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Democrats say Cohen plea discredits Trump's Kavanaugh pick

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh speaks after US President Donald Trump announced his nomination in the East Room of the White House
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Senate Democrats are using Tuesday's guilty plea from President Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen on fraud and campaign finance violation charges to advance another fight: delaying the confirmation process of Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The bottom line: They argue that, because Cohen implicated Trump in a federal crime by stating he directed payments prior to the 2016 presidential election to women who claimed to have extramarital affairs with him — it is inappropriate that Trump be allowed to select a Supreme Court justice.

  • Why it matters: Democrats' arguments for blocking Kavanaugh's nomination previously focused mostly on partisan debates surrounding hot-button policy issues, but Cohen's plea provides them with a procedural foundation on which to build their opposition.

What they're saying

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.): "Judge Kavanaugh’s refusal to say that a president must comply with a duly issued subpoena, and Michael Cohen’s implication of the president in a federal crime, makes the danger of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court abundantly clear."
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.): "The President of the United States has been implicated in a criminal plot to violate campaign finance laws & influence the outcome of an election. Under no circumstances should we be considering his nomination of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in just one week."
  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.): "Trump's personal lawyer has sworn under oath that POTUS directed him to commit a federal crime. The Senate must reject any SCOTUS nominee from a president who is an alleged criminal co-conspirator—especially when that nominee may rule to protect Trump from any accountability."
  • Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.): "I will not take a meeting with Brett Kavanaugh. He has been nominated by someone implicated, and all but named as a co-conspirator, in federal crimes. His nomination is tainted and should be considered illegitimate."
  • Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii): "I have cancelled my meeting with Judge Kavanaugh. @realDonaldTrump, who is an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal matter, does not deserve the courtesy of a meeting with his nominee—purposely selected to protect, as we say in Hawaii, his own okole [his own butt]."
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.): "Americans don't want a president who is an unindicted co-conspirator in a crime to have the power to appoint someone to the Supreme Court. We should not proceed with Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings."
  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.): "[T]he Senate should be provided all necessary records related to Kavanaugh’s nomination, particularly those that indicate his views on executive power. Kavanaugh ... would rule on any such case pertaining to the President. The Senate needs to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities and fully vet this nomination."

The other side:

  • George Hartman, spokesman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): "Calls to delay the hearing are just the latest tactic from opponents who decided to vote 'no' weeks ago, frantically looking for anything that sticks. The hearing will begin as planned on September 4."
  • White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah tells Axios: “Democrats pledged to block Judge Kavanaugh with everything they had. Frankly, this latest attempt looks increasingly desperate. The Committee has a hearing scheduled for September 4th, and Judge Kavanaugh will be there.” 
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): "I strongly oppose any postponement of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Kavanaugh. Senator Schumer may believe that the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort cases invalidate the election – I do not.
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine): "I don't see a basis for delaying them."
  • A GOP strategist tells Axios: "This isn’t going anywhere. It’s just the latest in a series of spaghetti-on-the-wall tactics that fall flat and make them look silly. Maybe next they’ll threaten to boycott the hearings. This actually makes things even more difficult for red-state Democrats and further energizes the Republican base."

Go deeper: GOP fears Cohen set road to impeachment.