Politics

Harris Lands First Blow on Kavanaugh — But It Only Grazes Him

Senator accuses nominee of remembering conversation but not wanting 'to tell us'

From left: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., confer during the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 11:14 a.m. | ANALYSIS — It took almost 12 hours Wednesday before a Democratic senator, Kamala Harris of California, landed more than a glancing blow on the Teflon chin of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And even then, she wasn’t able to put President Donald Trump’s second high court pick on the canvas.

The late-night exchange lasted nearly 10 minutes, left Kavanaugh with a dumbfounded facial expression several times, and led Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee to break in with a helping hand.

Harris repeatedly tried to get Kavanaugh to reveal the name — or names — of someone at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Trump’s personal attorney with whom he has discussed special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his ongoing Russia election meddling investigation the president almost daily calls a “witch hunt.”

Kavanaugh and Lee almost begged the former California state attorney general and potential 2020 presidential candidate to provide a name or some kind of hint to jar the nominee’s memory, but she refused to do so. It was the lone cliffhanger of Wednesday’s questioning by Senate Judiciary Committee members, though Harris — and other Democrats — get a second shot at the federal appellate judge Thursday.

But unless she or another Democrat reveals some damning evidence about improper conversations with someone at the firm, Kasowitz Benson & Torres, it appears the panel is set to send the nomination to the Senate floor on a 11-10 party line vote, setting up his confirmation and taking the ninth seat on the highest court in the land. (One of Trump’s personal lawyers, Marc Kasowitz, founded the firm.)

Harris, wearing a stern expressing and speaking in the same kind of tone, urged him to “be sure about your answer, sir.”

[Kavanaugh Dodges Question on Pre-Existing Condition Provision]

“I’m not sure I know everyone who works at that law firm,” a clearly taken aback Kavanaugh responded. He asked for a specific name, saying he was “happy to be refreshed.”

In perhaps the first moment of the confirmation hearing that was mostly about the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Harris bore down on Kavanaugh.

“With all that you remember, you have an impeccable memory — you’ve been speaking for almost eight hours, maybe more with this committee, about all sorts of things you’ve been asked,” Harris said skeptically.

“How can you not remember whether or not you had a conversation about Robert Mueller or his investigation with anyone at that law firm?” she asked.

Lee broke in to say law firms “abound” in Washington and are full of people. They also are “like rabbits, they spawn new firms.”

After Lee’s attempt to aid the conservative judge was finished, Harris slipped the political equivalent of a jab — directly at Kavanaugh’s head.

“I think you’re thinking of someone,” she said, “and you don’t want to tell us.”

On Thursday, GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch noted that Harris never gave Kavanaugh a name. Kavanaugh told him he has never told or “given a wink” to anyone at the firm about how he would rule in a potential case related to the special counsel or his investigation.

The Wednesday night exchange was the first instance the nominee stammered and appeared flustered. For Harris, a junior member of the Judiciary Committee, any second try or big revelation would come late Thursday. But other Democrats could pick up where she left off earlier in the second day of questioning Kavanaugh.

Democratic members mostly peppered him with questions Wednesday about whether he knew a Senate GOP staffer in 2002 had stolen Democratic information about their plans for questioning judicial nominees and his views on whether a sitting president is subject to the criminal justice system and must answer subpoenas.

Kavanaugh repeatedly said “no one is above the law,” but described as a legal open question whether criminal proceedings against a president would have to be delayed until that person leaves the office.

At times during Day One of questioning, Democrats brought up decades-old cases and engaged in in-the-weeds legal debates with Kavanaugh. Some Democrats made accusations about his involvement in George W. Bush era terrorist detention and interrogation rules as well as the 2002 Democratic documents theft, but none offered specific evidence or closed the loop on any of the accusations.

At one point, ranking member Dianne Feinstein even offered Kavanaugh a helping hand when GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, asked him how he wants to be remembered.

“A good dad, a good judge …” Kavanaugh began.

[Kavanaugh Signals Landmark Abortion Case Roe Is ‘Settled’ Matter]

Off mic, Feinstein chimed in: “A good husband.” Graham opined, “I think he’s getting there.”

“Good husband,” the nominee said, amid laughter in the room.

“Thanks Dianne, you helped him a lot,” Graham quipped. “Going to be better for you tonight.”

“Good. I owe you,” Kavanaugh told her. “I owe you.”

At another point, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said of a 1998 law review article Kavanaugh penned, “I look forward to exchanging some papers on this, and perhaps, in our next round tomorrow, we can have more fun on it.”

A “fun” Thursday for the nominee would lead to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and give Trump a legacy achievement of placing two conservatives on the high court.

Watch: Schumer Forces Senate to Adjourn to Protest Kavanaugh Hearing

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