Kavanaugh memo: Trump's SCOTUS nominee pushed Lewinsky scandal to run Bill Clinton out of office

Trump's appointee to the Supreme Court wanted to grill Clinton with lewd questions until he resigned in disgrace

By Matthew Rozsa

Published August 20, 2018 3:11PM (EDT)

Brett Kavanaugh (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)
Brett Kavanaugh (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)

Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's nominee to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, once urged independent counsel Kenneth Starr to grill President Bill Clinton about his affair with Monica Lewinsky until he either confessed to perjury or resigned from office.

Kavanaugh, who is currently the United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has been a controversial choice, given how his defenses of Trump clash with his aggressive stance toward Clinton during the latter's impeachment scandal nearly 20 years ago. Nowhere is that contradiction more apparent than in an Aug. 15, 1998 memo sent by Kavanaugh, then working as an associate counsel to Starr, about why no "slack" should be given to the president in their questioning.

"After reflecting this evening, I am strongly opposed to giving the President any 'break' in the questioning regarding the details of the Lewinsky relationship — unless before his questioning on Monday, he either (i) resigns or (ii) confesses perjury and issues a public apology to you," Kavanaugh wrote to Starr in the memo recently published by The Washington Post. After claiming that he could not think of any "reasonable defenses" for the president's behavior and that "the idea of going easy on him at the questioning is thus abhorrent to me," Kavanaugh began outlining "the sheer number of his wrongful acts." These included having an affair with a 22-year-old intern "and turning her life into a shambles," committing perjury, imposing on the Supreme Court, filing frivolous privilege claims and lying to his aides and the American people.

Kavanaugh then included a list of questions, many of them explicit, that he wanted the president to answer:

If Monica Lewinsky says that you inserted a cigar into her vagina while you were in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?

If Monica Lewinsky says that you had phone sex with her on approximately 15 occasions, would she be lying?

If Monia Lewinsky says that on several occasions in the Oval Office area, you used your fingers to stimulate her vagina and bring her to orgasm, would she be lying?

If Monica Lewinsky says that she gave you oral sex on nine occasions in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?

If Monica Lewinsky says that you ejaculated into her mouth on two occasions in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?

If Monica Lewinsky says that on several occasions you had her give her oral sex, made her stop, and then ejaculated into the sink in the bathroom off the Oval Office, would she be lying?

If Monica Lewinsky says that you masturbated into a trashcan in your secretary's office, would she be lying?

READ MORE: Why this Watergate anniversary says so much about Donald Trump

To understand why this memo presents such a conundrum for both Trump and Kavanaugh, it's important to remember that Kavanaugh's past hardline stance on impeachment raised doubts among Trump's advisers as to whether he would be a sound pick to join the Supreme Court. There were especially acute concerns over sections of the Starr Report (which was co-authored by Kavanaugh) that cited as potentially impeachable offenses lies told by Clinton that were not under oath — an argument that could be extended to accuse Trump of obstructing justice, as  The New York Times explains:

The report laid out 11 possible grounds for impeachment, two of which are drawing scrutiny in the context of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is looking into whether Trump associates aided Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — in an investigation that has been expanded to include whether the president tried to obstruct the inquiry itself.

First, the Starr report said that Mr. Clinton lied to his aides about his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, “knowing that they would relay those falsehoods to the grand jury.” Second, it said he lied to the American public, and that senior officials, including the press secretary, then relied on those denials in their own misleading public statements.

“The president’s emphatic denial to the American people was false,” the prosecutors wrote. “And his statement was not an impromptu comment in the heat of a news conference. To the contrary, it was an intentional and calculated falsehood to deceive the Congress and the American people.”

It is unclear whether there are any other positions held by Kavanaugh which could run athwart not only Trump's agenda but the interests of the American people. Earlier this month the National Archives announced that they would not be able to meet an Aug. 15 deadline to provide all documents pertaining to Kavanaugh's service as a White House lawyer under President George W. Bush to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because the Senate intends to confirm Kavanaugh before the 2018 midterm elections regardless of whether it knows everything about his record, there could be other opinions expressed by Kavanaugh that are of interest which won't be known to the public before he is likely confirmed to the court.

To be fair to Kavanaugh, he did seem to backpedal on his aggressive view of impeachment questions prior to Trump taking office. In 2009 he wrote that it would probably be a bad idea to indict a sitting president since it "would ill serve the public interest, especially in times of financial or national-security crisis," according to The New York Times. He also suggested that Congress pass laws to protect presidents from civil and criminal lawsuits until they have left office, arguing that "if the president does something dastardly, the impeachment process is available."

The question now, of course, is whether Kavanaugh — a man who will only serve on the Supreme Court because he was nominated by Trump — would have the courage to support impeachment against the man if it is proved that he did indeed do something dastardly.

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Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Bill Clinton Brett Kavanaugh Donald Trump Impeachment Ken Starr Monica Lewinsky Supreme Court