A long-forgotten set of memos from Senate Democrats details how they sought to delay a Republican president’s judicial picks in order to skew the outcome of a key affirmative action case at the behest of the NAACP.
Yet now those memos are back in the news for a very different reason.
They were taken by a GOP Senate staffer from a computer in less-than-above-board fashion, and shared with the White House including a lawyer named Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Fifteen years later Judge Kavanaugh is in line for a seat on the Supreme Court, and Democrats say his handling of what they call “stolen” property should disqualify him from reaching the high court.
The claims are the latest attempt to derail Judge Kavanaugh, and come after accusations that he was complicit in sexual harassment, that he’s a Trump plant to derail the special counsel’s Russia probe, and other attacks have all fallen short.
Some liberal activists go even further and say not only should he be blocked from confirmation, but he should be impeached and removed from his current seat as a judge on the circuit court in Washington, D.C.
So far the accusations haven’t appeared to resonate beyond people who were already opposed to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, but Democrats are rallying around the narrative.
“Kavanaugh used stolen documents and lied about it for personal gain,” tweeted Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, adding that made the nominee “unworthy” of a seat on the Supreme Court.
At issue are thousands of memos a GOP staffer was able to access on the Democratic side of a computer server shared by Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee early in the previous decade. The staffer shared the memos, which detailed Democrats’ strategy, with Manuel Miranda, who was the point man for judicial nominations for the GOP’s leadership.
Emails made public at last week’s confirmation hearing show the contents of some of those memos were shared with Judge Kavanaugh, who was told they were “intel” on Democrats, or was told the information was “highly confidential.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who was among the senators whose office memos were taken, told Judge Kavanaugh he considered the matter “a digital Watergate.”
The judge said he never knew the sources of the information but it sounded like the sorts of things staffers shared among themselves all the time. He said it never raised any red flags with him.
“It all seemed consistent with the usual kinds of discussions that happen,” he said. “That just seems standard Senate staff.”
For his part Mr. Miranda says Democrats have got the facts of the story wrong, and are unfairly tarnishing Judge Kavanaugh.
He said in a statement last week that the documents were on the shared server “without protections.”
“Nothing was stolen or hacked. Republican senators should not continue to surrender their words to those with malign intent,” he said.
He admitted he and another GOP staffer “exploited” the access to learn Democrats’ plans including what he described as “unethical conduct” in trying to subvert the nomination process.
“Among other things, the staff of Sen. Leahy met regularly with outside groups in meetings and allowed them to vote as to which nominee would get a hearing and who would not,” Mr. Miranda said.
He said Judge Kavanaugh was one of several White House lawyers who worked with the GOP staffers to confirm President George W. Bush’s judicial picks, and he said Judge Kavanaugh was “intently ethical in all my experience with him.”
“Contrary to the malign intent of Senators Leahy and Durbin at Senate Judiciary hearings, I can confirm that Brett Kavanaugh knew nothing of the source of any information that we obtained. Nor did I ever meet with him privately nor publicly to discuss it,” Mr. Miranda said.
Among the documents surreptitiously obtained by the GOP was a 2002 memo from an aide to then-Sen. Edward M. Kennedy detailing requests by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to delay action on a Bush pick, Julia Smith Gibbons.
She was considered uncontroversial and had been nominated to sit on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, just as key affirmative action cases from the University of Michigan were pending in that court.
The NAACP thought and Democratic staffers agreed that if they could delay another Bush appointee reaching the court, it could help them win the case.
But at the time, the way the documents were obtained drew more attention than the conduct the memos revealed.
That was also the case over the last week.
The NAACP, which had orchestrated the subversive approach to nominees, released a statement accusing Judge Kavanaugh of lying to Congress and said they wanted to see him investigated for perjury.
“Any other course of action at this time would be an abdication of the Senate’s advise and consent role and threaten the integrity of the Supreme Court itself. The nation has the right to expect the truth from a sitting federal judge and Supreme Court nominee,” the NAACP wrote.