Senate ethics panel won’t penalize Booker over confidential Kavanaugh documents

Senate ethics panel won’t penalize Booker over confidential Kavanaugh documents
© Stefani Reynolds

The Senate Ethics Committee has announced it will not act on a complaint against Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerWarren introduces universal child care legislation Warren introduces universal child care legislation Booker responds to Trump's mass deportation threat: 'This is not who we are' MORE (D-N.J.), a potential 2020 White House candidate, for releasing “committee confidential” documents during the Senate confirmation hearing for then-Supreme Court nominee Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSupreme Court hands Virginia Democrats a win in gerrymandering case Supreme Court hands Virginia Democrats a win in gerrymandering case Supreme Court rules defendants can be tried on state and federal charges, potentially impacting Manafort MORE.

Deborah Sue Mayer, the chief counsel and staff director of the Senate Ethics Committee, informed Judicial Watch, a right-leaning government watchdog group, that “no further action is appropriate” in response to Booker’s unauthorized release of confidential documents. 

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“The committee carefully evaluated the allegations in the complaint and, based on all the information before it, determined that no further action is appropriate,” she wrote.

The letter, dated Dec. 12, was in response to a Sept. 12 complaint filed by the group. Jill Farrell, a spokeswoman for Judicial Watch, said it took some time over the holidays to process the response and make it public.

Judicial Watch argued that Booker knowingly violated Senate rules when he made public documents related to Kavanaugh’s nomination that had been deemed confidential by the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Booker tweeted on Sept. 7 that he “broke committee rules by reading from ‘committee confidential’ docs” and then posted on Facebook on Sept. 9 that “the classification of many documents as ‘Committee Confidential’ is a sham.”

Booker on Sept. 6 divulged about 12 pages of emails from Kavanaugh’s time as a White House counsel related to an internal discussion on racial inequality and racial profiling.

Republican staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, announced that then-Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project On The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress MORE (R-Iowa) had waived the confidential restriction on the documents early that morning, calling into question whether Booker’s gambit was really all that daring.

A week later, Booker released an additional 28 confidential documents from Kavanaugh’s time with the White House counsel’s office showing his work on a controversial Bush-era judicial nominee, Charles Pickering.

The documents raised questions about whether Kavanaugh was honest when he testified before the Senate during his 2006 appellate court confirmation hearing that he was not primarily involved in pushing Pickering’s nomination. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators reach .5B deal on Trump's emergency border request Senators reach .5B deal on Trump's emergency border request MORE (R-Ky.) and then-Senate GOP Whip John CornynJohn CornynWillie Nelson on supporting O'Rourke: 'Anything he wants to do, I'm with Beto' Willie Nelson on supporting O'Rourke: 'Anything he wants to do, I'm with Beto' Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner MORE (Texas) both said at the time that Booker’s conduct warranted an Ethics panel review. 

Booker’s defiance of committee rules was one of the most tension-filled moments of Kavanaugh’s first appearance before the Judiciary panel and presaged the partisan battle that would unfold weeks later after Christine Blasey Ford publicly testified before the committee and accused the nominee of sexually assaulting her in high school.

Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary panel, warned that Booker could face “consequences” for violating what he called “clear rules about the discussion of confidential material.” 

Other Democrats on the panel quickly rallied to Booker’s defense at the time. Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions MORE (D-Ill.) and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoFemale senators hatch plan to 'shame' Senate into voting faster Female senators hatch plan to 'shame' Senate into voting faster Trump defense pick expected to face tense confirmation MORE (D-Hawaii) said they would also accept any punishments handed out to Booker.

“Let’s jump into this pit together,” Durbin said. 

The moment of Democratic solidarity touched Booker.

“This is about the closest I’ll probably ever have in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment,” he said, making reference to a famous scene in the 1960 movie starring Kirk Douglas in which revolting slaves try to protect their leader Spartacus by claiming to be him. 

The Democratic vice chairman of the Ethics Committee, Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion MORE (Del.), is also a member of the Judiciary panel. 

Spokesmen for Booker and for the Judiciary Committee Republicans did not immediately respond to a request for comment.