By Richard Cowan and Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Democratic senator on Tuesday raised new questions about whether U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has accurately described his role in a controversial judicial nomination when he worked for then President George W. Bush.
Emails previously withheld as “committee confidential,” but released by the office of Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, suggest that Kavanaugh, a White House lawyer at the time, was involved in the nomination of William Haynes, a controversial Department of Defense lawyer, for an appeals court position.
President Donald Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is now in the hands of the U.S. Senate. Republicans control the 51 Senate votes needed to confirm Kavanaugh if they stick together.
Democrats are trying hard to block the nomination because they see Kavanaugh tilting the court even further to the right. A final Senate vote is expected by the end of September.
Kavanaugh testified in 2006, when Bush nominated him to his current position as an appeals court judge in Washington, that he was not involved in the Haynes nomination.
One of the two previously withheld emails was from 2002 and showed Kavanaugh weighing in on a suggestion that Haynes be nominated for a vacancy on the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, questioning if he was conservative enough.
“But what is the basis for saying he would be an across-the board judicial conservative?” Kavanaugh asked in the 2002 email. He noted that “others have questions about that” beyond Haynes’ record on military and defense issues.
An email from 2003 from then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales invited Kavanaugh to play golf with Haynes.
In releasing the emails, Durbin revived his own long-simmering dispute dating back to Kavanaugh’s 2006 confirmation hearing. It was Durbin who asked then about whether Kavanaugh was involved in the Haynes nomination.
“I know Jim Haynes, but it was not one of the nominations that I handled,” Kavanaugh said at the time, using Haynes’ middle name.
In a statement, Durbin sought to tie Kavanaugh’s Haynes testimony to several other issues on which Democrats say Kavanaugh gave misleading answers during his confirmation hearing last week, including whether he was involved in the Bush administration’s interrogation policies.
“This is a theme that we see emerge with Judge Kavanaugh time and time again. He says one thing under oath, and then the documents tell a different story,” Durbin said
As general counsel at the Pentagon, Haynes was involved in detainee and interrogation policy decisions after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He was not ultimately confirmed.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and; Bill Berkrot)