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What Will Kavanaugh’s Debt Inquiry Reveal?

— March 22, 2021

Brett Kavanaugh’s debt totaled $60-$200K. Shortly before his confirmation, it disappeared. Sheldon Whitehouse would like to know why.

During Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 confirmation hearings, public attention focused heavily upon Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony concerning his alleged sexual assault when Blasey Ford, then 15, and Kavanaugh, 17, were in high school. The story divided the country, surfacing during the #MeToo movement while offending conservative Americans who defended drunken party molestation as perfectly normal teen fun. Unwilling to wait, Senate Republicans pressed their hand over the mouth of further protest by invoking cloture, enabling them to shove an entitled Kavanaugh into a Supreme Court that sits atop a country where a significant number of people didn’t want him. Lingering in the background, however, other questions remain, like “What happened to Brett Kavanaugh’s debt, anyway?”

It’s a compelling question, and it deserves to be answered.

A silver-haired man in a suit with a red tie smiles for the camera.
Official portrait of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Public domain image by the United States Senate Photographic Studio, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

That’s why Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a former prosecutor on the Senate judiciary committee, recently asked newly minted Attorney General Merrick Garland to look into how well the FBI vetted Kavanaugh back in 2018. Due to the sheer level of sketchiness surrounding Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, and at the behest of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), then-President Trump ordered an additional, week-long investigation, but only into the multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. Kavanaugh’s debt was not part of the investigation, and it’s not hard to understand why.

According to a 2018 Washington Post story, Kavanaugh’s debt totaled between $60,000 and $200,000 spread between three credit cards and a loan against his retirement account. A White House review claimed that Kavanaugh had accrued the debt by buying season tickets and seats to Washington Nationals playoff games for himself and a few friends, as well as home improvements.

And then… poof! Kavanaugh’s debt disappeared, despite his not appearing to have the assets or means to discharge them. Suddenly, he had no liabilities except his $815,000 mortgage, and he disclosed no outside income, windfalls, or financial gifts.

Further, there are indications that Kavanaugh’s original background check was none too diligent. Neither Kavanaugh himself not Blasey Ford were interviewed, and people who would have spoken up couldn’t find anyone at the FBI willing to listen. Nobody appeared to be assigned to follow up on tips or gather evidence. It’s almost as if having Kavanaugh’s vote on the Court was so important that nobody and nothing would be allowed to stop his confirmation.  (Even Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, which opened the door for Kavanaugh, seemed oddly rushed.)

Significant debt, especially if it is delinquent, can cost a government worker their security clearance, or prevent an applicant from obtaining one. The cause of the debt matters, because it can speak to the applicant’s trustworthiness, responsibility and judgment. Additionally, those with excessive debt could be vulnerable to blackmail, or be more easily corrupted by the offer of financial gifts. Delinquent debt as little as $3,500 can trigger a federal investigation into those who hold a security clearance.

While judges may not require high-level security clearances to sit on the bench, having one’s debt covered just prior to Supreme Court confirmation is, at best, extraordinarily bad optics. We deserve to know whether Brett Kavanaugh is beholden to anyone other than the American people.

Related: Judges Matter. Decide Responsibly.


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FBI facing allegation that its 2018 background check of Brett Kavanaugh was ‘fake’
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh piled up credit card debt by purchasing Nationals tickets, White House says
Donald Trump Made Justice Kennedy an Offer He Couldn’t Refuse
The Impact of Delinquent Debt on Security Clearances

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