Archives Can’t Deliver Reams of Kavanaugh Docs Fast Enough for GOP

Request could top 900,000 pages, lawyer for National Archives and Records Administration says

Senate Republicans stand in front of stacks of boxes at a news conference Thursday in the Dirksen Building to drive home how many pages of documents they’re seeking on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. From left, Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 4:13 p.m. | The National Archives and Records Administration said Thursday it will need until the end of October to process documents Senate Republicans requested on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which could derail plans for a speedy confirmation process where Democrats had already complained they weren’t seeing enough information.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, in a July 27 letter, had asked to get records by Aug. 15 from the George W. Bush Presidential Library about Kavanaugh’s work in the White House counsel’s office. 

The Iowa Republican had said Wednesday that he will hold a confirmation hearing in September with the goal of a floor vote by Oct. 1. “If these documents coming from the archives and from George W. Bush’s presidential library and other things get up here soon,” the sooner the hearing can start, he said.

It appears it won’t be sooner. Gary Stern, the general counsel for the National Archives, wrote Grassley a letter Thursday that said the request could be more than 900,000 pages. He estimated that the archives could complete its review of a third of those by Aug. 20 — that would be White House counsel emails “from” Kavanaugh — and the remaining 600,000 by the end of October.

Watch: Senate GOP Stacks 167 Boxes to Illustrate Amount of Kavanaugh Papers Getting Released

The National Archives letter arrived amid a larger fight over how many documents from Kavanaugh’s past the committee should review before a confirmation vote.

The Judiciary Committee will still be able to get most of the documents through a separate process that allows lawyers for Bush to review whether any paperwork is privileged and should be withheld from Congress. But Democrats have criticized that process and the lawyer leading it — former Bush lawyer Bill Burck — as political.

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in a news release that the archives letter means the “vast majority” of the documents the American public may see will be pre-screened by a Bush lawyer.

“Today, the National Archives confirmed our worst fear — that the vast majority of even the small portion of records the American public will see from Brett Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House will be pre-screened by a political operative and attorney for George W. Bush, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, and Donald McGahn,” the New York Democrat said. “This unprecedented process appears to be designed intentionally by Republicans to deny the Senate and the American people the information they need to evaluate this critically important nomination.”

If Bush asserts a statutory right to privilege over any of these documents, those withheld records will be reviewed by the archives, and if they disagree, they will turn the record over to Congress, according to the committee. The archives can prioritize their review of those records.

Grassley still plans on a September confirmation hearing for Kavanaugh, even with the letter from the National Archives, committee spokesman Taylor Foy said.

“Indeed, the Bush Library will produce to us over 125,000 pages today. As a result, I expect the committee will be able to undertake its thorough review process along the same timeline set in previous Supreme Court confirmations,” Foy wrote in an email.  “As Chairman Grassley said this morning, he intends to hold a hearing sometime in September. In the end, the committee will have reviewed significantly more records than ever before for a Supreme Court nominee.”

Democrats already have objected to what they say is a limited scope of documents Grassley and other Republicans on the committee sought from Kavanaugh’s background, particularly his work as White House staff secretary in the George W. Bush administration. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said at a hearing Wednesday that the Senate should receive even more documents than what Grassley had requested.

Stern wrote that the the archives had reviewed 70,000 records for the confirmation process for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and 170,000 records for the confirmation process for Justice Elena Kagan.

Grassley’s July 27 letter sought records about Kavanaugh’s work at the White House Counsel’s Office, but not his time as staff secretary. Committee Democrats did not sign on to the letter, and then sent their own request July 31 asking for records for Kavanaugh’s work as staff secretary.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.