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New storm rises over Kavanaugh

The Hill logo The Hill 9/17/2019 Mike Lillis
a group of people standing next to a person in a suit and tie: New storm rises over Kavanaugh © Greg Nash New storm rises over Kavanaugh

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is facing a new front on impeachment from progressives pressing her party to launch a formal effort to oust Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Pelosi, already under pressure from the left to launch an impeachment inquiry against President Trump, is now hearing from voices on and off Capitol Hill to go after Kavanaugh, who is facing new allegations of sexual misconduct.

They say that Kavanaugh deserves impeachment over the new allegations, which conservatives have decried, because it suggests he lied under oath.

"It is unsurprising that Kavanaugh, credibly accused of sexual assault, would lie under oath to secure a Supreme Court seat," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted Monday. "Because sexual assault isn't a crime of passion - it's about the abuse of power.

"He must be impeached."

Liberals were angered over Kavanaugh's confirmation last fall, and a number of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls wasted no time in recent days calling for Kavanaugh's impeachment.The issue has the potential to galvanize base voters - not least suburban women - heading into next year's elections.

Yet there are potential pitfalls in that strategy as well since Democrats are also fighting to protect vulnerable centrist lawmakers.

These members have long sought to dissuade any talk of impeaching Trump, which they see as distracting from the issues-based agenda they promised voters they would prioritize.

Asked Monday about the Democrats' next steps on Kavanaugh, one aide was terse.

"Frankly, [we're] trying to keep everyone focused on gun background checks this week," the aide said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who's already leading the investigation into whether Trump has committed impeachable offenses, suggested Monday that the president - not Kavanaugh - would remain the focus of his committee.

"It's one thing for a presidential candidate or anybody else to say it's their opinion something should be done,"

Nadler said in an interview with WNYC. "We have official jurisdiction, and whether to exercise that jurisdiction is a much more consequential action, which we have to be able to justify."

Nadler said his panel would look into the latest allegations facing Kavanaugh, starting with previously scheduled testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray next month, when Democrats intend to press him on the agency's investigation of earlier allegations that Kavanaugh had committed sexual assault. But, Nadler added, "we have our hands full with impeaching the president right now."

"And that's going to take up our limited resources and time for a while," he said.

Last month, Nadler had asked the National Archives to deliver documents related to Kavanaugh's tenure in the George W. Bush administration, where he served from 2001 to 2006 - information that was not released last year during his confirmation hearings. A spokesman for the Judiciary Committee emphasized Monday that Democrats will examine those records with eyes on determining if the White House had sought to suppress their release during the confirmation process.

"If that is the case, such an obstruction would be an abuse of power by the President," the spokesman said in an email.

Nadler's methodical approach to the new Kavanaugh allegations mirrors that being applied by Democratic leaders in their investigations of Trump. Democrats seized the House in last year's midterms on a kitchen-table message that largely ignored the controversial figure in the White House. And Pelosi has taken pains to tamp down the impeachment talk as Democrats juggle their ongoing investigations with efforts to make good on their ambitious legislative agenda.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Monday said that while Kavanaugh should never have been confirmed, he's awaiting the release of the requested documents before weighing in on next steps.

"I defer to Chairman Nadler and his Committee Members as they look into this," Hoyer said in an email.

The latest uproar over Kavanaugh was sparked over the weekend, when The New York Times published a story detailing a new claim that Kavanaugh, as a Yale undergraduate, had exposed his penis to a female classmate, forcing her to touch his genitals, during an alcohol-fueled dorm party. The alleged victim was not interviewed for the story, and the paper added a correction to the piece on Monday to note that her friends indicated she did not recall the incident.

Trump and top Republicans on Capitol Hill have long claimed that Kavanaugh has been the victim of false accusations lodged for the singular political purpose of sinking his confirmation. They've rushed to Kavanaugh's defense in recent days, accusing the Times of pushing a "thinly reported, unsubstantiated allegation," in the words of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Trump and others have seized on the correction to make their case.

"The New York Times made another terrible mistake. It's a shame that a thing like that could happen," Trump told reporters Monday on the South Lawn, calling it a "big correction."

"To do that about a Supreme Court justice is a terrible thing," he continued. "It's fake news. It's just fake news. They have to be very embarrassed."

Yet the correction did not undermine the central basis for the story, which leaned heavily on new accounts of a separate incident at Yale involving Deborah Ramirez, who had previously brought sexual misconduct claims against Kavanaugh.

Women's groups, liberal activist organizations and some Democrats on Capitol Hill are now pushing Kavanaugh's impeachment as the only recourse. Leading the charge have been the 2020 presidential contenders, who want the House to launch the process immediately.

"Confirmation is not exoneration, and these newest revelations are disturbing," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted Sunday. "Like the man who appointed him, Kavanaugh should be impeached."

Morgan Chalfant and Jordain Carney contributed.

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