July 26, 2018

Feinstein: Staff Secretary Documents Critical to Understand Kavanaugh Record

Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today released the following statement on the need to see all documents related to Brett Kavanaugh’s career:

“As staff secretary, Brett Kavanaugh was one of the most senior White House advisors, and he had a broad influence over policy matters. Documents from his time as staff secretary are critical to understanding his knowledge of and involvement with torture, warrantless wiretapping and the use of signing statements, to name just a few key issues. Republicans are claiming that Kavanaugh was nothing more than a paper pusher who told President Bush what was for lunch. That’s false, not to mention ridiculous.

“The American people don’t need to take my word on the importance of Brett Kavanaugh’s role as staff secretary. Kavanaugh himself has been crystal clear as to how critical the staff secretary position was in shaping his views of the executive branch and influencing his perspective as a judge. In considering his nomination to a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the land, it’s critical that we view his entire record.”

All statements below are from public documents available here (click 07/10/18 entry).

Brett Kavanaugh on the importance of the White House Staff Secretary

Kavanaugh writing in Marquette Lawyer Magazine, Fall 2016

“I’ve been a judge on the D.C. Circuit for more than eight years. And as Dean Joseph Kearney pointed out in introducing me, I did not arrive to the D.C. Circuit as a blank slate. People sometimes ask what prior legal experience has been most useful for me as a judge. And I say, ‘I certainly draw on all of them,’ but I also say that my five-and-a-half years at the White House and especially my three years as staff secretary for President George W. Bush were the most interesting and informative for me.

My job in the White House counsel’s office and as staff secretary gave me, I think, a keen perspective on our system of separated powers. And that’s what I’m going to talk about today. I participated in the process of putting together legislation. I helped out, whether the subject was terrorism insurance or Medicare prescription-drug coverage. I spent a good deal of time on Capitol Hill, sometimes in the middle of the night, working on legislation—it’s not a pure or pristine process, just in case you weren’t aware of that.

I worked on drafting and revising executive orders, as well as disputes over executive branch records. I saw regulatory agencies screw up. I saw how regulatory agencies try to comply with congressional mandates. I saw how agencies try to avoid congressional mandates. I saw the relationship between agencies and the White House and the president. I saw the good and the bad sides of a president’s trying to run for reelection and to raise money while still being president. I was involved in the process for lots of presidential speeches. I traveled almost everywhere with the president for about three years.

I mostly recall the massive decisions that had to be made on short notice. Hurricane Katrina—one of the worst weeks of the Bush Presidency—I remember it so well. I remember sitting on my couch that Saturday night and getting a call from Communications Director Dan Bartlett saying, ‘Chief Justice Rehnquist died. The president wants to meet tomorrow morning at 7:00 to discuss whom to nominate for chief justice and to announce it before we go back to New Orleans on Monday.’

And I sat on my couch trying to absorb all that—from Katrina to the chief justice—and the enormity of the decisions that had to be made so quickly. And from that White House service, you learn how the presidency operates in a way that I don’t think people on the outside fully appreciate.

I’ve said often, and I’ll say again, we respect and revere the job of president of this country, and I think we know how hard a job it is. But even then I think we dramatically underestimate how difficult the job is, as compared to being a judge or a member of Congress, or even a justice. The job of president is extraordinarily difficult. Every decision seems to be a choice between really bad and worse. And you have to simultaneously think about the law, the policy, the politics, the international repercussions, the legislative relations, and the communications. And it’s just you. It’s just one person who’s responsible for it all.”

Kavanaugh remarks to Inn of Court, 5/17/10

“When people ask me which of my prior experiences has been most useful to me as a judge, I tell them that all of them have been useful, and I certainly draw on all of them. But I also do not hesitate to say that my five and a half years in the White House—and especially my three years as Staff Secretary for President Bush—were the most interesting and in many ways among the most instructive. As Staff Secretary, I sat in meetings where he talked with President Hu and then-President Musharraf and President Karzai and Prime Minster Blair and Pope John Paul.

I was at the G-8 in Scotland when the London subway bombing occurred. I saw and participated in the process of putting legislation together, whether it was terrorism insurance or Medicare prescription drug coverage or attempts at immigration reform. I worked on drafting and revising executive orders. I remember times on the Hill negotiating last-minute changes in legislation. I saw regulatory agencies screw up. I saw how they might try to avoid congressional mandates. I saw the relationship between independent agencies and executive agencies and the President and White House and OMB. I saw FOIA requests.””

Kavanaugh writing in “From the Bench: The Constitutional Statesmanship of Chief Justice William Rehnquist,” 12/1/17

“William Rehnquist died on Saturday, September 3, 2005. I remember it vividly. At the time, I was working as staff secretary to President George W Bush. Hurricane Katrina had hit earlier that week. I was distressed about how the week had unfolded for the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, for the country, and for the president himself. I sat late that Saturday night on my couch at home with my then-two-week-old daughter, Margaret, on my shoulder and a college football game on TV. I got a call on my cell from Dan Bartlett, who was communications director for the president.

He said simply, ‘Rehnquist just died; the president wants to meet tomorrow morning.’ I was profoundly sad, but I had no time to dwell on it. As staff secretary, I was responsible for hustling into the White House right away, contacting the president, immediately getting out a presidential written statement, and working with the speech-writers to help prepare the president’s remarks for the following morning, which he delivered from the White House at 10:00 a.m. that Sunday morning.

At that time, John Roberts was the pending nominee for the vacancy created by Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement earlier that summer. Roberts had been a Rehnquist clerk and would be a pallbearer at his funeral. When all of us met with the president in the Oval Office on Sunday morning, it did not take long for the president to settle on nominating John Roberts for the Rehnquist vacancy; he decided that he would worry about the O'Connor vacancy after Roberts was confirmed. The president then publicly announced John Roberts' nomination early on Monday morning before we all took off for another trip to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.”

Kavanaugh writing in the Minnesota Law Review, May 2009

“First, my chief takeaway from working in the White House for five-and-a-half years--and particularly from my nearly three years of work as Staff Secretary, when I was fortunate to travel the country and the world with President Bush-- is that the job of President is far more difficult than any other civilian position in government.

It frankly makes being a member of Congress or the judiciary look rather easy by comparison.” … “Having seen first-hand how complex and difficult that job is, I believe it vital that the President be able to focus on his never-ending tasks with as few distractions as possible.

The country wants the President to be ‘one of us’ who bears the same responsibilities of citizenship that all share. But I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office.”

Kavanaugh speaking in Judiciary Committee Hearing, 5/9/06

“And your question really goes to how do you assess someone's record? And I think that's done through an assessment of going back, in my case, 16 years of my career and looking at the kinds of things I've done in the staff secretary's office, now where I'm an honest broker, where I have to be fair and even-handed in the kind of role I perform for the president -- some of the work I've done in the counsel's office on judges.

Kavanaugh speaking in Judiciary Committee Hearing, 5/9/06

“In July of 2003, I became staff secretary to President Bush. This is what I call an honest broker for the president; someone who tries to ensure that the range of policy views on various subjects in the administration are presented to the president in a fair and even- handed way.

I worked closely with the president and with the senior staff at the White House and other members of the administration for nearly three years.

I think I've earned the trust of the president—I've earned the trust of the senior staff—that I'm fair and even-handed. This kind of high-level experience in the executive branch has been common for past judicial nominees, especially on the D.C. Circuit, which handles so many important and complicated administrative and constitutional issues.”

Kavanaugh quoted in New York Times, 10/16/05

“Brett M. Kavanaugh, Ms. Miers's successor as staff secretary, said that her critics had overlooked the breadth of issues she had addressed in the White House.

‘For any lawyer in the country to be called upon by the president over the course of the past five years to provide advice on a full range of subjects,’ Mr. Kavanaugh said, ‘from national security law, to the Patriot Act, to any issue that may cross his desk, is a very significant role for any lawyer to play.’”