Watergate tapes decision may have been wrong, Kavanaugh said in 1999

Among the documents that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of his confirmation hearing is a 1999 magazine article that includes some of his toughts on presidential authority.

For example, according to the article, Kavanaugh suggested in a roundtable discussion with other lawyers that the 1974 high court ruling that forced President Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes, leading to the end of his presidency, may have been wrongly decided.

Kavanaugh's belief in robust executive authority has become a focal point in his nomination by President Donald Trump to succeed retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

"[M]aybe Nixon was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so,” Kavanaugh said. “Nixon took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch by holding that the courts had power and jurisdiction to order the president to disclose information in response to a subpoena sought by a subordinate executive branch official," Kavanaugh said in a transcript of the discussion that was published in the January-February 1999 issue of the Washington Lawyer.

Kavanaugh was among six lawyers who participated in the discussion in the aftermath of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Kavanaugh had been a member of Starr's team.

Philip Lacovara, who argued the Watergate tapes case against Nixon and moderated the discussion, said Kavanaugh has long believed in a strong presidency.

"[I]t was surprising even as of 1999 that the unanimous decision in the Nixon tapes case might have been wrongly decided," Lacovara said.

The 1999 article was among a pile of material released in response to the committee's questionnaire. Kavanaugh provided information about his career as an attorney and jurist, his service in the executive branch, education, society memberships and more.

Kavanaugh has written some 300 rulings as an appeals court judge and has a record in the George W. Bush White House as well as in Starr's probe of Clinton.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee chairman, said the questionnaire was "the broadest and most comprehensive" ever sent by the committee and he welcomed "Judge Kavanaugh's diligent and timely response."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.