Today, a nonpartisan coalition of government openness, accountability, and human rights groups called on the Senate to delay hearings on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh until a full review of all relevant records is complete. In a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the coalition told the senators that restricted access to information is plaguing public confidence in the process.
Using an unprecedented tactic, the Senate Judiciary Committee is circumventing the Presidential Records Act by relying on a representative of former president George W. Bush to provide records pertaining to Judge Kavanaugh’s tenure in the Bush White House. President Bush’s lawyers are marking those documents “confidential” and are withholding them from other senators and the public. The result of this unconventional track is that the public will never know what information is missing from the review.
This is particularly egregious after the Senate voted to confirm Trump’s controversial nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel, without having full access to her records. It was not until three months after she was confirmed that the CIA finally released the horrifying cables that Haspel wrote and/or authorized that detailed the grizzly torture of people in CIA custody under her watch. “Although we knew Haspel oversaw torture, the cables paint a disturbing picture, and make clear how deeply complicit and approving Haspel was. The public should have seen these cables before the confirmation vote,” DRAD executive director Sue Udry said. “We don’t know if there are parallel documents that would help us understand Kavanaugh’s role and decisions throughout his career. But the Senate should not vote on his nomination until all relevant documents are released to members of the Senate and the public.”
With confirmation hearings scheduled to begin on September 4, openness advocates are pursuing public records litigation and Democratic senators have been forced to file their own FOIA requests for the missing documents – an extraordinary measure which can take months to yield any information. As the letter states:
While NARA is working to review and disclose records in accordance with Presidential Records Act (PRA), members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are accessing a narrow set of records directly from President George W. Bush’s PRA representative. [footnote] Within this limited document collection, information is being marked confidential and disclosed only in a restricted way to members of the Judiciary Committee and to the public. [footnote] Of great concern, in an unprecedented circumvention of records access laws, President George W. Bush’s PRA representative is providing copies of the White House Counsel’s nomination records directly to the Senate Judiciary Committee,[footnote] and Republican senators are choosing which records to make available to the public.[footnote]
Read the coalition letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee here.