Shadow of Perjury, Secret Documents Hang Over Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh

Interview with Drew Courtney, vice president for communications and research, with People for the American Way, conducted by Scott Harris

The arrest of over 200 protesters during the course of last week’s Senate confirmation hearings was a strong indicator of the controversy surrounding conservative Federal Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, public opinion polls have found that Kavanaugh is the most unpopular Supreme Court nominee since Robert Bork, whom the Senate blocked from taking a seat on the high court in 1987.
While Judge Kavanaugh’s right-wing positions on reproductive rights, environmental regulation, money in politics, civil rights, executive power and health care were flashpoints in the Senate hearings, the allegation of perjury emerged as a central concern of many Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee who questioned Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh’s honesty was called into question regarding his earlier testimony before the Senate,  statements denying involvement in the judicial nomination of William Pryor – and another discrepancy where he claimed that he’d never seen Democratic Senate files stolen by a Republican operative. In both cases, documents produced indicated Kavanaugh may have lied under oath, causing some critics to call for his impeachment. 
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Drew Courtney, vice President for Communications and Research with People for the American Way. Here he examines Kavanaugh’s known judicial record and conduct which caused a broad coalition of progressive groups nationwide to oppose his nomination – and the credibility of the confirmation hearings overall due to the Trump administration’s withholding of some 100,000 documents related to the years Kavanaugh served as President George W. Bush’s staff secretary.

DREW COURTNEY: I think what we saw coming into the hearing literally from the first moments of the hearings was the Democrats came ready to fight in a way that we’ve never seen before. You know, I’ve worked on every Supreme Court nomination since (Justice Samuel) Alito and remember more beyond that. And there has never been anything like this. Literally, we were only a few seconds into the hearing before Sen. Kamala Harris objected and tried to make a motion to delay the hearing because of the document issue. Basically, every member of the committee on the Democratic side echoed that. This was all pushed down and stopped by (Senate Judicial Committee Chairman Sen.) Chuck Grassley. Although it didn’t stop more than 100 people from being arrested inside the hearing room over the course of the week attempting to try to stop the hearing.

And then we heard frankly very little of substance from Brett Kavanaugh on all the issues that we had real concerns about, specifically the promise that Trump had made, that he would automatically overturn Roe v Wade; his very similar language that he would only choose a Supreme Court nominee who would dismantle the Affordable Care Act and the very disturbing comments he’s made around presidential power. All of those things he refused to address. He really refused to touch down on any significant issue to kind of assuage any concerns or made clear that he has a view of the Constitution that people can trust.

But the thing that we did get is that we learned more about his testimony in 2003 and 2005. And frankly, he made some statements now around an array of issues. But I would focus in on two: I’d say the nomination of William Pryor, which he had denied working on in his testimony in 2005. And also his relationship to a set of stolen documents that in 2003 were illegally stolen from Democrats on the committee by a senior Republican staffer. In 2005 and 2003, Brett Kavanaugh had said he was totally unaware of this. He knew nothing about it. He was not included in this at all.

But now that we see some of the emails from the period, there’s some extraordinarily disturbing emails, emails in which Manny Miranda, the person who oversaw this and was fired eventually for the hack, said, “I’m getting this from a mole on the other side.” Documents that were stamped confidential documents where he said, “I need to meet you in person so I can only give you a paper version.” Literally, in the subject line, he’d say “spying,” but somehow none of this raised any concerns.

So that really raised another issue for us in addition to the ones I already mentioned. And that’s the fundamental dishonesty of Brett Kavanaugh. Now, I’m not a lawyer, I should say. And I know that there are very specific guidelines around what constitutes perjury before the United States Senate. But frankly, we don’t need to decide that question about whether or not he formally engaged in perjury before the Senate to know that he deliberately misled the committee in a way that should make him unfit for a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court. And so that’s really what a lot of the fight is about now, not just the impact of what would happen if you were to be put on the Supreme Court, but a real discussion about whether or not he has the integrity to be on that body.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Drew, your organization, People for the American Way, and a coalition of other like-minded groups across the country are involved in the Stop Kavanaugh Confirmation campaign and the focus is, I think it’s safe to say five key senators. You’ve got (Sen.) Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; (Sen.) Susan Collins, R-Maine and three Democrats who previously voted for Neil Gorsuch, the Republican nominee put forward by Trump some months ago – that was Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Tell us a little bit about the campaign right now to pressure, convince, cajole in any way possible these senators to oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh when it comes to a vote of confirmation in the U.S. Senate, which is some weeks off.

DREW COURTNEY: Sure. So we’re getting close to that and what we’ve known all along is that we’re going to win or lose this fight, not inside the beltway, but on the ground in those states. And so what we’ve been doing to the that we possibly can is to reach out to folks and make sure that they understand exactly what’s at stake in this fight. So that’s not just the issue of Roe v Wade. It’s not just the issue of LGBT equality. It’s also the Affordable Care Act and protection for people with pre-existing conditions. It’s the right for people to be able to stand up for themselves on the job.

And you know, we saw a preview of this fight last year when Republicans tried to come after the Affordable Care Act. And it’s been amazing to see so many of the same people who really stood up and said, “I do not want you to take away my healthcare. I do not want to go into that back to that system” stand up once again to say, “I do not want to support a nominee who is chosen specifically to undermine these protections that that a lot of people are really counting on.” And that’s true in every single one of those states. So we have folks on the ground in several of those states organizing and then of course as a coalition, we have folks organizing in every one of those states.

No matter what issue you care about, you are profoundly touched by the decisions of the Supreme Court.
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