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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse Weighs In Ahead Of Brett Kavanaugh's Testimony

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're joined now by Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Welcome to the program.

SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: Thank you - wonderful to be with you.

CORNISH: So help us put this all in context. Where are you focusing your efforts at the moment? Is it with encouraging colleagues like Joe Manchin to vote against Kavanaugh, or is it pressuring uncommitted Republicans?

WHITEHOUSE: It's two things. One, it's trying to broaden the public's understanding of this whole nomination's process to consider all of the private, behind-closed-doors, special interest prescreening that was done under the auspices of the Federalist Society. It's to understand a little bit better what all of this dark money that is out campaigning for Justice Kavanaugh's all about and then to focus on how that has come through to the court with other nominees in terms of those same special interests now being in front of the court with amicus briefs and then winning really big decisions from the court. So Kavanaugh steps into a much larger process, and I'm trying to bring some attention to the special interest influence in that larger process.

CORNISH: At the same time, there are outside groups, liberal activists who are also trying to pressure people to vote no on Kavanaugh, pouring money into that effort. Are you working with them?

WHITEHOUSE: Nope. They're out there doing their own thing. The other issue obviously we're working on is trying to see what we're going to get our hands on in the Judiciary Committee by way of documents, and so that's an ongoing unknown question.

CORNISH: You mention these documents. We've heard Minority Leader Senator Schumer also call for the release of documents from Kavanaugh's time in the Bush administration. What's your response to progressive activists who say, hey, he's been on the bench 12 years; we know what we don't like already; why are you guys focusing on documents?

WHITEHOUSE: Because cases are going to come up before him, and the documents that he's been involved with that reflect his prior views may be important in understanding how he is going to rule in the future. Probably the most dangerous prospect for this nominee is that he is being put on the court by President Trump with the specific expectation that if the Mueller investigation comes before the Supreme Court in any way, he will rule to limit or inhibit the Mueller investigation.

CORNISH: And is there evidence of this in his past that you think leads to be the case?

WHITEHOUSE: Yes. There are things that he has said about the scope of executive power and the need for executive power to be uninhibited by any kind of judicial or law enforcement investigation that I think open up a broad area of very legitimate inquiry. And of course he would've looked into that as staff secretary at the White House when any investigations came up.

So there's a whole series of areas in which he is on record that the archives of the Bush presidency or the National Archives have. And we believe we should have access to those materials. And if there's nothing there, we obviously won't bring them up. It's going to be a lot of work to look through them, but I think that's part of our responsibility.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, progressive activists are saying they want Democrats to put up a fight no matter what to the end. In the meantime, we have an NPR poll last week that found for a lot of Democrats, in terms of voters, the battle over the Supreme Court nominee just isn't really a huge motivator - right? - to get out there to the ballot. Is that a problem for you?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I've got a much simpler task. I'm a United States senator. I sit on the Judiciary Committee. I represent the state of Rhode Island. And I have a very clear duty to look at all Supreme Court nominees and make sure that they will judge fairly and honorably, that there aren't any side deals that they've entered into in return for their place on the court and that Rhode Islanders of whatever stripe can be - can expect to be treated fairly before this court.

CORNISH: And on that point, will you be meeting with Brett Kavanaugh?

WHITEHOUSE: I expect so. It's an ordinary courtesy, particularly for somebody on the Judiciary Committee, to meet with the candidate before the hearing.

CORNISH: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island, thank you so much for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

WHITEHOUSE: Thanks, Audie. Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.