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Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh wrestled with graphic nature of Clinton impeachment report

In April 2004, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) pressed circuit court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on whether President Clinton should have been impeached. (Video: C-SPAN)

In August 1998, as Brett M. Kavanaugh put his finishing touches on a report calling for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, he made light about the graphic language the report would use to describe Clinton’s sexual activity, according to documents released Friday by the National Archives.

Kavanaugh, now a nominee for the Supreme Court, was intent on delivering a document that would make a strong case against Clinton. But he was uneasy about the explicit language and details that his boss, independent counsel Kenneth Starr, intended to include in the report, according to documents and interviews.

“IS IT TOO GRAPHIC?” Kavanaugh asked in an Aug. 31, 1998, memo to other lawyers in the Office of Independent Counsel, run by Starr. “SHOULD IT BE MORE GRAPHIC (kidding)?”

The document discussed in the memo, which spelled out the possible grounds for impeachment, helped spur a national uproar when it was released two weeks later as part of Starr’s final report of the independent counsel investigation of the Clintons.

A person familiar with Kavanaugh’s thinking noted that he advocated for keeping the graphic content confidential, rather than releasing it publicly.

“The memorandum shows him recognizing that he doesn’t want to be too shrill in insisting that the draft might be too graphic, even as he is suggesting that it might be,” the person said. “It shows his hallmark sense of how to maintain good relationships with colleagues while also trying to persuade them.

The memo was included in the latest batch of documents released by the National Archives in response to Freedom of Information Act requests for information related to Kavanaugh’s role in Starr’s long-running investigation of the Clintons, including their controversial financial investments in Arkansas and Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. Many of the thousands of pages released were partially or completely redacted.

In another memo, Kavanaugh expressed opposition “to any indictments before the Senate proceedings are concluded.” He added, “I gather that is not a controversial observation.”

He also expressed caution about seeking an indictment of a sitting president.

“I would send a letter to the Attorney General explaining that we believe an indictment should not be pursued while the President is in Office,” Kavanaugh wrote on Dec. 24, 1998.

Much has been written about the role played by Kavanaugh in that report. The newly released memos offer fresh insight about his outlook at the time, showing that he was deliberate, analytical and careful to draw in the views of his colleagues, while also focused on making a strong case for impeachment.

In the first memo, Kavanaugh wrote that he had conducted a “front-to-back” review of the draft document to tighten the writing and render it more “internally consistent.” He said his goal was to make it more persuasive and allow it to be read as a “stand-alone” document.

Among other things, Kavanaugh pressed his colleagues to drop references to a former White House aide, Kathleen Willey, who had accused Clinton of sexual assault but whose allegations had failed to gain traction. “Kathleen Willey hasn’t convicted squat,” Kavanaugh wrote, calling the proof in her case “he-said/she-said.”

“Bottom line: We look unhinged to include Willey” and exclude questions about the Clintons’ investments in Arkansas, their relationship with a failed savings and loan, and allegations about White House obstruction of various investigations.

Kavanaugh asked for input about the tone of the draft document. “Does the term conspiracy work?” he asked. “I like it because it is correct and it is a weighty term.”

Also released Friday was a batch of emails sent and received by Kavanaugh’s wife, Ashley, in her role as town manager of the Village of Chevy Chase Section 5, an incorporated municipality north of Washington. The village released the emails in response to public-records requests by the New York Times and the Associated Press.

The emails show that she occasionally sought advice from her husband, who was serving as a U.S. appeals court judge in the District, about village business.

On Aug. 1, 2016, Ashley Kavanaugh emailed Brett Kavanaugh’s personal address from her work address to ask him to review a draft letter to local residents about tax rebates.

“Will you look this over? Also, do you think it is too detailed, or not clear enough? It is the one issue I am consistently asked about,” Ashley Kavanaugh wrote. Her husband replied, “Will do.”

Earlier that year, Ashley Kavanaugh forwarded Brett Kavanaugh documents related to the town’s finances, including a draft budget.

“Will you take a look at these documents and proofread?” she wrote on April 20, 2016.

Also in 2016, Ashley Kavanaugh forwarded Brett Kavanaugh an anonymous complaint against a local French restaurant about parking issues and the restaurant owner’s response. He advised her to call or stop by the restaurant to discuss the matter with the owner.

“You should not respond to ‘anonymous,’ ” Brett Kavanaugh wrote. “. . . But sounds like it is a non-issue in any event.”

Karoun Demirjian and Steven Rich contributed to this report.

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