Brett Kavanaugh Once Said the Watergate Tapes Decision Was “Wrongly Decided”

Trump’s Supreme Court pick made the statement in 1999.

Supreme Court nominee Brett KavanaughJ. Scott Applewhite/AP

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh once suggested that the Supreme Court decision that forced President Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes may have been “wrongly decided.” 

Kavanaugh was taking part in a 1999 roundtable with other lawyers, according to The Associated Press. The conversation was documented in a decades-old Washington Lawyer magazine article—one of thousands of documents Kavanaugh handed over to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Saturday as part of the confirmation process. 

Kavanaugh is known for his support of strong executive authority—a belief that could take center stage if special counsel Robert Mueller tries to force President Donald Trump to testify in the ongoing investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. 

U.S. v. Nixon restricted the president’s ability to claim executive privilege in order to avoid handing over information as part of a criminal investigation. “But maybe Nixon was wrongly decided—heresy though it is to say so,” Kavanaugh reportedly said at the roundtable, which took place in the wake of Kenneth Starr’s investigation into President Bill Clinton.

Nixon took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch by holding that the courts had power and jurisdiction to order the president to disclose information in response to a subpoena sought by a subordinate executive branch official…Maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision.”

Later on in the discussion, he suggested that the court should have stayed out of the decision altogether: “Should U.S. v. Nixon be overruled on the ground that the case was a nonjusticiable intrabranch dispute? Maybe so.”

Over the years, Kavanaugh has made a number of statements that point to the judge’s support of executive power. In 2016, the nominee said he wants to “put the final nail” in the coffin of Morrison v. Olson, the 1988 high court decision that upheld the power of independent counsels to investigate government officials. And according to a 1998 video released by CNN on Friday, Kavanaugh said that Congress needs to be in charge of investigating the president. As he said, “It makes no sense at all to have an independent counsel looking at the conduct of the President.”

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate