Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE (D-N.J.) on Thursday released emails from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's time as a White House counsel, escalating a heated fight over his documents.
Booker released approximately 12 pages of emails tied to discussions Kavanaugh had on racial inequality including one email thread titled "racial profiling."
The documents are marked "committee confidential," meaning they were not supposed to be discussed or released publicly.
"I am right now, before your process is finished, I am going to release the email about racial profiling, and I understand the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate," Booker said at the hearing.
Booker acknowledged that he would be "knowingly violating the rules."
But according to a spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee, Booker was not breaking any confidentiality rules.
“Restrictions were waived before 4:00 AM this morning and made ready for release,” the spokesman said in an email.
Tens of thousands of documents have been given to the committee under the label of committee confidential.
Shortly after Booker released the documents, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyFill the Eastern District of Virginia On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Congress makes technology policy moves MORE's (R-Iowa) staff released a bulk of new emails, previously marked "committee confidential," that had been cleared for public release. Booker's emails were included in the document tranche.
But Booker's move immediately sparked a rhetorical firefight between Judiciary Committee members, with both sides accusing the other of bad behavior.
Other Democrats quickly backed up Booker by sharing more documents.
Democrats on the committee argued that the release process wasn't fair. Democrats have taken issue with Bill Burck, Bush's lawyer, being able to sort through the documents. Burck is a former GOP staffer and colleague of Kavanaugh's.
Burck on Thursday afternoon slammed Booker's "histrionics" over the release of the documents.
"We cleared the documents last night shortly after Sen. Booker's staff asked us to," Burck's office said in a statement released first to The Washington Post. "We were surprised to learn about Sen. Booker's histrionics this morning, because we had already told him he could use the documents publicly. In fact, we have said yes to every request made by the Senate Democrats to make documents public."
But Booker questioned Kavanaugh on Wednesday night about his stances on racial inequality, referring to emails from his time as a White House counsel for President George W. Bush. But, Republicans later pointed out, one of the emails he was referring to was labeled as "committee confidential."
In one of the emails, Kavanaugh questioned Department of Transportation (DOT) affirmative action regulations.
"The fundamental problem in this case is that these DOT regulations use a lot of legalisms and disguises to mask what in reality is a naked racial set-aside," Kavanaugh writes in one of the emails from 2001.
He adds that he believes four Republican justices will "realize as much in short order and rule accordingly."
Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Democrats downplay deadlines on Biden's broad spending plan Senate poised to stave off debt crisis MORE (D-Hawaii) followed Booker's lead, tweeting screenshots of documents from Kavanaugh's time in the Bush White House that are stamped "committee confidential."
Hirono's tweet included two pages of an email thread from 2002 about "Treasury testimony on Capital Investment in Indian Country."
"I think the testimony needs to make clear that any program targeting Native Hawaiians as a group is subject to strict scrutiny and of questionable validity under the constitution," Kavanaugh wrote in the email thread.
“I would defy anyone reading this document to conclude this document should be deemed confidential in any way shape or form,” Hirono said prior to releasing the tweets.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) added that there was "no basis for the rules" and said Democrats are "here under protest."
"I hereby reserve the right to release documents before any confirmation vote, so that my colleagues can see what the truth is. Between now and any vote on confirmation there is the right to release documents that she or he believe are appropriate," Blumenthal said.
"I have not made a big fight about this ... but again, lest silence imply consent, I think that rule is as ineffectual as if the chair had unilaterally repealed the law of gravity," Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle Sen. Whitehouse blasts Alito speech: 'You have fouled your nest, not us' Breyer: Supreme Court 'fallible,' but has served US 'pretty well' MORE (D-R.I.) said. "It simply isn't so. I haven't agreed to this rule. I haven't voted on this rule."
The moves rankled Republicans on the committee.
Grassley, growing testy, interrupted Booker's speech announcing he would release the documents to ask: "How many times you going to tell us that?"
The Republican National Committee later mocked Booker for comparing himself to Spartacus in his announcement. And Judiciary Republicans sent out an email titled “The (Not) Rule Breaking Rebels.”
"Running for president is no excuse for violating the rules of the Senate," Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP Is the Biden administration afraid of trade? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit MORE (R-Texas) said to Booker. "I'd encourage our colleagues to avoid the temptation to either violate the Senate rules or to treat the witness unfairly."
Cornyn called the move "irresponsible and outrageous" but later slammed Booker over "all of this drama" once he said he learned the documents had been cleared for public release.
"The irony is after Sen. Booker basically said he was going to release the document anyway, I learned from Sen. [Mike] Lee (R-Utah) that it had already been worked out at that this would be released to the public," Cornyn said on Fox News. "So all of this drama this morning apparently was for nothing and it's unfortunate."
Booker's office said Senate Democrats "were able to shame the committee into agreeing to make last night’s documents publicly available."
“Cory said this morning that he was releasing committee confidential documents, and that’s exactly what he’s done," said Booker's spokesperson Kristin Lynch. "And he’ll keep releasing them because Republicans are hiding Brett Kavanaugh’s record from the American people.”
Booker released five pages of additional emails later on Thursday that Grassley’s office confirmed had not been cleared for release.
—Updated at 4:47 p.m.