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Sen. Chuck Grassley Discusses Democrats Push For More Documents On Kavanaugh

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

How much does the public need to know about the man who could become the next Supreme Court justice? The confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's nominee for the high court, is coming up fast - the day right after Labor Day. Senate Democrats say that is not enough time to acquire and review documents relating to Kavanaugh's previous jobs, especially his three years as President Bush's staff secretary. Democrats say those papers could reveal his thinking on everything from executive privilege to interrogation tactics to same-sex marriage.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa chairs the judiciary committee, so he plays a key role in overseeing what documents will be made available before Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing. Senator Grassley joins us now. Thank you for joining us. Welcome.

CHUCK GRASSLEY: Glad to be with you. And to remind everybody, including you, that the Presidential Records Act makes a determination of what possible to be available or not. For instance, there's personal records that will be withheld from both the committee and from the public. And that decision could be made by the - President Bush, could be made also by the archives. And then there are presidential records. Some of those under the law are privileged, and some aren't privileged. If it's privileged, it's going to be withheld from both the committee and from the public. And if it's not privileged, then the extent to which it's restricted by law or not restricted by law is going to make that determination.

CHANG: OK, before we get to the sifting process itself, I want to talk about the scheduling of the confirmation hearing. It's going to be starting September 4, which could theoretically put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court before the National Archive says it would even be able to release all the documents you requested as judiciary chair. Why not just hold off until after all the documents have been produced?

GRASSLEY: The answer to that is it's the National Archives that won't get the records to the Senate until late October, but President Bush's legal team is already expediting the process. And we would expect that we'll get nearly all of the responsive, nonprivileged documents here by the end of this week. And we've already received more records than we have from any previous Supreme Court nominee and are in fact right now...

CHANG: Well, the Democrats here say they need more time. And they take issue with the fact that there is a group of Republican lawyers, lawyers working for former President George W. Bush, that are sifting through these documents and designating a large portion of these documents as committee confidential. And that means these are documents only the judiciary committee gets to see, not the public. What's the justification for doing that?

GRASSLEY: So we could get started on them right now. There's probably a very good possibility that all of those documents or most those documents that were given to us committee privilege could be made public very soon based upon a second review by the lawyers. And the archivist could be the final referee if there needed to be one. But the idea was to get...

CHANG: But there's only two weeks left before the confirmation hearing. So is there enough time for senators to wrap their brain around the content of these documents?

GRASSLEY: You didn't let me finish my conversation. We wouldn't be going through any documents right now if it weren't for the fact that they put them up here under committee privilege. But don't say because it's committee privilege that the public will never know about them because there's already tens of thousands of pages that are out there for the public already.

CHANG: Now, just today The Washington Post published a memo written by Brett Kavanaugh when he was working for Ken Starr's investigation of President Clinton in the 1990s. Kavanaugh pushes to ask Clinton pretty explicit questions about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Is this something that should be fair game during Kavanagh's confirmation hearing, you think?

GRASSLEY: The only thing that I don't think would be fair game is for people to ask Judge Kavanaugh or any other nominee how they might vote on some issue that might possibly come before the committee in the next several years. Anything else is fair game as far as I'm concerned.

CHANG: You've seen a lot of Supreme Court confirmations now in your decades in the Senate. Are you concerned that this process is becoming more and more polarized and politicized?

GRASSLEY: Oh, yeah, ever since 2002. Well, it was polarized under Bork and under Thomas, but then Senator Hatch was chairman of the committee. And as a Republican, he wanted to get it back where it was for 200 years before filibusters or controversy became issue. And so we got - Republicans voted for Breyer and for Ginsburg. And then all of a sudden, after George Bush gets to be president, then Senator Schumer decides that he wants to make it political. And it's been political ever since.

CHANG: Well, why not in the spirit of bipartisanship open up more documents, not hold the confirmation hearing before all the documents are released?

GRASSLEY: Well, when the Bush library's got one fourth of what's available right now up here for everybody to go through, you can't draw any conclusion other than it's very transparent. In fact, let me say the documents that we're going to have for Kavanaugh is more than five previous Supreme Court nominees put together. So that's why I say it's the most transparent in the history of the country, because of the number of documents you've got to go through and base your questions for the hearing on.

CHANG: Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa is chair of the judiciary committee. Thank you very much for speaking with us.

GRASSLEY: Good-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.