Twenty years ago this December, William Jefferson Clinton became the first elected President to be impeached by the United States House of Representatives (Andrew Johnson, impeached in 1868, was never elected to the presidency).
The charges on which Clinton was impeached were perjury and obstruction of justice. The evidence supporting his impeachment was contained in the Report delivered to the House on September 9, 1998, prepared by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and his staff of investigators and attorneys. One of those attorneys was Brett Kavanaugh, now a Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and a nominee to serve as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.
The Democrats’ long knives, sharpened the moment Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered his letter of resignation to President Trump on June 27th, have been sent to party operatives and media friends across the country and especially in the Nation’s Capital. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made clear the moment Trump introduced Judge Kavanaugh as his choice to succeed Justice Kennedy, that the Democrat Party will employ every trick and tool at its disposal to deny Kavanaugh confirmation in the closely divided Senate.
As in past battles waged by the Democrats against Supreme Court nominees offered by Republican Presidents, beginning with Robert Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas four years later, the Minority Party has made crystal clear it will employ a scorched earth strategy; in which neither factual accuracy nor policy relevance will play a role.
Clearly, one of the avenues down which the Democrats will travel in their Blitzkrieg, will be to attack Kavanaugh for his role as a lawyer assisting Ken Starr in preparing his Report to the House. The Independent Counsel Report laid out the evidence showing that Clinton engaged in offenses impeachable under Article I of the Constitution. In the coming confirmation maelstrom, it is a virtual certainty that Kavanaugh’s detractors will claim evidence was manufactured, manipulated, and misapplied in order to secure the President’s impeachment.
What became known as the “Starr Report” was delivered to the House in two parts. The first was the Report itself, which was made available to the public, and contained the essential evidence on which the Articles of Impeachment were based. Accompanying the Report were numerous boxes of documents that presented extensive evidence underpinning, elaborating on, and strengthening the public document. All that material (which filled several file cabinets) was ordered sealed by House Resolution; and remains so to this day.
As a member of the Judiciary Committee in 1998, and as an Impeachment Manager following the House vote impeaching Clinton, I had access to those files; as did other Members involved in the process. Unfortunately, when the Senate established the rules under which the House managers were forced to conduct the trial in the Senate, only evidence that was available publicly was allowed to be presented in support of our case to convict Clinton. To this day that entire body of evidence remains unavailable to anyone other than current Members of the House.
Why is this important today, 20 years after the impeachment? Because Schumer and other Democrats will charge that Kavanaugh, as an attorney working with the Independent Counsel, engaged in a purely partisan campaign against Clinton, designed for the sole purpose of impeaching a despised president. They likely will assert that the charges against Clinton were based on evidence that was manipulated, deliberately exaggerated, mischaracterized, and unfounded.
Unless the evidence in the sealed files is made available to defend against such charges, Judge Kavanaugh and those defending his nomination will be at a severe disadvantage; and he may become the latest victim of a process of secrecy and caution that permitted a sexual predator and perjurer to escape justice two decades ago.
The country cannot afford to lose this Supreme Court nominee for such a reason. All it takes is action by the House Republican majority to unseal the impeachment files now cloaked in secrecy. There simply is no reason for the Republican leadership not to unseal those files; and there is every good reason to do so. Now.
Bob Barr is president and CEO of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation (LEEF). From 1995-2003, he represented Georgia’s Seventh Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.