Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley said Friday he’s hit a wall in negotiations with Democrats over documents from Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s past, and he moved unilaterally to request a more limited set of papers from his time in the Bush White House.
The documents are shaping up as the crux of the fight over the judge’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Democrats say they want to see everything Judge Kavanaugh worked on when he was in the White House counsel’s office and then later as staff secretary for President George W. Bush.
Mr. Grassley, though, limited Friday’s request to documents from the counsel’s office.
“As I have said repeatedly, I am not going to put the American taxpayers on the hook for the Senate Democrats’ fishing expedition,” the Iowa Republican said.
Perhaps one million documents relating to Judge Kavanaugh are at Mr. Bush’s presidential library — a massive amount of information.
Democrats, most of whom have already signaled they’ll oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s elevation even before seeing the documents, hope there’s damaging information they can use to sway critical Republicans to oppose the nomination.
The fight has centered over the judge’s time as staff secretary from 2003 to 2006 — a position Republicans say is less important for evaluating the judge’s legal background than his time in the counsel’s office from 2001 to 2003.
Mr. Grassley said the committee will need to see Judge Kavanaugh’s official files from his time in the counsel’s office, as well as any emails he sent or received — including ones on which he was merely copied.
Mr. Grassley also asked for White House documents relating to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He was confirmed to that post in 2006.
Past presidents’ documents are usually set for a slow public release, but the Presidential Records Act allows Congress to speed that timeframe up when lawmakers make official requests.
Mr. Grassley said the National Archives does retain the right to refuse to make some records available, and to designate others to be seen only by the committee on a confidential basis.
He asked that the production of documents begin by next Wednesday, and that it be concluded by Aug. 15.
Mr. Grassley had been trying to negotiate a deal with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the committee, for a joint request. But she had demanded the staff secretary papers all be released — something the GOP says could delay their push to have a new justice on the Supreme Court this fall.
“The minority rejected out of hand multiple accommodations that I’d offered to assist in targeting material they believe is relevant. Instead, they demanded that we expand the request to require a search of every email from every one of the hundreds of White House staffers who served alongside Judge Kavanaugh for nearly six years, to find records that merely mention his name,” Mr. Grassley said.
Ms. Feinstein fired off her own letter Friday to the National Archives saying she didn’t like the review process being used for the Bush records.
She said the Archives should have started weeks ago to review materials, but the agency says no work has been done yet.
“Once Judge Kavanaugh was nominated, your review of his records under section 2205(2)(C) of the Presidential Records Act should have begun immediately and on an expedited basis,” she wrote to Archivist David S. Ferriero.
She also said the archives should honor Democrats’ document request just as they would Mr. Grassley’s request.
Under the law, Mr. Bush has a chance to review records being released from his time in office. But Ms. Feinstein objected to the process, saying that review should be controlled by Mr. Ferriero.