WASHINGTON — The lawyer advising former President George W. Bush on the release of thousands of records relating to Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s time as an aide in the Bush White House once worked for him — a relationship that opponents of the judge’s nomination to the Supreme Court say is a conflict of interest.
The lawyer, William A. Burck, served as a deputy to Judge Kavanaugh in 2005 when he was staff secretary — a job at the center of a bitter documents dispute between Democrats and Republicans.
A team of roughly 50 lawyers is reviewing tens of thousands of pages of documents relating to that period held by the Bush Library in Texas as part of an effort to determine which, if any, should be withheld from the Senate based on Mr. Bush’s assertion of “executive privilege” — his right to object to their release.
Mr. Burck is not screening the documents himself, but he is supervising the review, and, according to a person familiar with the process, does advise the former president as he makes those decisions.
“What’s needed is a neutral and unbiased individual to review the documents,” said Nan Aron, founder and president of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group. “That is not Bill Burck, whose loyalty lies with Brett Kavanaugh and the Bush administration.”
During his long career in public service — as a lawyer working for Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel who investigated former President Bill Clinton, as an associate White House counsel to Mr. Bush and later as staff secretary from 2003 to 2006 — Judge Kavanaugh has left an especially voluminous paper trail.
On Thursday, Mr. Burck wrote to Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and enclosed what he described as an “initial production” of more than 125,000 pages of records from Judge Kavanaugh’s stint as the associate White House counsel. Mr. Grassley had requested those records.
But Republicans have rebuffed Democrats’ repeated demands for access to emails and other records from the three years that Judge Kavanaugh spent as staff secretary — a job that the judge himself has said was “the most interesting and informative for me” as preparation for his current role on the federal appeals court.
Mr. Grassley’s refusal to request the staff secretary records led Democrats to boycott the traditional “courtesy visits” with Judge Kavanaugh for the past several weeks. But a senior Democratic aide said Friday that the boycott was about to end; Senators Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, will meet with the judge this month, and others in the party are expected to follow suit.
Mr. Schumer and Ms. Feinstein intend to use their meetings with Judge Kavanaugh “to demand the missing documents from him directly,” said the aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the Democrats’ strategy, adding, that party members “intend to demand that he call for and support the release of all of his files from his time in the Bush White House.”
To date, Judge Kavanaugh has met with 47 senators — all except one are Republicans. The lone exception is Senator Joe Manchin III, one of three vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election in a state won by President Trump. The other two — Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — have meetings scheduled for Aug. 15, after the Senate returns from its weeklong break.
The documents dispute has been simmering for weeks — so long that Republicans feared it would delay the judge’s confirmation hearings, which Mr. Grassley has said he intends to hold in September.
The years Judge Kavanaugh spent as staff secretary, from 2003 to 2006, came at the height of the Iraq War, when policies on torture and treatment of detainees were at the forefront of presidential decision-making; Democrats are keenly interested in knowing what, if any, role he may have played.
Because the staff secretary controls what documents the president sees, he or she is often described as the president’s “inbox and outbox.” Mr. Grassley and his fellow Republicans have argued that the records they have requested — coupled with the judge’s some 300 judicial opinions — are more than sufficient to give Democrats, and the public, an idea of his thinking.
To prove their point, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a news conference Thursday morning where they appeared in front of 166 boxes, stacked in a pyramid, to represent the roughly one million pages they are requesting from the National Archives.
“I guess there is nothing that demonstrates that a picture is worth a thousand words, than what you see here,” Mr. Grassley said