During his confirmation hearing on Thursday, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was asked to explain his reaction to emails he received in 2003 containing documents stolen from Democratic senators and staff.
His explanation, even when confronted with an email from a second staffer with the subject line “spying,” was that it was all perfectly normal.
After detailing an email Kavanaugh received from former Republican senate staffer Manny Miranda which contained text “obviously taken from my internal emails,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked, “did any of this raise a red flag in your mind?”
Kavanaugh’s explanation began with an attempt to justify receiving stolen emails from his political opposition as commonplace.
“It did not, Senator, because it all seemed consistent with the usual kind of discussions that happen,” he said. “And sometimes people do say things of, here’s what my boss is thinking, but don’t share it around.”
Except Miranda wasn’t giving Kavanaugh a heads up on what his boss was thinking, but rather a senator of the opposing party. Kavanaugh further explained it as a colleague “trying to give you a heads up on something” which he said “seems standard.” He tried to conclude by saying such an email wouldn’t have “raised anything at all for me” when Leahy interrupted.
“Not even where it came from?” he asked Kavanaugh, turning to an email from another staffer named Barbara Ledeen. “On June 5, 2003, you received an e-mail from a Republican senate staffer with subject line ‘spying.’ That is not overly subtle. This staffer appears in over 1,000 documents we received together with both you and Mr. Miranda. She says she has ‘a mole for us.’ And so forth. None of this raised a red flag with you?”
Kavanaugh’s response returned to the position that Republican senate staffers emailing a Bush White House senior official about spying on Democrats and offering the services of a “mole” was totally normal. Bizarrely, he seemed to laud the behavior as an example of “bipartisanship.”
It did not, senator. Again, people have friends across the aisle who they talk to. At least this is my experience back then. Maybe it’s changed. And there was a lot of bipartisanship on the committee. There was a lot of bipartisanship among the staffs. There were a lot of friendships and relationships where people would talk to, oh, I’ve got a friend on Senator Ted Kennedy’s staff, or I have a friend on Senator Hatch’s staff or Senator Specter’s staff. That kind of information sharing did not raise red flags.
Leahy was nonplussed.
“Judge, I was born at night but not last night,” he replied. “If I had something that somebody said ‘we’ve stolen this’ or ‘this is — don’t tell anybody we have this,’ I think it would raise some red flags.”
Leahy then explained how abnormal it was for so much of a Supreme Court nominee’s record to be hidden from public view. He asked Kavanaugh whether there were other confidential emails he received from Miranda about Democrats’ activities. Kavanaugh said he didn’t know because he wasn’t involved in the documents process.
There was a long, 10-second pause, as Leahy stared at Kavanaugh and a resigned smile crept across is face.
“Well, that is convenient,” he said with a sigh. “We don’t know what’s in them either because we’ve never had so much withheld before.”
Leahy said the archives are still processing documents, “because this is being rushed through and we don’t get a chance to see them. That’s not fair to us. And, frankly, judge, it’s not fair to you. You’ve probably been told you have the votes to be confirmed so you don’t have to care, but I care. I care about the integrity of the Supreme Court.”
The Vermont senator summarized something that could be confusing or seen as a quixotic fixation about emails between colleagues in stark terms.
“I find it impossible to reconcile what you’re regularly being told, that your testimony that you received nothing stolen and no reason to suspect anything was stolen when, frankly, as we now know, Republican staffer Manny Miranda stole things. And some of the things he stole went directly to you.”