Senate Republicans move cautiously toward demanding Kagan memos

Jon Ward Contributor
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Senate Republicans on Tuesday were cautious about demanding the release of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s paper record from her time in the Clinton White House, despite the fact that her paper trail is otherwise uniquely thin.

“We’ll have to see,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sessions, who will meet with Kagan just after noon on Wednesday, appeared to be withholding comment on what course he would take to survey the political landscape but also to wait until after he had met with the solicitor general.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and another member of the judiciary committee, was also noncommittal about demanding memos and other materials written by Kagan as a White House official from 1995 to 1999.

But Senate Minority Whip John Kyl, Arizona Republican and a member of the judiciary committee, made the most assertive statements since Kagan was nominated Monday about the need to see the nominee’s full written record.

“We need those memos. I don’t know how many they are or what they relate to. I don’t even know that we’re talking about memos,” Kyl said.

“But what I’m saying is that her time in the Clinton White House deserves to be understood. She was a policy person, and we need to understand what it was that she was involved in, whether there was controversy surrounding that, and if that means there are documents we need to see, we should see them.”

Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who is not on the judiciary committee, said his party should be pushing hard to see Kagan’s memos, particularly since she has never been a judge and there are no rulings that can be used to gauge her judicial philosophy.

“I think we should get that kind of information,” Thune said. “That’s really important information to have. This is a very unusual situation. It’s a question that needs to be answered.”

A senior Senate Republican leadership aide said: “It’s safe to say that Republicans will ask for everything and anything that’s relevant.”

It was not clear Tuesday that Republicans knew yet exactly what to ask for.

“I don’t even know what there might be,” Kyl said.

Democrats, like the White House, have indicated they are not inclined to turn over documents willy nilly.

In fact, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy — who is also meeting with Kagan Wednesday — became visibly angry when pressed by The Daily Caller on the topic.

“I’ll tell you what. I think what is important is for you to let me run the hearing and we’ll let you know,” Leahy said. “I think it would be grandstanding on my part to try to tell you what I want to do before I even talk to the nominee.”

Asked again about the issue, Leahy shot back, “Maybe you ought to chair the hearing.”

Sen. Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat not on the judiciary committee who is known for being something of a maverick, gave a long pause when asked if Kagan’s memos should be turned over.*

“I’d have to think about that,” Webb said.

Kagan worked in the White House counsel’s office from 1995 to 1997 and was deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council from 1997 to 1999. Her memos are housed in Arkansas at the Clinton Library.

Kagan helped defend Clinton from the Travelgate scandal and worked on issues including welfare, hate crimes, race and tobacco regulation.

The White House has said it will not simply hand over Kagan’s writings.

“I’m sure the committee will request those papers and we’ll reach an accommodation with the Clinton Library on that,” said Ron Klain, chief counsel to Vice President Joe Biden. “We’ve got to see what the committee wants to see and we’ll go from there.”

In 2005, when President George W. Bush, a Republican, nominated John Roberts to be chief justice, a Republican Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, threatened to subpoena Roberts’s writings from his time at the White House under President Ronald Reagan as well as from his time at the Justice Department.

The Bush White House produced the memos.

*This article originally stated that Webb, who is on the armed services, foreign relations, veterans and joint economic committees, is on the judiciary committee.

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