Kavanaugh avoids Dem traps as chaotic hearing winds down, confirmation vote looms

Judge Brett Kavanaugh on Friday moved a step closer to being seated on the Supreme Court, as four days of chaotic and tumultuous hearings wrapped with Kavanaugh largely having swatted away Democratic attempts to derail his nomination.

Democrats spent the week trying to catch Kavanaugh in a lie and employ old emails to cast him as a radical conservative. But Republicans say they believe Democrats failed to land a fatal blow.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he had no doubts “whatsoever” that Kavanaugh would ultimately be confirmed.

“I think any doubts anybody might have had been dispelled by his virtuoso performance before the Judiciary Committee,” McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt. "I mean, it’s stunning. He’s just a stellar nomination in every respect.”

After grilling Kavanaugh for two days, senators on Friday heard from outside witnesses both supporting and opposing the nominee, marking the end of the hearing process. Among those invited by the Democrats on the committee was John Dean, the former Nixon White House counsel who turned against the administration during Watergate.

Dean, a Trump critic, predicted that with Kavanaugh on the high court, it will become "a weak check, at best, on presidential power." He called the scenario "deeply troubling," adding that there is "much to fear from an unchecked president who is inclined to abuse his powers."

Meanwhile, members of an American Bar Association committee gave Kavanaugh their highest rating of "well qualified" based on his integrity, competence and judicial temperament.

John Tarpley, the lead evaluator in the review, told the committee Friday it was clear based on interviews with peers that Kavanaugh learned integrity at an early age. He said Kavanaugh received high praise for his knowledge of the law and for his judicial temperament, with reviewers saying he was affable and kept an open mind.

The Judiciary Committee, in the coming days and weeks, is expected to vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation before the nomination heads to the full Senate for a final vote.

“We look forward to the Judiciary Committee completing its review and advancing his nomination,” said White House Spokesman Raj Shah.

Democrats were always going to have a tough time defeating Kavanaugh. But with Republicans enjoying only a 51-49 majority, a couple defections would be enough to stall his confirmation. But Republicans have held together and accused Democrats -- under pressure from their base, and some flirting with a presidential bid -- of turning the hearings into a "circus."

“This hearing -- really quite frankly -- was sad and became a joke,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Friday on “Fox & Friends.”

“Those hearings were a circus,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said on “Fox News @ Night.” “There was so much nonsense, consistent dishonesty, in the way people would ask their questions.”

Among the most bizarre turn of events at Kavanaugh’s hearing was when Democratic Sen. Cory Booker on Thursday vowed to publicly release past emails of Kavanaugh’s that were marked confidential in an act of “civil disobedience.”


Booker, a possible 2020 presidential candidate, said he was prepared to face punishment for doing so. He said he was doing so draw attention to Republicans’ “sham process.”

“This is about the closest I'll probably ever have in my life to an, ‘I am Spartacus’ moment,” Booker said Thursday.

But Booker didn’t actually break the rules with that release. The Republicans on the Judiciary Committee said they worked with the George W. Bush library and the Justice Department overnight to clear the emails. The restrictions were waived early Thursday morning.

“All of this drama this morning apparently was for nothing and it’s unfortunate,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters Thursday.

Still, Booker, insisting he was violating Senate rules, continued to post more emails via Twitter afternoon that he said were designated "confidential."

“Senate Republicans are doing everything they can to distract from their sham process to rush through a Supreme Court justice who will overturn Roe v. Wade, demolish the Affordable Care Act, and protect President Trump from being investigated,” Booker said.

One email release that caused a stir pertained to the Roe v. Wade decision ensuring the right to an abortion -- and showed Kavanaugh discussing whether the issue was settled law.

“I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so,” Kavanaugh said in a 2003 email.

Democrats used the email to suggest he could vote to overturn abortion rights. But when asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D.-Calif., the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to clarify his thoughts, Kavanaugh said he was referring in the email to “what legal scholars” might say.

“I think my comment in the email was that might be overstating the position of legal scholars and so it wasn’t a technically accurate description in the letter of what legal scholars thought,” Kavanaugh said, adding, “The broader point was simply that I think it was overstating something about legal scholars, and I’m always concerned with accuracy, and I thought that was not quite [an] accurate description of all legal scholars because it referred to all.”

In an another combative moment, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., another possible Democratic presidential candidate, on Wednesday asked Kavanaugh whether he ever had discussed Special Counsel Robert Mueller or his Russia probe with anyone at Kasowitz Benson Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, a former personal attorney to President Trump.

“I don’t recall any conversations of that kind with anyone at that law firm… I haven’t had any inappropriate conversations about that investigation with anyone,” Kavanaugh said Thursday, when given the chance to elaborate on Harris' question from a day earlier.

He added, “I’ve never given anyone any hints, forecasts, previews, winks, nothing about my view as a judge or how I would rule as a judge on that or anything related to that.”

Graham, the South Carolina Republican, said that line of questioning from Harris “bothered me the most.”

“That line of questioning I think is inappropriate,” he said. “If you don't like him vote no. But don't suggest this man is anything other than honest.”

For the most part, the hearings have focused on Kavanaugh’s writings and, in particular, key opinions he authored while serving on the nation’s most prestigious appellate court.

Kavanaugh served for more than a decade on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and, before that, for five years as a lawyer in the White House Counsel’s office in the George W. Bush administration. He also worked for independent counsel Ken Starr for three years during the probe that led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.

Kavanaugh’s elevation from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court would mark a generational rightward shift on the Supreme Court, raising the stakes beyond those of last year’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch.

Party leaders have said they hope to have Kavanaugh confirmed by a floor vote by early October, when the next Supreme Court term begins.

Fox News’ Gregg Re and Bill Mears and The Associated Press contributed to this report.