WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh responded to more than 1,000 written questions from dissatisfied Democrats Wednesday by revealing more about his personal finances but little more about his views on the law.
In an unprecedented give-and-take, Kavanaugh released 263 pages of questions and answers, nearly all aimed at 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who jousted with him during a tumultuous, four-day confirmation hearing last week.
Some of the responses were intended to quell mini-firestorms that erupted over the federal appeals court judge's words and actions during the contentious hearing. It was interrupted more than 100 times by shouting protesters worried that Kavanaugh's confirmation would give conservatives a more reliable majority on the high court.
For instance, Kavanaugh said his reference to a religious group's description of contraceptives as "abortion-inducing drugs" represented "the position of the plaintiffs in that case" rather than his own.
He said a claim by the father of a student killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting earlier this year that Kavanaugh snubbed him at the hearing was untrue. He had assumed the man was a protester, and his security detail ushered him out of the room, Kavanaugh said.
"If I had known who he was, I would have shaken his hand, talked to him, and expressed my sympathy," Kavanaugh said. "And I would have listened to him."
The Democrats' queries went beyond the law to areas of policy, politics and Kavanaugh's personal life, including his finances and potential benefactors. Several senators sought details on the federal appeals court judge's debt-fueled purchase of baseball tickets and asked if he has been a gambler.
"I am a huge sports fan," the 53-year-old Maryland resident said, explaining his purchase of Washington Nationals season baseball tickets for 13 consecutive years, including playoff packages for four years.
"I have attended all 11 Nationals’ home playoff games in their history," he boasted, adding unfortunately in parentheses, ("We are 3-8 in those games.")
As for gambling, Kavanaugh said, "I have not had gambling debts or participated in 'fantasy' leagues."
The avalanche of questions follows more than 20 hours of testimony last week and some 17,000 pages of personal backup material submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It represents an escalation of the battle over documents that began when President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace retired Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy in July.
“Submitting this many written questions appears to be just one more effort to gum up the process. It’s unnecessary and dilatory, especially when many have already decided to vote against Judge Kavanaugh," Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said. "What more do they need to know to vote ‘no?' "
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., decried the process as "just another exercise in selective secrecy."
"On questions where Judge Kavanaugh felt he had something positive to say about himself or his record, he responded," Schumer said. "On every other question, including those about women's constitutional rights, unchecked presidential power, and protections for those with pre-existing conditions, he simply stonewalled."
Each side cites different statistics to label Kavanaugh's nomination transparent or shrouded in secrecy. Republicans note some 500,000 pages of documents have been released, mostly from his tenure as White House associate counsel under President George W. Bush.
But Democrats say millions of pages were withheld from his years as Bush's staff secretary while thousands more were stamped classified by the Trump administration or given to senators on a confidential basis.
For that reason – and because Kavanaugh refused to answer most questions about his personal opinions and views on Supreme Court cases in his confirmation hearing – all the Democrats on the committee sent follow-up questions this week. Grassley claimed the total came to more than were asked of all previous nominees.
Popular topics included Trump's potential legal woes, abortion, guns, health care and Kavanaugh's years working in the White House and for independent prosecutor Ken Starr. Democrats asked what he knew about topics ranging from the treatment of accused terrorists to the leaking of grand jury testimony about President Bill Clinton.
In response to a question from Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic who is retiring from the Senate, Kavanaugh said, "I have never and will never bow to public pressure from any president, any senator, or any other political actor."
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, one of several former prosecutors on the panel, asked a series of questions about Kavanaugh's financial affairs, including several about gambling. His next question was, "Is lying under oath an impeachable offense for an Article III judge?"
"That would be a question for the House and the Senate in the first instance, and it could potentially be the subject of litigation," Kavanaugh responded.
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware asked whether Trump has been truthful or has said anything Kavanaugh condemns. He asked if all the nominee's statements have been accurate and truthful, and whether he may have answered any questions in "a certain way to avoid disclosing relevant information."
"I have tried to be forthcoming with the committee, consistent with my obligation to maintain judicial independence," Kavanaugh said.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois noted that Kavanaugh acknowledged being "a little biased" in favor of a proposal he made to speed up judicial nominations. "In order to alleviate concerns about such bias, please provide a list of all proposals you helped work on while you were at the Bush White House," Durbin wrote.
Kavanaugh responded in general that "any issue that reached the president’s desk from July 2003 to May 2006 – with the exception of a few covert matters – would have crossed my desk. That applies to the president’s speeches, public decisions, and policy proposals, among other things."
Trump was a favorite subject of Democrats' questioning, both at the hearing and in their written questions. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut attached a list of Trump's tweets attacking judges and asked Kavanaugh, "Which statements do you agree with? Which statements do you disagree with?"
"As I stated during the hearing, it would be generally inappropriate for me – as a sitting judge and as a nominee – to comment on something a politician has said or to be drawn into political controversy," the judge replied.