Democrats Say Justice Department Is Stonewalling on Kavanaugh Files

(Bloomberg) -- Lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department and Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will try to work out a compromise in the next week over the release of some records about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Six Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee sued to get the documents, saying they’re needed before a vote on whether Kavanaugh should be added to the top court.

At a hearing in Washington Friday, Justice Department lawyer Stephen Pezzi said as many as 5 million pages may require to be reviewed which would take a “very long time.” Elizabeth France, a lawyer for a Washington-based watchdog group, suggested that the government first look at records covering Kavanaugh’s time as the White House staff secretary to former President George W. Bush.

"Time is of the essence," she told U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss.

The lawyers agreed to try and work out a document production schedule and said they’d update Moss on their progress by Sept. 28.

“In less than an hour in front of a federal court, the plaintiffs -- members of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- were able to extract commitments from the government to process records that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” Austin Evers, executive director of the watchdog group American Oversight, said after the hearing.

The court fight over the documents is one front in a greater battle over Kavanaugh’s nomination. It also comes as Republican members of the Judiciary Committee negotiate an appearance by a woman who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party when they were in high school.

Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor, has offered to testify before the committee Sept. 27. The Republicans, who had demanded she appear Sept. 24, have agreed to push the date back to Sept. 26. The two sides haven’t yet reached an agreement.

The fight over Kavanaugh’s records is complicated by his lengthy record. He worked for the Office of Independent Counsel under Ken Starr, and later for Bush. He was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2006.

Republicans say the committee has received more pages of documents about Kavanaugh than any other previous Supreme Court nominee, to which the Democrats respond that only amounts to 10 percent of the full record. The Democrats filed Freedom of Information Act requests in August. Since then the Justice Department hasn’t produced any documents in response, they said.

Led by Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, the lawmakers sued the National Archives and Records Administration and the Central Intelligence Agency on Sept. 17 for the records. The Justice Department was added to the suit Friday.

“We are very pleased to have secured a commitment from these federal agencies to produce documents, which stands in stark contrast to the posturing of the Trump Administration and Senate Republicans over the last eight weeks,” the senators said in a statement after the hearing.

The case is Blumenthal v. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 18-cv-2143, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.