Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday had the entire hearing room on tenterhooks, as she opened her questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh with a somewhat mysterious inquiry. Her question centered on a meeting Kavanaugh may have had about the Mueller investigation — with a member of a law firm founded by President Trump’s personal lawyer.
A meeting like this could underscore an inappropriately cozy relationship between Kavanaugh and the Trump administration, adding yet another potential conflict of interest to those that Democrats have been hammering throughout the hearing. And it’s one that a Democratic aide told Vox they believe might have taken place. (Democrats have argued that Kavanaugh’s nomination by Trump already poses a conflict of interest since he could potentially rule on elements of the Russia investigation.)
Kavanaugh, meanwhile, didn’t do much to settle the issue as he repeatedly deflected questions on the subject.
“Have you discussed the Mueller investigation with anyone at Kasowitz Benson Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump’s personal lawyer?” Harris asked. “Be sure about your answer, sir.”
“I’m not remembering but if you have something, you want to …” Kavanaugh said, adding, “I’m not sure if I know everyone who works at that law firm … I’m not remembering.”
Harris continued this line of questioning for roughly five minutes, a move that not only seemed to make Kavanaugh uncomfortable but also elicited some broader confusion in the hearing room since she declined to provide immediate specifics about a person or meeting. “I think you’re thinking of someone and don’t want to tell us,” she said.
You can watch the full exchange below.
CSPAN has posted the entire nearly 8-minute exchange between Kamala Harris and Kavanaugh on the Mueller probe. It is worth your time. pic.twitter.com/ezJVEuDeUK— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 6, 2018
At one point, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) intervened on Kavanaugh’s behalf and noted that there are many attorneys staffed at various private law firms in Washington, DC. CNN’s Steve Brusk said Kastowitz’s firm itself denies such a discussion.
Marc Kasowitz law firm in a statement says "There have been no discussions regarding Robert Mueller’s investigation between Judge Kavanaugh and anyone at our firm.”— Steve Brusk (@stevebruskCNN) September 6, 2018
There’s suspicion that a meeting did, in fact, happen and Harris was trying to get Kavanaugh to talk about it
It turns out that Harris, who spent much of her career as a prosecutor in California, was working off information that Kavanaugh may indeed have met with someone from this firm — a move that could underscore his ties to Trump. Additionally, if Kavanaugh denied a meeting and evidence later emerges that one did happen, he could very well have perjured himself, and it’s possible Harris was putting him on the spot in order to catch him on the issue while he’s under oath.
“We have reason to believe that a conversation happened and are continuing to pursue it,” a Democratic aide tells Vox. It is still unclear, as of yet, how many concrete details there are to back this up.
Observers of the hearing wondered if Kavanaugh’s bumbling response was simply a ploy to avoid offering a damning response, while others suggested that the gambit was an effective way for Harris to generate buzz ahead of 2020.
Kavanaugh offered a more clarity on Thursday
On Thursday, both Harris and Kavanaugh provided a bit more clarity on the matter. As Harris said during the hearing, she indicated that she had received reliable information about a meeting that had taken place.
Kavanaugh, meanwhile, explained that he did have ties with Kasowitz attorney Ed McNally, but clarified that he had not discussed the Mueller investigation with him.
When asked the question again on Thursday, Kavanaugh’s response marked a stark difference from the answer he gave on Wednesday. “I will ask you again, and for the last time. Have you ever been part of a conversation with lawyers at the firm of Kasowitz Benson Torres about Special Counsel Mueller or his investigation?,” said Harris.
Kavanaugh ultimately answered plainly with a definitive, “No.”