Leahy on Kavanaugh: What is being hidden and why?

Published: Sep. 4, 2018 at 11:44 AM EDT
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"It's Alice in Wonderland," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

In his decades in the U.S. Senate, Leahy has voted on whether to confirm 19 Supreme Court justices but he says this one is unique.

"I've never seen in those 44 years so much at stake with a single seat," Leahy said. "But I've also never seen such a dangerous rush to fill it."

Much of the run-up to this week's confirmation hearings has centered on documents from Kavanaugh's time working in the White House. The Trump team won't release them, citing executive privilege. Republicans say they've already provided hundreds of thousands of pages. Democrats say something is being covered up.

"You can talk about the numbers of pages but the fact is 99 percent for Elena Kagan 12 days before the hearing-- it was all available. With Judge Kavanaugh 7 percent and only 4 percent made public," Leahy said.

Tuesday morning, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee made a last-ditch effort to delay the start of the hearings until those documents are made available, but they were rebuffed by the committee chair Chuck Grassley.

"Can I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle how long you want to go on with this? Because I am not going to entertain any of the motions you are making," said Grassley, R-Iowa.

At the center of the debate-- Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the D.C. circuit appeals court judge nominated to fill the seat of retired justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy was a swing vote on hot-button issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and torture. Kavanaugh will be questioned on those issues in the days to come, but Tuesday, Leahy honed in on something else-- the limits of executive power.

"You've taken the unorthodox position that presidents should not be burdened with a criminal or civil investigation while in office," Leahy said.

Grassley hopes to have the hearings wrapped up by the end of the week but would extend them into the weekend to make sure senators on both sides of the aisle get all their questions answered.

"My question still recurs: What is being hidden and why?" Leahy asked.

Vermont Law School instructor Daniel Richardson says Democrats are making valid arguments about the lack of Judge Brett Kavanaugh's records available for review.

Richardson says the lack of records released about Kavanaugh is unusual. But Richardson says the majority party creates a process that helps confirm nominees they like. He says Grassley is doing that now, but Democrats, including Leahy, have also done that in the past.

"He's definitely manipulating the process to push this through. You could make, probably if you nit-picked, the same allegations against Leahy when he was chairman or Joe Biden when he was chairman. There's a certain amount of discretion that the chair of the Judiciary Committee has," Richardson said. "What's dominated today, the first day, has been just the amount of information that has not been disclosed about Kavanaugh's record, particularly his time at the White House as both staff secretary and general counsel."

Richardson says Democrats don't have the votes to stop Kavanaugh's confirmation but will try to use the confirmation hearings to excite their political base.