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 BookerIowa GOP swipes at 2020 Democrats' meat positions as candidates attend annual Steak Fry Booker aide sounds alarm about campaign's funding 2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum 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 KavanaughTrump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' Trump decries whistleblower story as 'another media disaster' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's new controversy 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Trump: 'Great to see' Pelosi plan to lower drug prices Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices 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 McConnellDC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Overnight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts MORE (R-Ky.) and then-Senate GOP Whip John CornynJohn CornynDC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit 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 Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Bipartisan group of senators urges FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately MORE (D-Ill.) and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senators introduce bill to block Trump 'public charge' rule Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Lawmakers urge DNC to name Asian American debate moderator 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 CoonsSenate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity Bill to return B in unredeemed bonds advances 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.