided court.”
Later in the meeting, Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., made a move to issue a subpoena for documents that the Trump administration withheld based on a claim of privilege.
Klobuchar said the administration’s refusal to explain in detail its decision to block more than 100,000 of Kavanaugh’s documents from public release is unprecedented.
“We are talking about a lifetime appointment to the highest court, we want to see those documents before we have a vote on this nominee,” Klobuchar said.
Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, said how Democrats have handled the documents issues during Kavanaugh’s nomination process “virtually guarantees” the committee will have a harder time receiving documents from presidential libraries for future nominations. He also said waiting through the subpoena process could delay nominations for “years, maybe longer.”
“The reason we don’t operate by subpoena, like the senator from Rhode Island and others are advocating, others across the aisle, is because I don’t think the Senate wants to have contested court decisions that could go on for years while a trial court, appellate court and the Supreme Court alternately rule on claims of executive privilege,” Cornyn said.
Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, then requested documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House related to Native American, Native Hawaiian and Native Alaskan rights, an issue she raised during last week’s nomination hearing.
Senators Chris Coons, D-Del., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also requested subpoenas for documents from Kavanaugh White House tenure that related to his views on executive power and the use of torture during the Bush administration, respectively.
The other subpoena attempt Republicans defeated Thursday came from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who asked to compel the testimony of four people who Blumenthal said could help shed light on allegations that Kavanaugh mislead the committee during his nomination hearing.
“This testimony is vital, in the interviews and in hearings under oath before this committee, to resolve key questions of fact that were raised in the hearing,” Blumenthal said.
Among the people Blumenthal sought to bring before the committee for interviews and public testimony was Manuel Miranda, a former Republican Senate staffer who accessed documents on judicial nominations that Democrats had stored on a shared server.
Senator Pat Leahy, D-Vt., pressed Kavanaugh during last week’s nomination hearing on whether he used the documents while in the White House and has since said he does not believe Kavanaugh was truthful when he testified that he had not.