By Gregg Re, ,
Published August 21, 2018
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer suggested Tuesday that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had misled him during their hour-and-a-half one-on-one meeting at the Capitol, and claimed that Kavanaugh had failed to offer assurances that abortion rights would not be overturned if he is confirmed.
Schumer's broadsides were a preview of lines of attack Democratic senators are expected to use during Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing in September.
"The judge either wouldn't answer, or couldn't remember key moments of his tenure. He acknowledged being part of the White House's response to the Enron case, but couldn't provide any details about what he did. ... His lack of recollection on almost everything didn’t ring true," Schumer, D-N.Y., said, referring to Kavanaugh's five years as a lawyer in the Bush administration. "This is a bright man."
Asked later by a reporter if he was accusing Kavanaugh of lying, Schumer said flatly, "I'll leave it at what I said."
The top Senate Democrat went on to criticize Kavanaugh's answers to his questions on abortion rights, a key issue for moderate Republican senators who could be pivotal in securing or denying Kavanaugh's confirmation.
"I understand that the judge told other members today that he considered Roe v. Wade settled law," Schumer said. "He did not say that to me."
The landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling struck down anti-abortion laws across the country by finding that an implicit constitutional right to privacy protected a women's rights to an abortion to varying degrees depending on trimester.
Schumer continued: "I asked Judge Kavanaugh the appropriate question: I asked him if he agreed that Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood were correctly decided. He would not say yes. That should send shivers down the spine of any American who believes in reproductive freedom. ... He would not give me any reassurance that he believed Roe or Casey were correctly decided or should be left alone." The Casey decision further clarified the right to an abortion.
"Judge Kavanaugh has a special obligation to make his views on this topic clear," Schumer said, dismissing what he said were Kavanaugh's comments during their meeting that all justices would say Roe was settled law. "No other president has nominated someone to the Supreme Court after saying, 'I will only nominate someone who overturns Roe v. Wade.'"
Trump, who said during the 2016 presidential campaign that Roe would be overturned "automatically" if he could nominate several justices, has since said that his advisers told him not to ask Supreme Court nominees whether they would overturn Roe.
Earlier Tuesday, Kavanaugh told Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Maine Republican, that Roe v. Wade was settled law. Schumer had played down that comment, saying more needed to be known about his views on abortion.
Schumer told reporters, "Of course we know Roe is settled law. We need to know if Judge Kavanaugh believes it was correctly decided."
Schumer also took issue with Kavanaugh's previous writings on presidential power, saying, "It’s very frightening the president wouldn’t have to comply with a subpoena." Trump's legal team has argued repeatedly that a hypothetical subpoena for documents or testimony from Special Counsel Robert Mueller would be legally unjustifiable.
Also on Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she remained noncommittal after meeting with Kavanaugh. McCaskill is one of 10 Democratic senators up for re-election this year in states that President Trump won in 2016. Trump won Missouri by nearly 19 percentage points and McCaskill is under intense pressure from outside groups seeking to sway her vote.
McCaskill said she talked to Kavanaugh Tuesday about his views on ensuring Missouri residents retained access to health care. She says they also talked about his view on "removing dark money from politics, and guaranteeing powerful corporate interests don't prevail over individual Americans."
Kavanaugh is meeting with lawmakers ahead of confirmation hearings, which are set to begin after Labor Day.
Meanwhile, Democrats searching through his files for lines of attacks are digging into his years with the Bush White House, where Kavanaugh worked as a lawyer. Kavanaugh served under Bush from 2001 to 2006. Democrats have said certain documents could reveal his views on high-profile issues including abortion rights and the torture of terror suspects.
"His lack of recollection on almost everything didn’t ring true. This is a bright man."
The nominee's years working for independent counsel Ken Starr also are under the microscope. Media reports have focused recently on a 20-year-old memo in which Kavanaugh reportedly opposed giving then-President Bill Clinton a “break” in the Monica Lewinsky investigation.
Democrats have expressed frustration with how they were receiving documents they requested from Kavanaugh's lengthy tenure in Washington. Specifically, they have complained that most of the released documents have come from Bush's lawyer, Bill Burck, who is vetting them, rather than the traditional process conducted by the National Archives. They said Burck could well be withholding potentially embarrassing items.
Schumer and other top Democrats last week threatened to sue the National Archives if more documents are not handed over pursuant to their Freedom of Information Act request.
Republicans have allowed the release of well over 100,000 pages of Kavanaugh's papers, including papers from his time as a White House counsel to Bush, his later work as an appellate judge and his earlier time as aide to Starr, who investigated Clinton.
More are on track to be released. Democrats want the release of all Kavanaugh documents, including from his three years as White House staff secretary, which Republicans have refused to request from the National Archives. The Archives says those alone could total several million pages.
Schumer on Tuesday also commented briefly on the whirlwind news of the day, including the guilty plea of ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to campaign finance law violations and the guilty verdicts on eight counts in the bank and tax fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
"I understand the president is going to a rally," Schumer said, referring to Trump's planned West Virginia rally in the evening. "He had better not talk about pardons for Cohen or Manafort tonight -- or any time in the future."
Schumer did not take additional questions from reporters on the Cohen or Manafort situations, saying he did not yet have the opportunity to review all the details.
Fox News' Brian Flood and The Associated Press ontributed to this report.