National Archives rebuffs Dems request for Kavanaugh documents

Anna Moneymaker

The Democratic push to get documents from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s work in the George W. Bush administration ran into a new roadblock on Friday. 

The National Archives, in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), said it will only respond to a request for documents under the Presidential Records Act (PRA) if they come from a committee chairman, who are all Republicans. 

The National Archives and Records “remains unable to respond to PRA special access requests from ranking minority members,” wrote Archivist David Ferriero, who was appointed by former President Obama.


Schumer and Ferriero spoke on the phone earlier this week about how the National Archives handles documents request from committee Democrats, who are in the minority in the Senate.

“In our conversation, you noted that the minority staff of the Judiciary Committee believe that the special access section of the PRA could be interpreted to include requests from the ranking minority member. You then asked if I would seek a new interpretation of this provision,” Ferriero noted in his letter to Schumer.  

But Ferriero added that after consultations between the National Archives general counsel and the Justice Department they determined that a documents request “must be from the chair (or the committee itself), unless specifically delegated by the committee to the ranking minority member.” 

A spokesman for Schumer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

The rebuff from the National Archives comes as the fight over work from Kavanaugh’s time in the George W. Bush White House has emerged as a lightning rod in the Supreme Court fight.

Democrats want the National Archives to release documents and emails from Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary, arguing it would shed light on his thinking about issues such as torture and surveillance. 

But Republicans have refused to include the three-year period in their own requests to the National Archives. Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter late last week on behalf of the panel only requesting documents from Kavanaugh’s time as a White House counsel.

The move incensed Democrats, who have accused Republicans of trying to hide damaging information about Kavanaugh. 

Judiciary Committee Democrats, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), requested all paperwork from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House, including any emails sent and received by Kavanaugh.

But the National Archives previously warned Feinstein that a committee’s power to request documents under the Presidential Records Act rests with the panels’ chairmen. 

Feinstein fired back, saying the agency has to respond to Democrats as well.

“Your unduly restrictive reading of the law results in one political party having complete control over what records the Senate will be able to see,” she wrote, adding that “a biased denial of document requests to one half of the Committee is unsupported by the law.”

The Archives’s stance makes it unlikely that documents from Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary will be handed over to lawmakers unless Republicans agree to request them, something they have been unwilling to do so far.

Tags Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley Dianne Feinstein Kavanaugh confirmation National Archives Senate Judiciary Committee Trump Supreme Court nominee

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