Dems seize on Kavanaugh emails to question role in terrorism response

Greg Nash

Democrats are seizing on a new tranche of documents related to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to revive their questions about what role, if any, he played in the George W. Bush administration’s handling of suspected terrorists.

Democrats have homed in on a November 2001 email sent to Kavanaugh that asked for his help prepping then-Attorney General John Ashcroft for a Judiciary Committee hearing on the Justice Department’s post-9/11 actions.

“High on the list of topics to be explored are military tribunals, monitoring of atty/client conversations, racial profiling, etc. We would very much like the participation of WH Counsel in the prepartion [sic] of the AG — especially on military tribunals,” a Justice Department official wrote in an email to Kavanaugh.


Kavanaugh forwarded the email to a White House counsel colleague saying that he was “happy to help out with this on the attorney-client issue, but you should obviously handle tribunals.”

The documents don’t indicate if Kavanaugh ended up helping prepare Ashcroft for the hearing.

But Democrats have seized on the emails to renew their questions about if Kavanaugh misled the Judiciary Committee in a 2006 hearing.

At the time, he brushed off questions about the Bush administration’s handling of suspected terrorists, telling lawmakers that he was “not involved in the questions about the rules governing detention of combatants.”

“I have no confidence the partisan GOP document production being led by Judge Kavanaugh’s former deputy will provide full accounting of Kavanaugh’s White House record. But even the cherry-picked docs we’ve seen include evidence that contradicts his sworn testimony from 12 yrs ago,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a tweet on Thursday night.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, added on Thursday night that “Kavanaugh’s records from his time as White House staff secretary would show whether or not he was honest to Congress during his 2006 nomination hearing.” 

Republicans quickly dismissed the email on Thursday, noting the discussion of “atty/client conversations” was related to Justice Department’s monitoring of the conversations between attorneys and some prison inmates to prevent them from facilitating terrorism. 

The Bush Justice Department came under fire for the practice about the same time as the November 2001 email to Kavanaugh.

“The cited email’s reference to ‘atty/client’ seems to have nothing to do with enemy combatants and instead to relate to monitoring of federal inmates who are suspected of using talks with lawyers to facilitate terrorism,” Ed Whelan, the president of Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote in a tweet.

The White House also pushed back on the suggestion by Democrats that Kavanaugh lied under oath.

“At no point did Sen. Durbin ask the judge about other legal issues pertaining to the war on terrorism, such as detainees’ legal rights,” said White House spokesman Raj Shah.

But Democrats will likely use the email to press Kavanaugh on the issue during his confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court post, which is expected to take place in September.

In another email, from October 2001, Kavanaugh asked a colleague to review talking points he had put together for an “anti-terrorism law.”

“The law represents a measured, careful, responsible, and constitutional approach to the threat of terrorist activities conducted in the United States and directed against United States citizens,” the talking points read.

The documents were part of more than 5,700 pages related to Kavanaugh’s work as a White House lawyer that were publicly released by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday

Tags Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin

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