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What Is the GOP Trying to Hide About Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh?

What we do know suggests a man guided less by bedrock principle and more by cutthroat 21st-Century partisan politics

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) meets with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on July 26, 2018, in Toomey's office in Washington, D.C. President Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring. (Photo: Jonathan Tamari/ Staff)

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) meets with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on July 26, 2018, in Toomey's office in Washington, D.C. President Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring. (Photo: Jonathan Tamari/ Staff) 

The biggest news story that happened on July 24 of this year — the one that may be affecting your unborn grandchildren 30 years from now — wasn’t President’s Trump’s threat (since acted upon) to yank the security clearances of his most vocal critics, or the audiotapes seized from Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, or a delay in Paul Manafort’s trial or the other things that the 24/7 cable news cycle was surely obsessing over that day.

As is so often the case, the most important thing that happened on July 24, 2018, happened behind closed doors — which is part of the problem. With Senate Republicans racing — and I mean racing — to confirm President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh well ahead of November’s midterm election, their Democratic counterparts had been demanding every relevant record about the would-be justice, including what he did during his years working in the George W. Bush White House.

Instead of releasing every document, as has been done in other recent Supreme Court confirmations by both Democratic and Republican presidents, a gaggle of GOP senators was summoned to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to meet about it with White House counsel Don McGahn (yes, that Don McGahn).

No Democrats were in the room when the Republican-majority senators and the White House lawyer made the unprecedented decision to simply not seek the vast pool of records from when Kavanaugh worked as White House staff secretary, a key period of his career. What’s more, most of the records that the Senate Judiciary Committee did agree to ask for won’t be ready for release by Sept. 4 — the day after Labor Day and the end of Congress’ long summer recess — when the recklessly speedy Kavanaugh confirmation hearings are slated to begin.

“In the 44 years I have served in the United States Senate, I have seen 19 nominations to the Supreme Court, including the nomination of every current member of the Court,” Vermont Sen Patrick Leahy, a Democrat and the senior member of the Judiciary Committee, stated in a recent letter.  “I have never before seen the White House, under either a Republican or Democratic president, usurp or direct the parameters of the Judiciary Committee’s document request regarding a Supreme Court nominee.” He said his GOP colleagues and Team Trump are working together to “stifle transparency” — an understatement in my book.

Look in the dictionary under “rush to judgment” and you’ll probably find a picture of Brett Kavanaugh. And yet the wind is at the back of Republicans looking to get away with this Grand Theft SCOTUS. September’s confirmation hearings are going to catch your average American — who’s enjoying the beach or frantically shopping for back-to-school supplies right now — completely off-guard, and the minority who do follow politics have been bombarded by a barrage of silly-but-“newsworthy” Trump tweets providing cover for Kavanaugh.

Distraction and apathy are preventing Americans from asking the question that should be the No. 1 story on the news (or No. 2, after the ravages of climate change) right now, which is: What exactly is it about Brett Kavanaugh that Republicans are trying to hide?

This matters a lot, and for two reasons. The more immediate factor is that — despite the efforts to clamp down on the flow of information about Kavanaugh — there is already evidence in the public domain that raises questions about the 53-year-old federal appeals court judge’s … well, judgment, and, perhaps more importantly, his honesty.

At Kavanaugh’s 2006 Senate confirmation hearing to become an appeals judge, he testified he had no involvement in controversial anti-terrorism practices spawned by the Bush White House, including torture. But Democrats on the judiciary committee said Kavanaugh’s claim appears to be undercut by documents that have been since made public by the George W. Bush Library, as well as other records that have been reviewed by committee members but that Republicans — in keeping with the tenor of this farcical process — are refusing to make public.

It’s hard not to believe that Trump, in naming Kavanaugh, was trolling for future Supreme Court votes if and when he challenges the special counsel, Robert Mueller, investigating him.

This one episode points to the urgency of a) making all of Kavanaugh’s records available and b) slowing down the confirmation freight train. But there’s also the second concern — a broader one. The rule-bending and norm-shattering steps that Senate Republicans are willing to take to basically ram Kavanaugh down the throats of the American people are just one more sign of how democracy is plunging off a cliff with the GOP embrace of autocracy. Those guardrails were already breached — demolished, really — when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s now masterminding Kavanaugh’s confirmation, shattered precedent and refused to even give a hearing to Barack Obama’s 2016 SCOTUS nominee Merrick Garland. Now we’re soaring down into that abyss at 120 mph.

For America, the consequences of the Kavanaugh rush-to-judgment are enormous. If confirmed, Kavanaugh will be taking his seat on the High Court at a pivotal moment in American history, and — while (as shown above) we don’t know nearly enough about him — what we do know suggests a man guided less by bedrock principle and more by cutthroat 21st-Century partisan politics.

Case in point: Kavanaugh was a pit-bull going after a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, when he worked with special counsel Kenneth Starr on the Monica Lewinsky matter, but now that Republicans are in power he’s voiced support for tight limits on investigations of a sitting president. And it’s hard not to believe that Trump, in naming Kavanaugh, was trolling for future Supreme Court votes if and when he challenges the special counsel, Robert Mueller, investigating him.

Beyond that, there’s little doubt that the arrival of Kavanaugh — in replacing retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, a not-doctrinaire conservative who on occasion sided with the four liberal justices — will shift the Supreme Court, and thus America, to the far right on critical issues, including the already too-vast power of corporations and on women’s reproductive rights.

That alone should have the average American up in arms, but the response to the slow-running GOP coup at the nation’s highest court has been (with some notable exceptions) mostly apathy. The news media, and its inability to place stories like the ramblings of dotard Rudy Giuliani in context, hasn’t helped. Regardless, we all should be fighting like hell to make sure every available record about Kavanaugh is made public, and that hearings don’t begin until this happens — even if that’s after the election or (arguably preferably) after a new Senate is sworn-in next January.

Because thanks to this (latest) Republican cover-up, the only thing that the American public can say with any real certainty about Brett Kavanaugh is that this is all happening way too fast.

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Will Bunch

Will Bunch

Will Bunch is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and author of its popular blog Attytood.

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