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Kavanaugh offers details on Nationals tickets purchases that led to debt

Over three days of confirmation hearings, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh touched, nudged, tapped, moved, held and flipped through his pocket Constitution, repeatedly. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh on Wednesday described in detail how he regularly bought Washington Nationals tickets and split the cost with friends — purchases the White House has said led Kavanaugh to accrue tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. 

The Washington Post reported in July that Kavanaugh ran up credit card debt that the White House has attributed to his purchasing pricey season tickets for himself and a group of friends. The nominee’s friends have since repaid Kavanaugh — an avid fan of the Nationals baseball team — according to the White House, and the issue did not surface during his two days of public questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

But the issue arose in written follow-up questions submitted by members of the committee, and Kavanaugh submitted his answers in writing late Wednesday. The responses provided Kavanaugh the opportunity to clean up some of the more controversial moments to emerge from the nearly week-long hearing, particularly comments he made about birth control and his apparent snub of the parent of a student killed in a mass shooting.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) misleadingly trimmed crucial words Kavanaugh said in a discussion of a case concerning access to contraceptives. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

In explaining the debt to members of the committee, Kavanaugh noted that he is a “huge sports fan” and said that he bought four season tickets annually from the Nationals’ arrival in Washington in 2005 until 2017. He also bought playoff packages in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. 

He split the tickets with a “group of old friends” through a “ticket draft” at his home, Kavanaugh said. 

“Everyone in the group paid me for their tickets based on the cost of the tickets, to the dollar,” Kavanaugh said in the written responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee that were made public Wednesday. “No one overpaid or underpaid me for tickets. No loans were given in either direction.”

In 2016, Kavanaugh reported between $60,000 and $200,000 in debt, according to his financial disclosures, which was spread out over three credit cards and a loan. The debts were either paid off or dipped below the reporting requirements the following year.

But Kavanaugh signaled that his debt at the time was far lower than $200,000, saying in his written responses Wednesday that his debt was “not close to the top of the ranges” he reported on the financial disclosures.

The new details came in written responses to 1,287 questions submitted to Kavanaugh by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with all but nine of the questions coming from Democrats, who have largely vowed to oppose his nomination. 

Many questions dealt with issues that arose during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing last week. He again stressed that he had not been “read into” the enhanced interrogation practices of the George W. Bush administration, and he declined to answer several follow-up questions about his involvement in controversial Bush-era judicial nomination fights, pointing to his answers during the hearing.

But some responses released Wednesday shed some new light. Kavanaugh told Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) that President Trump has called him twice to “offer words of encouragement” but added that “at no time did he ask for any promise or representation as to how I would rule in any case, and at no time did I offer any commitments.”

In a response to a question from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kavanaugh acknowledged that he had discussions with Trump’s presidential transition team — specifically with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) — about the position of solicitor general. The talks were previously reported in The Post in 2017. 

“I ultimately decided that I wanted to remain a judge,” Kavanaugh wrote in his response to Booker. 

Kavanaugh also tried to clarify lingering questions about his use of the term “abortion-inducing” drugs in describing birth control, in response to questions from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). 

Democrats have said Kavanaugh was referring to all birth control drugs. But Kavanaugh said he was only describing the position of the plaintiffs in the case.

He also denied that he had intentionally snubbed Fred Guttenberg, the father of a shooting victim from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Video showed Kavanaugh turning away from the man, who approached him at a break in the hearing. 

Kavanaugh said he did not recognize Guttenberg’s name and assumed he was one of the protesters who had interrupted the hearings. 

“It had been a chaotic morning with a large number of protesters in the hearing room,” Kavanaugh wrote. “As the break began, the room remained noisy and crowded. When I turned and did not recognize the man, I assumed he was a protester. In a split second, my security detail intervened and ushered me out of the hearing room.”  

He added: “Mr. Guttenberg has suffered an incalculable loss. If I had known who he was, I would have shaken his hand, talked to him, and expressed my sympathy. And I would have listened to him.”

Multiple Democrats pressed Kavanaugh on his finances. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who has already declared his opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination, posed questions involving gambling, and Kavanaugh wrote in his responses that he has never reported a gambling loss to the Internal Revenue Service or accrued gambling debt.

Kavanaugh’s financial statement submitted to the Senate in July shows a net worth of around $942,000 — including government retirement accounts worth about $480,000 and more than $400,000 in equity in his home. His mortgage totals roughly $815,000, and he holds $27,000 in cash accounts and owns a Jeep Grand Cherokee valued at $25,000. 

Kavanaugh wrote Wednesday that he and his wife “have sunk a decent amount of money” into their $1.25 million home for repairs — a list of fixes that Kavanaugh said “sometimes seems to never end.”

In response to a question from Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) about whether he had expressed a view during his time in the Bush administration on whether same-sex marriage is a right guaranteed by the Constitution, Kavanaugh responded that “I do not remember specifics.” He noted that at the time, the Supreme Court had not ruled that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right.

And Kavanaugh, in response to questions from Harris, avoided a question on whether being gay is an “immutable characteristic.”

Still other questions revolved around Trump. Asked by Durbin whether he agreed with Trump’s statement that the probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is “an illegal investigation,” Kavanaugh declined to respond directly.

And when pressed by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) on whether Kavanaugh personally believes Nazis, Nazi sympathizers or white nationalists are “fine people” — a reference to Trump’s comments following the racially charged incidents in Charlottesville last year — Kavanaugh responded: “There is no place in American public life for vile ideologies of hate.”

Kavanaugh repeated his statement from the hearing that it would be improper to say whether a president should comply with a grand jury subpoena. He also repeated that it would be improper to say whether he believed a sitting president can be indicted, while noting that the Department of Justice has for the past 45 years taken the position that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) asked one question: “Should a president be able to use his authority to pressure executive or independent agencies to carry out his directives for purely political purposes?” While the question did not mention Trump, Flake has been a frequent critic of the president. The question prompted an unusually long response in which Kavanaugh cited numerous instances in which justices have ruled against presidents who nominated them. 

 Kavanaugh wrote that “many of the greatest moments in Supreme Court history have come when the independent judiciary has stood up for the principle that no one — not even the president — is above the law.”

In response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kavanaugh defended his role in helping lead the investigation into the death of Clinton White House associate counsel Vincent Foster. Kavanaugh said his then-boss, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, directed that the investigation be thorough, and he said the conclusion that Foster committed suicide “has stood the test of time.”

Kavanaugh denied improperly leaking information to reporters, saying he spoke to the press “at the direction or authorization of Judge Starr consistent with the law.”

And he also explained a September 2001 email he sent to a group of friends after a reunion weekend, in which he urged his pals to be “very, very vigilant” about confidentiality, “including with spouses.” The nominee says that was referring to his first date with his now-wife, Ashley, which was scheduled for later that night. 

“Over the course of the preceding weekend, I had discussed Ashley at some length with my longtime friends,” Kavanaugh told the committee. “In the email, I was asking my friends not to share my interest in and upcoming date with Ashley with their spouses.”

Amy Brittain, Robert Barnes and Michael Kranish contributed to this report.