President Donald Trump shakes hands with Judge Brett Kavanaugh his Supreme Court nominee, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, July 9, 2018, in...
Evan Vucci

Senate Dems zero in on Kavanaugh’s most serious vulnerability

Updated

The Rachel Maddow Show, 8/16/18, 9:51 PM ET

Tape hints Kavanaugh opposes marriage equality, abortion rights

Rachel Maddow shares a new tape of Donald Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh discussing Antonin Scalia’s opposition to marriage equality and abortion rights, characterizing them as “new rights” not guaranteed by the Constitution.
Rachel Maddow shares a new tape of Donald Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh discussing Antonin Scalia’s opposition to marriage equality and abortion rights, characterizing them as “new rights” not guaranteed by the Constitution.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination is controversial for all sorts of reasons, some of which may put his future in jeopardy, some of which senators may find it easier to overlook.

But to my mind, this remains the biggest vulnerability for Donald Trump’s choice for the high court.

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) Thursday asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to join a request for Judge Kavanaugh’s Staff Secretary records and to publicly release the documents now. Feinstein is the Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member, and Leahy and Durbin are also senior members of the committee.

The senators emphasize the fact that documents that are currently “committee confidential” contain information indicating that Kavanaugh misled the Senate during his 2006 nomination hearing.

They write, “We firmly believe that Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination cannot be considered unless these documents are available, including to the public and the Senate as a whole.” The senators strongly urged Chairman Grassley to support their “request for Judge Kavanaugh’s Staff Secretary records and to publicly release documents from Judge Kavanaugh’s time in the White House in the same manner as was done for all previous Supreme Court nominees. The truth should not be hidden from the Senate or the American people.”

The phrase “committee confidential” offers a big hint about the nature of the findings – we’re not yet privy to the details – but the issue is the sort of controversy that even many Republicans may find difficult to defend.

Let’s circle back to our earlier coverage for those just tuning in.

In the Bush/Cheney White House, Kavanaugh spent three years as the staff secretary in the West Wing, and his tenure spanned an especially controversial period in which the then-president tackled issues such as torture, black sites, and the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

In response to particularly pointed questions from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in 2006, Kavanaugh testified, “Senator, I was not involved and am not involved in the questions about the rules governing detention of combatants, and so I do not have any involvement with that.”

We later learned that his denial wasn’t exactly true. After Kavanaugh’s confirmation, it became clear that he had been directly involved in internal White House discussions on the issue – and lying under oath to the Senate is the sort of thing that could be problematic for someone seeking a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court.

Complicating matters, as the Washington Post recently noted, Kavanaugh went on to participate in “a number of cases related to the detention of terrorism suspects” – cases he arguably should’ve recused himself from – raising related questions about his judicial ethics.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, not telling the truth under oath in an earlier confirmation hearing is the sort of thing that can derail a nominee. If you’re looking for the sort of controversy that might yet undermine Kavanaugh’s chances of confirmation, I’d suggest starting here.