WASHINGTON — Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia broke with his party on Monday to become the first Democrat to meet with Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court pick, as the two parties escalated their feud over access to documents relating to the nominee.
Mr. Manchin, who faces a tough fight for re-election in a state that Mr. Trump won handily in 2016, is central to the Democrats’ uphill battle to defeat Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, and is under intense pressure at home from both sides. If he votes to confirm Judge Kavanaugh, he will infuriate Democratic voters. But if he votes against confirmation, he risks his own Senate seat.
The two men met for two hours. Mr. Manchin was tight-lipped afterward, saying only that the session was “very productive” and that he expects to meet with Judge Kavanaugh again after his confirmation hearings.
In a statement, Mr. Manchin said they spoke about a range of issues, including health care — a central issue for the senator, who has said he is concerned that the Supreme Court will roll back protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. Mr. Manchin also met on Monday with representatives from Protect Our Care, an advocacy group in West Virginia that has been pushing him to vote against the confirmation.
“I told him that given that this issue could possibly come before the court, if the justice was to vote a certain way, what that would mean for millions of people, what that would mean for me on a personal basis, what that would mean for my dad,” said one of those in the meeting, Jacob Redman, a 22-year-old college senior.
Mr. Redman lost his health insurance when his father, who has a genetic condition that causes tumors on the spine, lost his job; the two men turned to Medicaid, which has been expanded in West Virginia under the Affordable Care Act. He said Mr. Manchin told him he was “still on the fence” about Judge Kavanaugh.
Senate Democrats have been avoiding the standard meet-and-greet courtesy visits with the judge as they clash with Republicans over access to emails from his time as staff secretary to former President George W. Bush. But Democrats appear to be losing that battle; on Friday, Republicans asked the National Archives for certain documents related to Judge Kavanaugh, but they left the Bush White House emails out of the request.
“What are they hiding?” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, asked on Monday. “What are they afraid of? Why wouldn’t they normally grant the kind of openness to records that America prides itself on?”
Even as lawmakers argued about the release of documents, however, the National Archives on Monday began releasing some files related to Mr. Kavanaugh’s time as a lawyer working for the independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s Whitewater investigation of President Bill Clinton. Those documents — 1,025 pages of files — were released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from news organizations, including The New York Times.
Officials blacked out some information on 88 of the pages, largely citing privacy and legal prohibitions against disclosing information from grand juries and material sealed by courts.
The documents released on Monday were from 1994 to 1997 and largely involved routine legal filings and memos related to the Whitewater investigation and the death of Vince Foster, a lawyer in Mr. Clinton’s White House who committed suicide. The documents released on Monday did not cover the investigation of Mr. Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, which became public in January 1998.
One set of files details efforts by Mr. Starr’s office to discover the source of leaks about the Foster investigation. Another set of memos that Mr. Kavanaugh was copied on explored the history of prosecutors bringing perjury and obstruction of justice charges against public officials.
The documents also included communications with Congress, which was looking into some of the same matters that Mr. Starr was investigating. Often, his office declined to turn over documents and information sought by congressional investigators, citing grand jury secrecy or potential interference with the independent counsel’s own inquiries.
Those disputes are broadly similar to current clashes over congressional access to materials held by the Justice Department relevant to investigations of contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Mr. Kavanaugh appeared to take a measured approach to such requests for information. In one 1995 memorandum, he recommended that Mr. Starr not object to congressional hearings on the firings of people who had worked in the White House’s travel office as it “would not hinder or impede our investigation.” Mr. Starr agreed.
An official at the archives said more documents from the Starr archive will be released in the future.
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