WASHINGTON – Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the vacant Supreme Court seat, refused on Wednesday at his Senate confirmation hearing to take a public position on whether a president must respond to a subpoena while he is in office.
Kavanaugh frustrated many Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee by saying that he could not provide an answer to a “hypothetical” case.
The second day of testimony on his nomination unfolded much like the first, with recurring protests in the room in which the Senate committee was meeting to interview Kavanaugh.
At least 58 protesters were expelled from the hall, where they had chanted slogans defending a woman’s right to get an abortion and against supporting a nominee who has been backed by the National Rifle Association.
Kavanaugh’s statements to Republican and Democratic lawmakers were made at a time when Trump and his closest 2016 campaign advisers are being hemmed in by the so-called Russia probe investigation into possible coordination between his team and the Kremlin to try and ensure his election and amid further investigations into whether the president has obstructed justice in trying to quash the probe.
During the hearing, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy asked Kavanaugh about presidential immunity and specifically whether the president would have the right to pardon himself whereupon Kavanaugh said he could not answer that question as it is “hypothetical.”
Leahy went on to ask if the president could issue a pardon to someone in exchange for that person agreeing not to testify against the president, and Kavanaugh again refused to answer.
Kavanaugh expressed his admiration for the Supreme Court decision against former President Richard Nixon in which the high court ruled that he had to respond to a subpoena to turn over documents requested of him in a case that led to his resignation amid the Watergate scandal.
Kavanaugh also refused to take a position on whether the president can fire a special counsel, such as the one heading the Russia investigation – Robert Mueller – despite the fact that in 1998 he ruled that the president should be able to fire a prosecutor without justification.
The nominee was also questioned about his stance on abortion rights as in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, and he said that it was an “important precedent” and one worthy of respect.
Kavanaugh was nominated by Trump on July 9 to fill the high court vacancy left by Justice Anthony Kennedy’s resignation, but he must get through the Senate committee’s confirmation hearings and then be confirmed in a vote by the full upper house before he can begin serving.