Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation isn’t going as smoothly as Republicans had hoped. Though they still have the ability to confirm President Trump’s latest pick for the high court without help from Democrats, the proceedings have been marred by protests, and Kavanaugh hasn’t been able to provide much ballast for his qualifications other than that he is “pro-law.” He didn’t help his case on Wednesday. As the hearing entered its 12th hour, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who on Tuesday attempted to delay the hearing, asked Kavanaugh if he discussed Special Counsel Robert Mueller or his Russia investigation with anyone from Kasowitz Benson Torres, the law firm founded by Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz. Kavanaugh was at a loss for words.
“Be sure about your answer,” Harris warned after an initial pause from Kavanaugh. The nominee continued to stammer and furrow his brow as he tried to work his way out of responding directly. At one point, he sounded out the word “Kasowitz” as if he was puzzled by it. “I’m asking you a very direct question,” Harris said. “Yes or no?”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) eventually sprang to Kavanaugh’s rescue by raising an objection to claim there was no way Kavanaugh could know if he spoke to someone at the firm, as “this town is full of law firms and law firms are full of people.” Then all hell broke loose. A protester began yelling, “You have a responsibility to all Americans! Vote no! Be a hero!” Lee continued before a group of protesters disrupted him, one repeatedly shouting, “Answer the question! Answer the question!” Harris was eventually allowed to continue her line of inquiry, but to no avail. Kavanaugh didn’t have an answer.
— CSPAN (@cspan) September 6, 2018
Kasowitz Benson Torres has long been President Trump’s personal law firm. Marc Kasowitz, the firm’s founder, represented Trump last year in regard to the Mueller investigation. Many have suggested that one of the reasons Trump nominated Kavanaugh is because of views on executive privilege, which are quite liberal. In 2009, Kavanaugh wrote in a law review paper that “we should not burden a sitting president with civil suits, criminal investigations or criminal prosecutions.” This is just a tad bit relevant to the current president, who last month was implicated as a co-conspirator in a felony, and whose campaign’s ties to Russia have long been under investigation by Mueller. The special counsel has for months been trying to secure testimony from Trump, but the president’s legal team has stonewalled requests, presumably worried their client would perjure himself, if not outright admitting to a crime beyond his understanding like obstruction of justice. Mueller has already threatened to subpoena the president, and if he attempts to do so, it would likely result in a lengthy legal battle that could ultimately reach the Supreme Court. If Kavanaugh were to have discussed the investigation with Kasowitz Benson Torres, it would suggest an inappropriately familiar relationship between the nominee and the president, and thus quite a large conflict of interest for someone potentially ruling on whether the president is subject to the law.
After the exchange, multiple outlets reported that Harris may have had good reason to ask this particular question. “We have reason to believe that a conversation happened and are continuing to pursue it,” said a Democratic aide.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who joined Harris on Tuesday in calling for the hearing to be delayed, also appears to have some non-public information that could be damaging to Kavanaugh’s chances. On Thursday morning, he announced that he plans to release it, even if it means losing his Senate seat.
Breaking: Cory Booker says he is going to "knowingly violate" the Senate rules and release one of emails that's being concealed by Republicans from Brett Kavanaugh's White House service. He says it's "civil disobedience."
— James Hohmann (@jameshohmann) September 6, 2018
Booker announces that he is releasing an email from Kavanaugh kept confidential on racial profiling "understanding the penalty comes with ouster of the Senate"
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) September 6, 2018
Senate Republicans have not been pleased by the dissent from Democrats. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said he was “disappointed” with the conduct of several unnamed colleagues — likely a reference to Harris and Booker — and that it was “inappropriate” for the senators to “cross-examine” Kavanaugh about what were described as confidential documents. “I think our colleagues understand that but nevertheless decided to go ahead anyway,” said Cornyn. “So I just think it’s important that we remind one and other that there are clear rules about the discussion of confidential material and that there can be consequences to the violations of those rules. I thought we were doing pretty well yesterday but things went off the rails it looks like last night.”
When Cornyn on Thursday warned Booker that he could be expelled from the Senate for releasing confidential documents, Booker didn’t seem phased.
“Bring it,” he said.
Andy Kroll contributed to this story.