The paper chase is on.
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s opponents are digging through documents at President George W. Bush’s library in Texas and other repositories around the country looking for anything that could help derail his nomination.
The trail of documents is extensive, as Kavanaugh spent five years in the Bush White House and 12 years as a federal judge. Kavanaugh supporters say they’d be shocked if anybody found anything that would taint a man they say has unquestioned integrity.
During his past 12 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Kavanaugh has written roughly 300 opinions and law review articles and has given speeches across the country.
Before that, he spent two years in the White House counsel’s office and three years as staff secretary, where he had eyeballs on nearly everything Bush saw, signed and said. Tens of thousands of pages of documents crossed Kavanaugh’s desk, and if lawmakers demand to see the bulk of them, the Senate confirmation process could be a drawn-out affair.
The archival staff at the Bush library in Dallas is working to provide access to open records related to Kavanaugh’s White House years. The National Archives said the documents are being compiled on one webpage, as was done for the records of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Trump’s first pick for the high court.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which will vote on the nomination, has been in preliminary discussions with various places that maintain records from Kavanaugh’s public service.
The panel has also asked Kavanaugh to provide information about his work for Bush and for independent counsel Kenneth Star’s team, where Kavanaugh co-wrote the report that served as the basis for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
In questionnaires sent out last Friday, the committee also asked about his work on the Bush campaign effort to halt the recount of votes in Florida in the disputed 2000 election.
After Trump nominated Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the executive branch released all internal White House correspondence that was related to him. But Kavanaugh was so involved in the inner workings of the Bush White House, some of his correspondence might still be classified under provisions of the Presidential Records Act.
The paper chase began just hours after Trump announced his pick.
The next morning, American Bridge 21st Century, a political action committee that’s funded by Democrats and does opposition research, had someone at the Bush library waiting for it to open. The group has also filed dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests and has dispatched dozens of people around the country to peruse Kavanaugh-related material.
Besides the Bush library, the group has people scouring files at sites in the nation’s capital, Yale University where Kavanaugh earned his law degree, the National Archives and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“We are searching through all of the publicly available information we can get our hands on because we hope to properly highlight the dangers of having Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court,” said Harrell Kirstein, communications director for the group.
Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who worked and traveled with Kavanaugh during the Bush presidency, said he’s not surprised liberal operatives are looking for derogatory information on Kavanaugh. But he said he would be surprised if anyone found something on Kavanaugh, who he said has “unquestioned integrity.”
“The other side is saying he’s extreme,” McClellan said. “Personally, that’s not the way he comes across. He comes across as someone who’s pragmatic, someone who is open-minded — not some rigid ideologue.”
If confirmed, Kavanaugh would replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was often the swing vote in politically charged cases on gay rights, abortion and affirmative action. Democrats fear that Kavanaugh would swing less and vote more often with conservative justices on the court. That could tip the balance of the court to the right for years to come.
Democrats have specifically expressed concern over Kavanaugh’s past writing that suggests investigations of sitting presidents are a distraction to executive branch leadership. That worry comes amid the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Russian ties to the Trump campaign.
Andy Card, former chief of staff in the Bush White House who recommended Kavanaugh for the staff secretary job, said documents unearthed from his West Wing days will likely reveal little about the nominee’s opinions on any issue.
Kavanaugh’s role was not to present his own views on issues facing the president, but to make sure that the information the president used to make decisions was objective and accurate.
“He was not supposed to put his thumb on the scale of presidential decisions,” Card said. “He was supposed to make sure that the scale was balanced.”
“I think you’re going to find that he’s a remarkably judicious person — that he’s very deliberate, very careful,” Card continued. “He’s a wonderful listener. I don’t think he walks in with a bias. I think he truly tries to educate himself on the information that’s being presented. And that’s what his job was for the president.”
Before he was staff secretary, Kavanaugh worked in the White House counsel’s office under Alberto Gonzales, who served under Bush as White House counsel and attorney general.
“I had some hard-chargers in my office,” Gonzales said. “I would say that there were several other members of my office who were more ideological than Brett Kavanaugh.
“He was conservative, no question about it. But I had some others on the team who, for them, ideology was much more important. So, this notion that he’s going to be captive to those on the right, to me, just doesn’t ring true.”