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McConnell defends Kavanaugh's writings on presidential power

Thu, 12 Jul 2018 12:11:39 -0500

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate's top Republican pushed back forcefully Thursday on warnings from Democrats that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh might be willing to thwart the Russia investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor that Democrats are reading too much into writings from Kavanaugh, in which he said investigations of sitting presidents are a distraction. McConnell called the Democratic claims "outlandish" and a "conspiracy theory" and said they are throwing "catnip for their far-left base."

Kavanaugh wrote a decade ago that investigations of presidents can hurt their ability to govern. He had first-hand experience, having served on the Kenneth Starr team that investigated President Bill Clinton.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has called Kavanaugh's views on dealing with potential executive wrongdoing "dangerous." 

"If he's the swing vote on any kind of rational check on this president, I worry. We should all worry," Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

In the article Democrats are citing, Kavanaugh wrote that the Supreme Court's conclusion in Clinton v. Jones that presidents are not constitutionally entitled to a deferral of civil suits "may well have been entirely correct." But he added that the court did say Congress is free to provide a temporary deferral, and indeed, "may be wise to do so."

"Deferral would allow the President to focus on the vital duties he was elected to perform," Kavanaugh wrote. "Congress should consider doing the same, moreover, with respect to criminal investigations and prosecutions of the President."

Kavanaugh argued that even the lesser burdens of a criminal investigation are time-consuming and distracting, adding that a president who is concerned about an ongoing criminal investigation is almost inevitably going to do a worse job.

He said his point is not to put the president above the law or to eliminate checks on the president, but "simply to defer litigation and investigations until the President is out of office."

Kavanaugh in the article noted that one critique of deferral is that the country needs a check against a bad-behaving or law-breaking president. "But the Constitution already provides that check. If the president does something dastardly, the impeachment process is available."

"In short, the Constitution establishes a clear mechanism to deter executive malfeasance; we should not burden a sitting President with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecutions. The President's job is difficult enough as is. And the country loses when the President's focus is distracted by the burdens of civil litigation or criminal investigation and possible prosecution."

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