Senate Democrats are requesting more information about Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s role defending the George W. Bush administration in lawsuits over terrorism policies and interrogation of detainees.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the information provided by Gorsuch about his 2005-2006 employment at the Justice Department has raised more questions.
“With your hearing only six days away, it has come to my attention that your response via the Department of Justice to my letter of February 22 is incomplete and must be supplemented immediately,” Feinstein (Calif.) wrote, setting a deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday.
Hundreds of thousands of document pages provided cryptic descriptions of the work of Gorsuch, who served as a high-ranking Justice Department official before he was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in July 2006.
Feinstein requested documents covering “all litigation related to the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism, intelligence, detention, interrogation, military, or related efforts in which you drafted or reviewed a legal filing.”
The request signaled a potential new avenue of questioning for Gorsuch by the committee’s Democrats and came as the partisan and ideological battle over Gorsuch’s nomination began to heat up on Capitol Hill.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) held a news conference with people who said they had been harmed by Gorsuch’s rulings, and the senator accused President Trump’s nominee of enacting a “right-wing, pro-corporate, special-interest agenda” as a judge.
“Given the chance, I have no doubt he’ll do it again on the Supreme Court,” Schumer said.
Schumer also called out Gorsuch’s ties to conservative businessman Philip Anschutz, detailed this week in a New York Times article. Gorsuch represented Anschutz as a private lawyer, and Anschutz has contributed to the Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society, two groups that recommended Gorsuch and 20 others to Trump as potential Supreme Court nominees.
Besides portraying Gorsuch as harmful to the “little guy,” Democratic senators and aides have also explored his involvement with issues of executive privilege and terrorism-related cases.
Feinstein said Tuesday that she was sending a team of Democratic staffers to the Justice Department to review about 11,000 pages of documents that department officials said were too sensitive to be copied or sent to Capitol Hill.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said that “on areas of surveillance and torture, what I’ve seen so far, his views are a lot different than mine.”
“When Judge Gorsuch was working for the administration, at least based on the initial things I’ve looked at, he appears to be a cheerleader for President Bush’s views on executive powers,” Leahy said, declining to specify which documents he had seen.
But Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who leads the Judiciary Committee, disputed accusations that Gorsuch or the Trump administration have been withholding information on the nominee.
“They’re asking things of Gorsuch that they didn’t ask of Kagan,” Grassley said, referring to Justice Elena Kagan’s tenure as solicitor general in the Obama administration.
Grassley said that Democrats should be “satisfied” with the amount of information released so far.
In the documents released to the committee, Gorsuch provides a list of the work he did at the Justice Department in the form of a self-evaluation.
“Helped coordinate litigation efforts involving a number of national security matters — including the Darby photos litigation and FOIA case seeking a poll of Guantanamo Bay detainees,” he wrote, referring to the 2004 release of graphic pictures of prisoners being abused by U.S. military personnel in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.
Gorsuch said he also “drafted speeches on terrorism and national security efforts for the Attorney General” and helped draft the motion to dismiss the first set of suits by detainees authorized by a Supreme Court decision.
Feinstein was also interested in a reference to a proposal for a “seminar on torture policy” at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Please provide to the committee any materials related to any involvement you had in the issue of torture (including so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’), including this proposal,” she wrote.
The hundreds of thousands of pages submitted by the Justice Department has provided intriguing glimpses of the nominee, but its sheer volume has frustrated researchers.
The documents do show that, if confirmed, Gorsuch would become the first justice to have visited the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. He wrote a thank-you to his hosts:
“I was extraordinarily impressed,” he wrote. Being able to “see first hand all that you have managed to accomplish with such a difficult and sensitive mission makes my job of helping explain and defend it before the courts all the easier.”
Gorsuch also took an active role in developing talking points for the administration on detainees, including whether “enhanced interrogation” works.
“Yes,” is handwritten next to a typed question: “Have the aggressive interrogation techniques employed by the Admin yielded any valuable intelligence?”
At the top of the page, which contains actual or anticipated questions from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) is written: “TO DO — Examples of Intell” relating to “GTMO.”
Gabe Roth, whose organization Fix the Court filed a lawsuit after receiving no action on a Freedom of Information Act request for Gorsuch’s records, said the documents appear incomplete.
“The picture these documents paint is that from the outset of his agency tenure, Judge Gorsuch was intimately involved in a range of administration initiatives, from detainee treatment to surveillance to judicial nominations,” Roth said. “I’m looking forward to the release of additional documents, whether in response to the senator or to our FOIA lawsuit.”