Many Democrats see a massive conflict of interest.
Bill Burck, an attorney for the George W. Bush library and a longtime Republican, is a key linchpin in the process for reviewing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s lengthy paper trail. In fact, he’s running the show — and Democrats see his involvement as yet another sign of how far norms have shifted in the way the Republican majority has conducted Kavanaugh’s confirmation process.
Burck’s name may sound familiar because he’s a deeply entrenched player in Republican legal circles. Not only is he reportedly a longtime friend of Kavanaugh’s, he’s also more recently represented at least three current or former Trump White House officials — Don McGahn, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon — regarding special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He’s currently a co-managing partner at the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
Burck’s representation of McGahn has particularly raised eyebrows, since McGahn is the main Trump White House official in charge of getting Kavanaugh confirmed. It’s also prompted questions given the potential role that Kavanaugh himself could have in ruling on elements of the Mueller investigation, if he advances to the high court.
What’s more, Burck and Kavanaugh were once colleagues in the Bush White House. He was a former special counsel and deputy counsel to President George W. Bush, while Kavanaugh served as White House counsel and staff secretary for the same administration. Certain Democrats argue that his ties across all these venues make him “triply conflicted,” per the Washington Post.
Democrats have also questioned why Burck — a private attorney as well as a very politically charged figure — has now been authorized to analyze and filter through all of Kavanaugh’s former White House records, documents that could include damning evidence about the nominee’s involvement in decisions on wiretapping, torture, and the detention of enemy combatants.
Critics see the two men’s personal relationship muddling what’s normally a neutral and rigorous evaluation process. The New York Times points out that even their résumés are strikingly similar: “Yale for their undergraduate and law degrees, clerkships with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Judge Alex Kozinski, brief stints as prosecutors, and jobs in the Bush White House.”
If Burck was not running the documents analysis, the politically neutral National Archives and Records Administration would be leading the process. Because NARA has said it would take until the end of October for it to comb through all the documents that Republicans have requested, the Bush White House library offered up a parallel track for digging through some of these archives via a Burck-led team of 50 reviewers. (Former presidents have access to their own administration’s records via the Presidential Records Act.)
That parallel track has been marred by a hefty lack of transparency, however.
This past weekend, the White House cited executive privilege and directed Burck to withhold 100,000 documents from public release, with very little clear justification. Additionally, Burck dumped a trove of 42,000 documents to the Judiciary Committee shortly before the start of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday. A series of such documents have also been deemed “committee confidential,” meaning that lawmakers aren’t able to discuss them during the public hearing.
As NARA has noted, the handling of the vetting process in this way is something “that has never happened before.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) called out Burck’s power over the confirmation process on Tuesday. “Who is Bill Burck? … This mysterious Bill Burck who is filtering these documents. … Who’s paying him?” he said.
Durbin pointed out that the Constitution says Supreme Court justices are appointed with ”the advice and consent of the Senate. It doesn’t include Bill Burck. ... By what authority is this man holding back hundreds of thousands of documents?”
According to the Post, the “Burck process” could even set a precedent for future confirmations moving forward. Burck’s involvement signals just how much the confirmation process has changed this time around.