Democrats up the ante in Kavanaugh hearings

Democrats, facing their last day to publicly question Trump’s nominee, upped their ante on Thursday, threatening to release confidential White House emails and accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of lying to senators.

The Judiciary Committee hearing went off the rails almost immediately when Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer Congress can make progress on fighting emissions with Zero Food Waste Act MORE (D-N.J.) sparked a political firestorm by announcing that he was going to release “confidential” documents from Kavanaugh’s time as a White House lawyer.

Several Democrats then used a batch of emails publicly released on Thursday to imply that Kavanaugh had lied to the Judiciary Committee. 

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill | House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors | US increases airstrikes to help Afghan forces fight Taliban On The Money: Schumer, Warren call on Biden to extend student loan pause | IMF estimates 6 percent global growth this year Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill MORE (D-Vt.) at one point told Kavanaugh of his testimony, “Judge, I was born at night but not last night.”

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The contentious third day of Kavanaugh's hearings before the Judiciary committee began with Booker announcing early on that he would be “knowingly violating the rules" in order to "release the email about racial profiling, and I understand the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate."

The White House 2020 contender was quickly backed in releasing email by his colleagues, who released or threatened to release additional emails that had been marked "committee confidential."

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoHillicon Valley: Facebook tightens teen protections | FBI cautions against banning ransomware payments | Republicans probe White House-social media collaboration Top FBI official advises Congress against banning ransomware payments Democrats criticize FBI's handling of tip line in Kavanaugh investigation MORE (D-Hawaii) tweeted out two pages that had the “committee confidential” stamp.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) — characterizing Democrats as attending the hearing “under protest” — warned he could release private documents before Kavanaugh’s floor vote later this month.

"I hereby reserve the right to release documents before any confirmation vote, so that my colleagues can see what the truth is,” Blumenthal said.

Republicans suggested the antics were Democratic attempts at grandstanding in an effort to drum up the progressive base that is watching how senators perform in the days-long hearing.

"We were surprised to learn about Senator Booker's histrionics this morning because we had already told him he could use the documents publicly," said Bill Burck, the George W. Bush lawyer who led the review of Kavanaugh's records related to his time as a White House lawyer, in a statement to The Washington Post.

A GOP Judiciary Committee spokesman on Thursday confirmed the emails had already been cleared for release and Booker's office notified before the senator's announcement. Booker released five pages of additional emails later on Thursday that Sen. Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyOvernight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division Four senators call on Becerra to back importation of prescription drugs from Canada MORE’s (R-Iowa) office confirmed had not been cleared for release.

2020 White House politics were a constant vein in the hearings, as Republicans repeatedly implied that Democratic tactics were being driven by opposition to President TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE instead of Kavanaugh’s qualifications.

“Running for Senate is no excuse for violating the rules of the Senate,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynBiden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division Federal officials abroad are unprotected — in a world of increasing volatility MORE (R-Texas), responding to Booker. “That is irresponsible conduct unbecoming of a senator.”

GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamEight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden DACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats MORE (S.C.), without naming which senator he was talking about, quipped: “Some of my colleagues … are trying to make a point. I don’t know what that point is.

Booker subsequently released additional “committee confidential” documents, which spokespeople for Grassley confirmed had not been cleared for public release.

Tensions didn’t calm as senators began their questioning of Kavanaugh, with several Democrats piling on to accuse Kavanaugh of lying in previous testimony.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinNearly 140 Democrats urge EPA to 'promptly' allow California to set its own vehicle pollution standards Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund Stripping opportunity from DC's children MORE (D-Calif.) and Leahy both seized on an email regarding Bill Pryor’s judicial nomination. Pryor is controversial because of his stance against Roe v. Wade. 

“Brett Kavanaugh was asked in 2004 about whether he was involved in the nomination of Bill Pryor. He said ‘I was not involved in handling his nomination,’” Feinstein said in a tweet.

She added that “newly released emails show that's not true. Asked about how Pryor's interview went, he replied 'CALL ME.'"

Kavanaugh previously said in 2004 that he was not involved in the nomination proceedings, but on Thursday, could not rule out that he might have questioned Pryor.

Asked by Leahy if he interviewed Pryor, he said he didn’t “believe so, but it’s possible.”

“I don’t believe so but if I did it would have been part of the general process,” he said. “It’s possible; we interviewed hundreds of nominees.”

Asked later by Grassley, who argued Democrats were trying to misrepresent the email, Kavanaugh added that he was not the “primary person” on Pryor.

Grassley suggested Ben Powell, another associate White House counsel, might have been the primary person, and Kavanaugh said it might have been.

Leahy also seized on a 2002 hack of Democratic files, some of which may have made their way to Kavanaugh. Leahy said the emails released this week indicated Kavanaugh accessed stolen files.

In a tweet Leahy said that Kavanaugh’s claims that he didn’t receive stolen information or didn’t “suspect anything ‘untoward’ is SIMPLY NOT CREDIBLE.”

Leahy’s accusation comes after he had a heated exchange with Kavanaugh where he grilled the nominee about his knowledge of Manny Miranda, who as a GOP aide hacked Democratic files.

“Mr. Miranda sent you several pages of talking points that were stolen verbatim — stolen verbatim — from Democratic files,” Leahy told Kavanaugh on Thursday. “Why would you ever be asked to keep secret Democratic talking points if they were legislatively obtained?”

“I don’t know why that —” Kavanaugh began to say, before Leahy interrupted: “But look how you received it.”

Leahy then grilled Kavanaugh on the email from Miranda, who was then a GOP Senate aide, that mentioned a “confidential letter” that Leahy had sent.

“Did any of this raise a red flag in your mind?” Leahy asked.

But Kavanaugh said it seemed like “standard Senate stuff.”

“It did not, senator, because it all seemed consistent with the usual kinds of discussions that happen,” he added.

Leahy then pivoted to an email Kavanaugh got from Miranda that was entitled “spying” and talks about having a “mole,” adding “that is not overly subtle.”

But Kavanaugh dismissed that, saying staffers had “friends across the aisle who they talk to.”

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinBiden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Senators scramble to save infrastructure deal Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines MORE (D-Ill.) also accused Kavanaugh of lying to the committee during his 2006 confirmation hearings when he told the committee he was not involved in crafting the George W. Bush administration’s interrogation and detention policies.

“We have found at least three specific examples where you were, three,” he said, noting that documents have shown Kavanaugh had discussions about access to counsel for detainees, was involved in the Hamdi and Padilla cases, and was involved with then-President Bush’s signing statement on the John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' Democrats seek to counter GOP attacks on gas prices Biden nominates Jeff Flake as ambassador to Turkey MORE torture amendment.

“Judge Kavanaugh, you say that words matter, you claim to be a texturalist when you interpret other people’s words, but you don’t want to be held accountable for the plain meaning of your own words,” Durbin said.

Kavanaugh said his testimony in 2006 was accurate and the truth.

The nominee remained calm throughout the accusations, as he sidestepped tough questions from Democrats on heated issues like abortion and presidential power. His poised demeanor remained even as angry protesters sporadically interrupted the proceedings with screams from the back of the hearing room.

Feinstein tried to draw out Kavanaugh’s views on Roe v. Wade, quoting directly from an email first leaked to The New York Times and later released by the committee Thursday in which Kavanaugh suggested that the landmark abortion rights case is not settled law.

In the email Kavanaugh said he “was not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so.”

Kavanaugh told Feinstein he was simply expressing his view that the position of legal scholars had been overstated. He said Roe is “important precedent” of the Supreme Court that’s been reaffirmed many times.

“So you believe it’s correctly settled, but it is correct law in your view?” Feinstein pressed.

Kavanaugh said he could not comment on the modern Supreme Court cases.

“When you’re in this seat, I’m not just sitting here for myself, I’m sitting here as a representative of the judiciary and the obligation to preserve the independence of the judiciary,” he said.

While Thursday’s proceeding seemed to frustrate Democrats, despite their aggressive tactics Republicans were left feeling victorious and predicting that Kavanaugh would be confirmed later this month.

Graham asked Kavanaugh at the end of his questioning if he had any recommendations for the Senate on how to improve the confirmation process.

“Is there anything you want to say about this process that would help us make it better because you're going to get confirmed,” he said.

Kavanaugh thanked all the members of the committee for their “time and care.”

“And as I've said, each senator is committed to public service and a public good in my opinion and I appreciate all the time of the senators,” he said, “And I'm on the sunrise side of the mountain and I'm an optimist about the future, senator.” 

-Updated 5:52 p.m.