Kavanaugh Hearings, Day 3: Booker Has His ‘Spartacus Moment’; A Mulligan On Mueller

Day 3 of the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh featured a morning quarrel over documents as members concluded two days of public questioning of Kavanaugh. Here are some of the highlights:

1. Booker's gambit

In this space, we have focused a bit on the possible 2020 presidential candidates on the committee. On Wednesday night, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., was the center of attention as she grilled Kavanaugh on whether he had discussed special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election with anyone at the law firm of Kasowitz Benson Torres, which was founded by President Trump's personal attorney Marc Kasowitz.

On Thursday, another possible 2020 Democratic contender, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, grabbed the spotlight in a fight over documents that Democrats had been demanding Republicans release. In particular, Booker sought the release of a memo on racial profiling, one of thousands received by the committee, but labeled "Committee Confidential," which senators could review but not make public.

The memo was drafted by Kavanaugh during his time in the George W. Bush White House. Booker attempted to ask Kavanaugh about it during questioning Wednesday night, but Republicans raised a point of order, saying it was unfair to Kavanaugh to be asked to comment on a document he didn't have before him.

So Thursday Booker said he was making the memo public, despite the possible consequences. "I'm going to release the email about racial profiling and I understand that the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate," he declared.

Other Democrats quickly joined Booker, saying they too would release documents. In response, Booker joked that he was having "a Spartacus moment."

Republicans weren't amused. Texas Sen. John Cornyn accused Booker of "irresponsible conduct unbecoming of a senator," and said "running for president is no excuse for violating the rules of the Senate."

Later in the day, Republicans said all the documents that Democrats had requested to be relieved of the "Committee Confidential" designation had, in fact, already been approved to be made public before Thursday's hearing began — suggesting that Democrats had been grandstanding. But if senators from either side of the aisle were aware of that at the outset of the hearing, they didn't let on.

2. Kavanaugh gets a do-over

As to Harris' questioning of Kavanaugh, the judge was given several chances Thursday to clarify, or perhaps clean up, his remarks from Wednesday. While saying he didn't know everyone who worked at the Kasowitz firm, he added, "I don't recall any conversations of that kind," meaning conversations about Mueller's Russia investigation.

In a statement, the law firm said that "there have been no discussions regarding Robert Mueller's investigation between Judge Kavanaugh and anyone at our firm."

Kavanaugh also said Thursday: "I haven't had any inappropriate conversations about that investigation with anyone," adding he had not "given anyone any winks, hints, forecasts, previews, nothing, about my view as a judge, or how I would rule as a judge on that or anything related to that."

Under questioning from Harris again Thursday night when she again asked him if he'd ever spoken with anyone at Kasowitz Benson Torres about the Mueller investigation, Kavanaugh responded: "The answer is no."

Harris, meanwhile, even before she garnered attention on social media for her cross-examination of Kavanaugh Wednesday night, was already taking advantage of the desire of the Democratic base to try to block Kavanaugh. She asked on Twitter Wednesday morning for people to "sign my petition opposing Judge Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court."

Her appeal was not all that different from an email Booker sent out earlier in the week, which was criticized for politicizing the hearings.

3. Circuses get a bad name

The committee's hearings this week have been high on spectacle and, arguably, low on substance. It's debatable how much has actually been revealed about Kavanaugh's thinking as a judge, or the kind of Supreme Court justice he would be.

Like most of his recent predecessors, he has not revealed much of anything during the hearings about his judicial philosophy — other than that he is a "pro-law" judge, and, if confirmed would be a "one of a team of nine" on the high court — or his take on a number of hot-button issues that are of particular interest to Democrats.

Meanwhile, the regular interruptions by protesters, combined with the quarreling among committee members over documents and how much time they have remaining, accusations of "mob rule," etc. have left the hearings without any sense of momentum or much of a sense of accomplishment. There's little we know now about Kavanaugh that we didn't at the start of the week.

But don't call it a circus, says committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "I want to defend circuses," he said Thursday. "Circuses are entertaining and you can take your children to them," he joked. "This hearing is neither entertaining, nor appropriate for young people."

Still, that didn't stop members of Judge Kavanaugh's CYO basketball team from showing up Thursday, and posing for a group picture with their coach.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.