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 BookerHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Booker calls for sweeping voting rights reforms 20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall 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 KavanaughOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job GOP strategist: Alabama Republicans need to 'gather around' candidate who 'is not Roy Moore' Warren praises Ocasio-Cortez in Time 100 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 GrassleyTen post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators On The Money: Conservatives rally behind Moore for Fed | White House interviewing other candidates | Trump, Dems spar on Tax Day | Budget watchdogs bemoan 'debt denialism' GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents 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 McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems prep for Mueller report's release McConnell touts Trump support, Supreme Court fights in reelection video Why Ken Cuccinelli should be Trump's choice for DHS MORE (R-Ky.) and then-Senate GOP Whip John CornynJohn Cornyn Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Trump struggles to reshape Fed Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks 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 DurbinCongress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal Overnight Defense: Transgender troops rally as ban nears | Trump may call more troops to border | National Guard expects 3M training shortfall from border deployment | Pentagon to find housing for 5,000 migrant children MORE (D-Ill.) and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Overnight Energy: Collins receives more donations from Texas oil, gas industry than from Maine residents | Interior chief left meetings off schedule | Omar controversy jeopardizes Ocasio-Cortez trip to coal mine 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 CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain 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.