US Judge Brett Kavanaugh speaks after being nominated by US President Donald Trump (L) to the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House on July 9,...
SAUL LOEB

Republicans schedule Kavanaugh hearings, despite lack of documents

Save the date.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to begin confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Sept. 4, Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, announced Friday.

Grassley expects the hearings to last between three to four days, his office said, with opening statements delivered on Sept. 4 and the questioning of Kavanaugh to begin on Sept. 5.

At first blush, Friday’s announcement may not have seemed especially surprising. After all, Senate Republicans have said they intend to confirm the conservative jurist before the Supreme Court’s fall session, which means confirmation hearings have to begin in early September.

The trouble, of course, is whether senators will be able to properly prepare to scrutinize Kavanaugh’s record without access to his lengthy paper trail.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement on Friday, “Republicans’ mad rush to hold this hearing after unilaterally deciding to block nearly all of Judge Kavanaugh’s records from public release is further evidence that they are hiding important information from the American people, and continues to raise the question, ‘What are they hiding?’”

Under the circumstances, that need not be a rhetorical question.

Perhaps some Q&A is in order.

When it comes to the nominee’s background, what exactly has the Senate asked for?

Officially, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) requested nearly 1 million pages from the National Archives documenting Kavanaugh’s past legal work.

That sounds like a lot.

Perhaps, but Grassley’s request deliberately excluded the documents Senate Democrats really want to see: materials related to Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary in the Bush/Cheney White House.

Are they important?

Given the credible concerns that Kavanaugh may have misled the Senate under oath about his work on Bush-era torture policies, the materials are quite important, indeed.

But with Grassley blowing off the Democrats’ request, at least senators will be able to review the nearly 1 million pages of documents that Republicans requested from the National Archives, right?

Wrong. Officials at the National Archives said they’ll never be able to pull the materials together as quickly as the Senate would like. In fact, the Archives said it’d take until late October to complete the request.

In light of the Archives’ response, can we assume that Republicans, in the name of propriety, announced they would delay consideration of the nominee, because it’s more important than the Senate do this right, and not just quickly?

You must be new here.

But senators won’t be completely in the dark, will they?

They’ll have access to incomplete elements of Kavanaugh’s record, some of which will come from preliminary research from the Archives, but most of those materials will come by way of George W. Bush’s team. In fact, every document sent to the Senate will be chosen for release by Bill Burck.

Who’s Bill Burck?

He’s the Republican lawyer who works for Bush and who’s now leading the document production for the Kavanaugh nomination. Burck is also Kavanaugh’s former deputy, which raises some awkward questions about which documents he’ll choose to share, and which materials he may shield from scrutiny.

It sounds like you’re saying that the one thing that could possibly derail Kavanaugh’s nomination are documents from his record, and documents from Kavanaugh’s record are the one thing senators won’t have.

Yep.

How normal is this?

It’s not normal at all. In recent decades, there’s been an expectation that the Senate, as part of its vetting process, would receive a complete record of a nominee’s legal work. Traditionally, White House’s have willingly cooperated, as was the case when Barack Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the high court, and turned over voluminous materials related to her time as solicitor general.

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), who tends to have a fairly reserved demeanor, issued a blistering statement on Friday in response to Grassley’s announcement.

“There are so many things wrong with the Judiciary Committee’s vetting of Judge Kavanaugh that it is hard to know where to begin. The review of his record has gone from being shameful to an outright sham…. Unlike the transparent process outlined by the Presidential Records Act, which has been used for every nominee since Watergate, there will be no unbiased review or accountability to the American people.

“This will mark the most partisan and least transparent vetting of a Supreme Court nominee in modern history.

“Democrats have been repeatedly asking what Senate Republicans are trying to hide in Judge Kavanaugh’s record. Now Republicans are ensuring the American people will not find out. This is incompatible with our constitutional obligation to provide informed consent. This isn’t a vetting, it is an attempted coronation.”

Sept. 4 is three weeks from tomorrow. Watch this space.