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Supreme Court nominee emails reignite Democratic query on past testimony

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Democratic senator on Tuesday raised new questions about whether U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has accurately described his role in a controversial judicial nomination when he worked for then-President George W. Bush.

FILE PHOTO: Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies during the third day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Alex Wroblewski

Emails previously withheld as “committee confidential” but released by the office of Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, suggest that Kavanaugh, a White House lawyer at the time, cast light on his involvement in the nomination of William Haynes, a controversial Department of Defense lawyer, for an appeals court position.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said the emails are consistent with Kavanaugh’s testimony and called Durbin’s actions a “pathetic attempt” to smear the nominee.

President Donald Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is now in the hands of the U.S. Senate. Republicans control the 51 Senate votes needed to confirm Kavanaugh if they stick together.

Democrats are trying hard to raise questions about the nominee because they see Kavanaugh tilting the court even further to the right. A final Senate vote is expected by the end of September.

Kavanaugh told Durbin in 2006, when Bush nominated him to his current position as an appeals court judge in Washington, that the Haynes nomination was not one he “handled.”

One 2002 email released by Durbin showed Kavanaugh weighing in on a suggestion that Haynes be nominated for a vacancy on the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, questioning if he was conservative enough.

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“But what is the basis for saying he would be an across-the- board judicial conservative?” Kavanaugh asked.

An email from 2003 from then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales invited Kavanaugh to play golf with Haynes.

In releasing the emails, Durbin revived his own long-simmering dispute dating to Kavanaugh’s 2006 confirmation hearing. Durbin had asked then about whether Kavanaugh was involved in the Haynes nomination.

The White House pointed to a question from another senator at the same 2006 hearing, in which Kavanaugh said “yes” when asked if he would have been involved in discussions on the Haynes nomination if it came up. Kavanaugh said he could not recall such conversations.

In a statement, Durbin sought to tie Kavanaugh’s Haynes testimony to several other issues on which Democrats say Kavanaugh gave misleading answers during his confirmation hearing last week, including whether he was involved in the Bush administration’s interrogation policies.

“This is a theme that we see emerge with Judge Kavanaugh time and time again. He says one thing under oath, and then the documents tell a different story,” Durbin said

As general counsel at the Pentagon, Haynes was involved in detainee and interrogation policy decisions after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He was not ultimately confirmed.

Reporting by Richard Cowan and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman