Kavanaugh rebuffs call to open up confidential talks with journalists


Brett Kavanaugh

“It would be inappropriate in this context to disregard that foundational privilege and protection for the press,” Brett Kavanaugh wrote. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, has refused requests from Democratic senators that he free up journalists to speak openly about off-the-record or background conversations he had with them while working for independent counsel Kenneth Starr two decades ago.

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut urged Kavanaugh to publicly declare that he releases those reporters from any agreement not to identify him as a source or to describe what they discussed.

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However, in written answers Wednesday to more than 1,200 written questions put forward by senators after last week’s confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh offered a flat “no” in response to the two senators’ suggestions. What’s more, the nominee contended he was respecting the reporters’ First Amendment rights by refusing to free them of such confidentiality agreements.

“It would be inappropriate in this context to disregard that foundational privilege and protection for the press,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Despite Kavanaugh’s claim that the conversations were privileged, records publicly available at the National Archives show that he had off-the-record interactions with various journalists while he served as a prosecutor on Starr’s staff. Kavanaugh said during the hearings last week that those exchanges were proper and took place at Starr’s request or with his permission. The nominee repeated that in his written submission to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“As I stated at the hearing, I spoke with the reporters at the direction or authorization of Judge Starr,” wrote Kavanaugh, who also denied providing reporters with any protected grand jury information.

During the investigation into whether President Bill Clinton lied about a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Starr’s office was accused of repeatedly leaking grand jury secrets and other sensitive investigative details. A District Court judge found indications of illegal grand jury leaks and ordered a special master’s report into the alleged breaches. The report, which made no mention of Kavanaugh, found insufficient evidence to blame Starr’s office for the disclosures. An appeals court panel ultimately concluded that the lower judge had used too broad a definition of what was subject to grand jury secrecy.

Starr’s office acknowledged at the time, however, that it sometimes disclosed information to reporters in order to combat what Starr’s team viewed as inaccurate or unfair attacks on their conduct. Some lawyers have criticized that practice.

Kavanaugh declined to answer a written question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) about whether he agreed with Starr’s stance on disclosures aimed at correcting media reports. “That was a decision made by Judge Starr,” the nominee wrote, without elaboration.

Whitehouse’s and Blumenthal’s offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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