Schumer Floor Remarks On Republican Efforts To Block Access To Judge Kavanaugh's Full Record, Democrats’ Request To Chairman Grassley For All Kavanaugh Documents In The Judiciary Committee’s Possession, And The Trump Administration's Decision To Revoke Former CIA Director John Brennan's Security ClearanceAugust 20, 2018
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor [at approx. 3:30 p.m.] regarding Republican efforts to block access to Kavanaugh's full record, Democrats’ request to Chairman Grassley for all Kavanaugh documents in the Judiciary Committee’s possession, and the Trump administration's decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:
As we continue to review the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, let’s recap what we already know about the Judge. Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial opinions reveal a man skeptical about our health care law, reproductive rights, contraceptive coverage, and the basic powers and independence of federal agencies. His public speeches and writings reveal a man with a nearly unbounded– almost monarchical – view of executive power and yet an incredibly limited interpretation of executive accountability. Those beliefs are profoundly troubling at any moment in time, but they’re particularly troubling at this moment in time, as the president of the United States routinely belittles the rule of law, and as his lawyers pronounce that they’ll fight a duly authorized subpoena.
And, Mr. President, there’s still much about Judge Kavanaugh that we don’t know, because Senate Republicans have engaged in blatant and historic obstruction of large portions of his record.
First, Chairman Grassley broke with tradition and fired off a one-sided, partisan request for documents. Senator Feinstein is known as one of the most reasonable members, and if she couldn’t join with Senator Grassley in a request for documents, clearly it indicates how biased the quest was. Chairman Grassley unilaterally declared the papers from Judge Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary irrelevant, even though those documents constitute the bulk of Judge Kavanaugh’s record, and he himself, Judge Kavanaugh himself has said that those years were among the most instructive to his work as a judge.
Then it was revealed – they keep chipping away at what we’re allowed to see, what the American public’s allowed to see about Judge Kavanaugh – then it was revealed that a small percentage of documents we will receive is being pre-screened by a political operative named Bill Burck, a longtime Republican lawyer and former deputy to Brett Kavanaugh. A man who counts among his clients Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, and Don McGahn. This man is hardly a fount of impartiality, he’s a partisan. Mr. Burck also refuses to provide us with a log of the documents that he has withheld. Why are you withholding this one but not this one, no one is going to know. Could it be that some of the information that’s being withheld could be embarrassing to Judge Kavanaugh? Or at the very least, harmful to his quest to become a Supreme Court Justice? Possibly, but the American people have a right to know. We have been denied us the opportunity to evaluate whether the documents are being withheld for legitimate or self-interested purposes by a lawyer who is clearly partisan.
That’s two layers of obfuscation already. First, we are not allowed to see the most important documents of Judge Kavanaugh’s time as secretary. Second, of the counsel documents, which is a small percentage of his total documents, those are being prescreened by a Republican lawyer, not an impartial observer who tells us which ones we can have and which ones we can’t, without giving us any reason why one is okay and one is not.
Now, to make matters worse, Chairman Grassley has added a third level of withholding documents. He has declared one-third of the small universe of pre-screened documents, only from the White House Counsel’s office, only to be screened by Burck, that wasn’t good enough to people who want to avoid Judge Kavanaugh’s record coming out in full, so those are now deemed – “committee confidential,” meaning no one outside the Judiciary Committee, not even other Senators, can see those documents, at least by Chairman Grassley’s determination. It’s outrageous. Now, Chairman Grassley is usually a fair-minded man. I enjoy working with him on many issues we carry. We are the two Charles E’s of the Senate. We carry, for instance, rural hospital legislation all the time and help our rural hospitals, but when it comes to this area, his actions here are manifestly unfair. Not typical of his character. I understand the pressures he’s under, but that doesn’t forgive the result. Withholding documents from the Senate and the American people under the bogus label of “committee confidential” is a dark development for the Senate. Committee confidential, by the way, means Senators on the Judiciary Committee can see the documents but they can’t tell anyone about it—not their fellow Senators, not the American people. Why shouldn’t the American people see them?
So, there are key issues here that we need to understand better. On Friday, three of my colleagues raised questions about Judge Kavanaugh’s truthfulness regarding testimony he gave about the Bush administration’s post-9/11 terrorism policies in 2006. We need to understand that issue better and we also need to know what he thought about the Bush administration’s efforts on warrantless wiretapping, efforts to curtail reproductive rights, and more. He testified in 2006 when he was nominated to join the DC circuit and we have to see if he was being truthful. This is such an important position, the Supreme Court. We should see those, the American people should.
So, locking up documents in Committee, even on those important issues, is an affront to transparency, openness, and to the basic integrity of the confirmation process.
We’ve been given no reason – no legitimate reason – why the “committee confidential” documents are acceptable for some Senators to see but not others.
And, Mr. President, my understanding of Senate rules is that every Senator has the right to access documents in the possession of a Senate Committee, any Senate Committee. I’m now going to ask the Chair to confirm that understanding.
So, Mr, President, am I correct that under rule 26.10(a) under the standing rules of the Senate, all committee records are the property of the Senate as a whole and that all Senators shall have access to such records?
Presiding Officer: That is, in fact, in part how the rule reads.
Thank you. And the words say shall have access to those records. Is there anything that undoes those words in the rules?
Presiding Officer: Could the Senator restate the question?
Yes. I just asked if under the rules, all committee Senate records are the property of the Senate as a whole and that all senators shall have access to those records. And the presiding officer said yes, those are the rules; those aren’t all the rules. Is there anything that the presiding officer knows in the rules that would undercut that ruling in the Senate rules?
Presiding Officer: Rule 10(a) reads as follows: All committee hearing records, data, charts, and files shall be kept separate and distinct from the congressional office records of the member serving as chairman of the committee and such records shall be the property of the Senate and all members of the committee, and the Senate shall have access to such records. Each committee is authorized to have printed and bound such testimony and other data presented at hearings held by the committee.
Well it’s clear that there is nothing that undercuts. I appreciate the Chair reading the entire rule. Nothing in the rest of the rule undercuts what I have said, obviously.
Based on your ruling Mr. President, the ruling of the Chair, I will, therefore, be submitting a request to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee for access for all Senators to all of the Kavanaugh documents in the possession of the Committee. This request will include approximately 81,000 pages of documents that have been deemed “committee confidential” by the private lawyer, Mr. Burck, and by the Chairman of the Committee, Chairman Grassley. My colleagues should do the same. And again, the purpose here isn’t dilatory. We’ll work hard, day and night, to go through these documents and see if anything worth questioning Judge Kavanaugh arises in them. But we certainly have that right by the rules of the Senate and I’m glad the Chair so interpreted it.
Now, this is not just about rules, Mr. President, or about having more reading material. This is about the Senate, and by extension the American people, understanding the stakes and the consequences of elevating Judge Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment on our nation’s highest court. This is about our constitutional duty to advise and consent on a Supreme Court nominee. Senators cannot do that in an informed manner without fair and full access to a nominee’s record. And of course the Constitution assigns this duty to Senators on behalf of the American people. Without access to the nominee’s record, the American people will be in the dark. That is unacceptable.
Finally, on another matter, and I see that my colleague from Vermont who incidentally is doing an excellent job on the appropriations bills, which I believe he will want to discuss, is waiting, but one more matter: Last week, the Trump administration announced that it was revoking the security clearance of a former Director of the CIA. The action was taken not after a thorough review of the security clearance process. It did not effect a new policy. The revocation of the Former CIA Director’s security clearance was a gratuitous act of political retribution taken out of spite and malice – sometimes unfortunately attributes the president shows. It was an attempt to silence critics of the president – something the president regularly tries to do, usually unsuccessfully.
My Republican colleague, Sen. Corker, said this in July about the possibility of the president, President Trump, revoking security clearances. This is Republican Senator Bob Corker, a well-respected man in America. He said, “when you’re going to start taking retribution against people who are your political enemies…that’s the kind of thing that happens in Venezuela. It’s a banana republic kind of thing.” Sen. Corker is right. The abuse of the powers of public office to silence critics and punish political enemies is exactly what goes on in dictatorships and banana republics. And we are not one of those. Thank god.
And then we found out on Saturday that the president is openly considering reaching into the Justice Department to revoke the security clearance of current career professionals, who worked – this professional the president mentioned – works drug cases and anti-gang cases, based solely on rumors and innuendo spread by the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee – hardly a credible source – and other spurious sources. Revoking the clearances of current Justice Department officials without cause is so far out of bounds for what can be considered the proper use of presidential power that it is appalling. And the words of Senator Corker are even more strongly felt.
What’s next? Will President Trump decide to revoke the security clearances of everyone working for Special Counsel Mueller because he thinks it’s in his craven political interest? There is enormous potential here for gross abuse of presidential power.
Congress, on a bipartisan basis, ought to make sure that the president does not politicize the security clearance policy. Revoking a security clearance is a decision that should be done for national security reasons and national security reasons alone.