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Senate Democrats Defend Their Release Of Documents Concerning Judge Brett Kavanaugh


Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have been marked by delays and protesters' interruptions all this week. Today - more chaos and a rebellion.


Senate Democrats on the judiciary committee announced they would publicize documents that had been marked committee confidential. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker began the revolt.


CORY BOOKER: I'm going to release the email about racial profiling. And I understand that that - the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate.

CORNISH: Now, we'll hear more from him in a moment. But after those comments, other Democrats followed suit with documents on abortion, the rights of indigenous people, affirmative action and more.

SHAPIRO: Republican Senator John Cornyn accused Booker of trying to elevate his national profile for political gain.


JOHN CORNYN: Running for president is no excuse for violating the rules of the Senate or of the confidentiality of the documents that we are privy to. That is irresponsible and conduct unbecoming a senator.

SHAPIRO: Hours later, it's not clear whether the drama was really necessary, and Democrats and Republicans are still fighting about the document process. NPR's Kelsey Snell has been following this and joins us to sort it out. Hi, Kelsey.


SHAPIRO: This seems confusing. These documents were believed to be confidential, or they once were, and now they're not. Explain what happened, what these documents are, why it matters.

SNELL: Honestly, it is very confusing. It all relates back to documents from Kavanaugh's time in the George W. Bush administration. And, you know, we've been hearing about these for weeks, right? But the paperwork was provided to the committee, but some pieces of it were not allowed to be made public. And Democrats were annoyed by that. They said Kavanaugh's record was being obscured by Republicans, and they began demanding documents last night and were pushing for it all into the evening. And it's all a part of their overall feeling that this process has been rushed and unfair and that Democrats didn't get enough time to properly vet Kavanaugh.

SHAPIRO: At the end of the day, are Democrats likely to get into trouble for this?

SNELL: So after all that we heard from Cornyn, it doesn't look like they're going to get in trouble. And things have moved on. And it seemed to even confuse the committee chairman, Chuck Grassley. At the beginning, Republicans were visibly upset with Booker and the other Democrats like Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. And they accused them of acting politically and essentially threatened to take action against them. But then after a lunch break and this big scramble, it came out that those documents had already been cleared in the middle of the night by a lawyer from George W. Bush's office. And then Grassley came back from lunch and said this.


CHUCK GRASSLEY: I became aware of the fact that a lot of the committee confidential material that's been requested - some of the requests we got were already public.

SHAPIRO: So maybe this was not actually confidential material after all by the time it was released. What does this mean for Kavanaugh's confirmation chances? Does it change the thinking that he's likely to be confirmed?

SNELL: Now it - right now it looks like it's a lot of finger pointing. And the impact is mostly political. And Democrats have been trying very hard to break through a lot of noise in Washington. And this might be that turning point they've been looking for to get the public to pay attention to this document fight.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Kelsey Snell - thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you.

CORNISH: Now let's talk with the senator at the center of this drama, Cory Booker of New Jersey. Welcome to the program.

BOOKER: It's good to be on. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So after all that back-and-forth today, was it worth it?

BOOKER: Well, I think it really dramatized the absurdity of this process. Here we have someone going towards the highest court in the land, and we only have about 10 percent of his resume - in other words, 10 percent of the relevant documents. And of that 10 percent, this committee chairperson is claiming that these are somehow committee confidential documents, which - going through those documents, there's nothing classified in them. There's no national security issues in them. They should be released to the public.

And those other 90 percent that haven't even been released to us should be made available as well so that we can thoroughly vet a candidate. You would not give anybody a job in a job interview if you can only see 10 percent of their resume, 10 percent of their relevant work.

CORNISH: But the documents you released today, for example, had to do with race and the law. Did they actually show anything about his views that would be disqualifying?

BOOKER: Well, I really appreciate that. They - the ones that I talked about and others raised really important questions from things he had said and thought and believed or still believe about Roe v. Wade, about racial profiling. There's a number of issues. Even the small percentage that we have bring up really substantive issues that this person who's been nominated should have to answer to. We have a constitutional obligation which is to advise and consent. But it's very hard to do our constitutional role when we do not have 90 percent of the relevant documents. And understand.

CORNISH: Here's...

BOOKER: Kavanaugh was at the center of very big issues from torture to marriage equality and has a large body of thoughts on these issues that indicate how he might perform as a judge. And he should be able to address them.

CORNISH: I want to jump in here because...


CORNISH: ...The way that this was done today, you took a lot of criticism from it - from Bill Burke, the attorney overseeing this documents review. He called them histrionics. We had Senator Cornyn talking about you wanting to run for president. More than enough people have been out there saying this is a performance for somebody who has bigger ambitions. What's your response to that?

BOOKER: Well, again, if you're trying to distract from the merits of my argument - and that's really what I'm making. This is them trying to shield the truth.

CORNISH: But why not walk out? That's one thing that a lot of progressive activists have said. Like, why are Democrats going back and forth over paper, paper shuffling, quite literally, instead of walking out?

BOOKER: Well, it should not be diminished what we're fighting for and the fact that thankfully it's led to even this conversation. It is absurd that here we are in the United States of America interviewing someone for the highest court in the land, and we have not had a chance to vet their full record, not even half their record but about 10 percent of their record. This is relevant. This should be - in my opinion, this should be a reason why we should not stop these hearings but we should allow the relevant time for us to review the documents.

And even as I'm speaking to you right now, we just got another document dump of over a thousand documents. And we have just a few more hours to question this person but yet are just receiving those documents now. No judge would proceed with litigation proceedings if they just got the relevant documents just hours before the hearing itself.

CORNISH: Where does this leave you given that Democrats right now still don't have the votes to block this confirmation?

BOOKER: Well, as I said, I'm going to do whatever I can. I've been pushing out over social media committee confidential documents all day. I'm going to continue to do that. I was...

CORNISH: But are you doing that 'cause you're hoping some red state Democrat is going to go, oh, well, now I've seen the document that changes my mind?

BOOKER: Again, I think that not just the senators, but I think the American public should see this person's full record. What do they have to hide? Why hide 90 percent of their record? And so this is a very serious moment. We have a judge that has said openly about the president that he should not be investigated, has talked a lot about presidential independence from investigations, from prosecution at a time when we have the president of the United States - not only the chaos that's going on in this White House right now, but he has literally been accused of his former personal attorney of being a unindicted co-conspirator.

These are big issues that very well could end up before the Supreme Court. This is a powerful moment in history. And to let this just go by without even speaking up - even if I'm not successful, I will not be silent. I will stand up and do everything I can to stop a sham process that could end up affecting the destiny of our nation.

CORNISH: Senator Cory Booker is a Democrat from New Jersey. Thank you so much.

BOOKER: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And our congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is still with us. Kelsey, you've been listening to that conversation. And I want to ask what you make of it and particularly that number. Ten percent of Brett Kavanaugh's documents have been given to the committee. Ninety percent, Cory Booker said, are still not available to them. That's a number that Republicans would take issue with.

SNELL: It is. And it's an argument that they have been having back and forth for days now. The idea is Republicans are saying that they've given more documents than any other nominee ever before. Democrats say it's not about the number of documents; it's about the percentage of documents. And I think it's interesting to kind of look at what was in these documents that Senator Booker released. Republicans are saying there really were no bombshells in there and that this was - again, the Republicans say this was a political action. But you know what? The politics of this may be exactly what Booker's trying to do. He says he wants the American public to respond here.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell covering Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings to the Supreme Court today. Kelsey, thanks very much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.