What Kavanaugh Did At The White House

September 06, 2018

It didn’t take long for acrimony to emerge on Capitol Hill Tuesday. Democratic senators tag-teamed Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley from the very start of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. As squads of shouting audience members added to the chaos, Democrats demanded Mr. Grassley adjourn the hearing or suspend the nomination until hell freezes over.

Sen. Kamala Harris insisted, “We cannot possibly move forward.” Sen. Cory Booker questioned Mr. Grassley’s “decency and integrity.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal implored Judge Kavanaugh to “ask for a postponement” because “this process has been a great disservice to you.”

To delay the hearings, Democrats are determined to get every document Mr. Kavanaugh touched as White House staff secretary under President George W. Bush. If they can’t get the papers, they intend to smear Judge Kavanaugh by asking, as Sen. Patrick Leahy did, “What are we trying to hide?”

I worked in President Bush’s White House with three staff secretaries: Harriet Miers, Mr. Kavanaugh and Raul Yanes. In that position, they reviewed virtually every document the president saw and kept copies as required by the Presidential Records Act of 1978.

More important, the staff secretary was responsible for circulating documents to as many as a score of administration officials—drafts of memos, statements, speeches, schedules, briefing books, proclamations and scripts. The staff secretary would then serve as an impartial judge by reviewing and reconciling the comments on the documents. He would ensure that they were accurate, concise, clear, thorough and timely, giving the best possible expression to the views of the president’s advisers.

Sen. Mazie Hirono may have been correct that in Democratic White Houses, staff secretaries routinely put their finger on the scale to push favored policy outcomes. Not in the Bush 43 West Wing. There, the staff secretary didn’t advocate for a preferred outcome. If he did, he would have been removed from the position. Ms. Miers and Messrs. Kavanaugh and Yanes were facilitators, not policy makers. Their responsibility was to make sure documents expressed the views of the president’s advisers as well as possible.

This made their job one of the West Wing’s toughest. It required an ability to understand what someone wanted to convey, and if necessary, to help say it in a better way. It took exceptional diplomatic skill to negotiate changes with high-powered White House aides. It involved extensive fact checking for accuracy and consistency with past documents. And there was lots of paper to deal with, all the time.

No wonder Judge Kavanaugh calls it “a formative experience” to have served in this intellectually and professionally demanding post. It is why he and his staff were among the brightest people in the White House.

The materials from Mr. Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary include highly sensitive presidential documents. Their release before the year set by federal law would violate Mr. Bush’s executive privilege without providing any substantive insight into Judge Kavanaugh’s views.

It can’t be emphasized enough that these aren’t policy recommendations from Mr. Kavanaugh. The material that passed through his hands came from policy makers in the administration. Careful textual analysis might yield evidence of Mr. Kavanaugh’s talent in coaxing colleagues into more clarity, greater brevity, and deeper analysis, but would reveal nothing about his personal policy views.

The Judiciary Committee Democrats auditioning for president know this. Since most have already announced their opposition to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, why should anyone believe their minds would be changed by anything in the unreleased papers? Most of these Democrats weren’t seeking to conduct a thoughtful hearing of Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy and fitness for the court. They were ingratiating themselves with their party’s radical fringe through a made-for-TV stunt that undermined the Supreme Court’s public standing.

Ms. Harris revealed her political intentions in a fundraising appeal Tuesday night. It declared, “Every moment is an organizing opportunity.” With Sen. Dick Durbin defending the attempts of disruptive audience members to hijack the hearing as “the noise of democracy,” the Democrats’ antics will help normalize the intimidation of committee chairs and demonstrations in future congressional hearings.

The spectacle Democrats created demonstrates how weak their case is against Judge Kavanaugh. Unable to attack his conduct as a judge, they engaged in a desperate fishing expedition. The result? The Democratic disrupters look like fools—and Brett Kavanaugh will soon be the 114th Supreme Court justice.

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