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Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin Discusses His Meeting With Brett Kavanaugh


The conviction of President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the plea deal of his lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen continues to dominate the news. And it's seeped into the confirmation battle over President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is on the judiciary committee. He met with Judge Kavanaugh earlier today. And I spoke with Senator Durbin shortly after. I asked him why he met with Judge Kavanaugh when some of his Democratic colleagues are refusing to do so.

DICK DURBIN: President Obama nominated this distinguished jurist, and the Republicans refused to even meet with him. And I thought, I'm not going to be in that predicament. I think it's important for us to have a dialogue even if we're going to disagree.

CORNISH: But the criticisms are very specific, right? Senator Ed Markey says he won't meet with Kavanaugh because the president is now an unindicted co-conspirator to a crime and that, as a result, Brett Kavanaugh's nomination is, quote, "tainted" and should be considered illegitimate. Do you agree?

DURBIN: I respect Ed Markey. And he and I have served together for quite a few years. He's an excellent United States senator. But I wanted to sit down with Judge Kavanaugh and ask him specific questions about the liability of a president - criminal or civil liability of a president while still in office.

CORNISH: What did you hear from him on that issue?

DURBIN: Well, it turns out that some of the things that he has written as long as 10 years ago he now amends in his answers.

CORNISH: And we should let people know he once wrote that a president shouldn't be subject to civil litigation or criminal investigation while in office.

DURBIN: He made it clear to me over and over again that he did not believe there was any constitutional obstacle to the president being held responsible while in office. But it was merely in his Minnesota Law Review article a suggestion to Congress - giving the president a breathing period or break during his presidency before he'd be held responsible.

CORNISH: How does this affect your thinking given that there is a special counsel looking into the president's actions, there are civil case attorneys seeking to get him in a deposition?

DURBIN: Well, that was another point that I raised when it comes to subpoenas or depositions. And at that point, Judge Kavanaugh basically backed off. He just said, I'm trying to make it clear this is not a constitutional obstacle. If you think back in time, President Clinton subjected himself to a subpoena and a deposition. I don't know what's going to happen next with President Trump, but I do believe he should be subjected to the same discovery.

CORNISH: Do you disagree with Democrats who want to delay these hearings?

DURBIN: I don't. We are on the threshold of a constitutional crisis. Think about what happened this past week. It is an exceptional period of time. It's certainly one that calls for us to take a breather here and to make sure before we make any lifetime decision on the next Supreme Court nominee that we have a clear vision of what the future is going to bring.

CORNISH: Chairman Grassley certainly plans to move forward. Would you boycott the hearings if they do?

DURBIN: I think that's a mistake. I really believe that we should be part of the hearings to ask questions. And the issue, which I raised repeatedly with Judge Kavanaugh and would raise with the American people - why? Why has this administration decided that his 35 months serving in the White House as staff secretary to the president of the United States should not be examined? The voluminous documents that were produced during that period of time touch every major issue in America. The same issues...

CORNISH: But there's not much more you can do to stall, right? I mean, if Chairman Grassley is going forward, it just seems like this thing is not going to be delayed, and you guys are powerless to stop it.

DURBIN: It's true. We're a vote short. And we're in the minority. That's what elections are all about. And if Chuck Grassley, who is a friend, decides to take a different course than we ever have on a Supreme Court nominee, there's isn't much we can do without some Republican help.

CORNISH: Up until this point, leaders like Senator Schumer and Nancy Pelosi in the House have essentially discouraged talk of impeachment - right? - especially heading into the midterm elections. But the news this week has brought that back to the forefront. What is your response to Democrats who say, look; we should be talking about this; this should be a goal for the party?

DURBIN: Put this into constitutional and historical perspective. This may be the most serious penalty imposed by the Constitution - the removal of an executive by the congressional or legislative branch of the government. It has never been done in the course of our history. And as a consequence, we ought to take this extremely seriously. I don't believe people who use the term impeachment without serious thought really serve our country. The American people expect us to look at this honestly, soberly and, I hope, on a bipartisan basis. And it's way too soon to do that.

CORNISH: Dick Durbin of Illinois - he's a member of the judiciary committee and the Senate Democratic minority whip. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DURBIN: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.