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 BookerDemocrats' Obama-to-Sanders shift on charter schooling This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Juan Williams: Black votes matter 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 Kavanaugh70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Justices bar Mexican parents from suing over fatal cross-border shooting of teen Supreme Court upholds death sentence for Arizona man 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 GrassleyMcSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign Ernst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case 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 Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Push for national popular vote movement gets boost from conservatives To avoid November catastrophe, Democrats have to KO Sanders MORE (R-Ky.) and then-Senate GOP Whip John CornynJohn CornynCongress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Hillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates 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 DurbinDemocrats introduce bill to reverse Trump's shift of military money toward wall Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development MORE (D-Ill.) and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Senate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign What the impeachment vote looked like from inside the chamber 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 CoonsDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Graham warned Pentagon chief about consequences of Africa policy: report Democrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump 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.