The Other Thing Kavanaugh and Trump Share: Hidden Money Stories

This week, Senate Judiciary Committee members are releasing their Questions for the Record for Brett Kavanaugh (questions that he won’t be able to answer given the accelerated confirmation process Chuck Grassley has set). Sheldon Whitehouse’s QFRs have already generated considerable notice. Amid questions about predictable legal (prosecuting a president, environmental rulings, Roe, transgender rights, labor, guns) and GOP rat-fuckery (Starr, staff secretary, and other Bush White House policy issues), Whitehouse asked two questions that should have but did not come up in his hearing: about how debt allegedly tied to Washington Nationals season tickets evaporated when he came under consideration for SCOTUS, and the possibility he’s a heavy gambler (as suggested by one of the letters Don McGahn and Bill Burck tried to keep hidden).

But I’m more interested in some of Whitehouse’s other questions about finances. First, after asking about the baseball tickets, Whitehouse asks why the aspiring Justice has declared himself “exempt” from reporting certain gifts and/or reimbursements.

14. On your Financial Disclosure Report dated July 15, 2018 in Section V. Gifts, you did not check the box for no reportable gifts, you simply wrote “Exempt.”

a. Does this response indicate that you received a gift(s) but considered that gift(s) exempt from the reporting requirements?

b. For each gift (if any) you believe is exempt from reporting, please provide a description of the gift, the approximate value, date received, the donor, and the reason you believe the gift was exempt from reporting requirements.

15. On your Financial Disclosure Report dated July 15, 2018, you did not list any reimbursements. Instead you simply wrote “Exempt.”

a. Does this response indicate that you received reimbursement(s) but considered that reimbursement(s) exempt from the reporting requirements?

b. For each reimbursement you believe is exempt from reporting, please provide a description of the costs incurred, reasons for the costs, the date and amount of any reimbursements that you received for these costs, and the reason you believe the reimbursement was exempt from reporting requirements.

If, as he has claimed, the baseball tickets ended up being gifted by someone, they should be declared here. But then, having asked whether Kavanaugh isn’t declaring gifts he should, Whitehouse then asks about some financial details that also might amount to gifts or other income requiring disclosure: A cost of living adjustment he is known to have received as a judge, a big bump in assets in 2008-2009, the unexplained source of money he used to buy his home, and his membership at Chevy Chase Golf Club.

16. In 2014, federal judges received a lump sum equal to the amount of their delayed cost of living adjustments. For you, this was estimated at $150,000. This amount does not appear to be reported anywhere in your financial disclosures. Please explain this discrepancy.

17. Your Bank of America accounts appear to have greatly increased in value between 2008 and 2009. Your Financial Disclosure Report dated May 15, 2009 reflected a value in the range of $15,001 – $50,000. Your Financial Disclosure Report dated May 14, 2010 reflected a value in the range of $100,001 – $250,000. You did not report any increase in Non-Investment Income, nor did you report any gifts during this period. Please explain the source of the funds that accounts for the difference reflected in these accounts between your 2008 and 2009 Financial Disclosure Reports.

18. In 2006, you purchased your primary residence in Chevy Chase, MD for $1,225,000, however, the value of assets reportedly maintained in your “Bank of America Accounts” in the years before, during, and after this purchase never decreased, indicating that funds used to pay the down payment and secure this home did not come from these accounts.

a. Did you receive financial assistance in order to purchase this home? And if so, was the assistance provided in the form of a gift or a personal loan?

b. If you received financial assistance, please provide details surrounding how this assistance was provided, including the amount(s) of the assistance, date(s) on which the assistance was provided, and the individual(s) who provided this assistance.

c. Was this financial assistance disclosed on your income tax returns, financial disclosure forms, or any other reporting document?

19. You have disclosed in your responses to the Senate Judiciary Questionnaire that you are currently a member of the Chevy Chase Club. It has been reported that the initiation fee to join this club is $92,000 and annual dues total more than $9,000.

a. How much was the initiation fee required for you to join the Chevy Chase Club? What are the annual dues to maintain membership and is this the amount that you pay?

b. Did you receive any financial assistance or beneficial reduction in the rate to pay the initiation or annual fees? If so, please describe the circumstances.

c. If you received financial assistance, please disclose the amount of the assistance, the terms, the dates the assistance was provided, and the individual(s) or entity that provided the assistance.

d. To the extent such assistance or rate reduction could be deemed a “gift,” was it reflected on your income tax returns, financial disclosure forms, or any other reporting document?

The beauty of these questions is that — while I fully expect Kavanaugh to just blow off the slew of questions he’s getting this week (given that they’ve broken the rules everywhere else on this nomination, why the fuck not on QFRs?) — he is now on notice that these financial issues have been noted. If he doesn’t fix any non-disclosures now, he will no longer be able to claim that his failure to disclose required items was just a mistake.

And Whitehouse might believe there are more. He asks, first directly, and then at the end of the series of questions Whitehouse poses about the credit card debt, whether Kavanaugh’s in debt to people he hasn’t told us about.

Are there any debts, creditors, or related items that you did not disclose on your FBI disclosures?

Did you have any creditors, private or otherwise, not listed in your Financial Disclosure Reports?

My favorite bit about Whitehouse’s QFRs, however, is that at the end of all these financial questions, the former US Attorney and Attorney General then asks whether lying under oath is an impeachable offense.

24. Is lying under oath an impeachable offense for an Article III judge?

You see, we can argue Kavanaugh lied under oath in his confirmation until we’re blue in the face. Kavanaugh, each time, will offer a well practiced lawyer’s parse about how his transparently dishonest comments don’t amount to perjury, and he’ll get away with that.

But finances are a different issue. Whitehouse has put Kavanaugh on notice that not disclosing certain things — like who paid for his house or paid off his season ticket debt — will amount to lying.

So Kavanaugh may blow off these questions. But that may come back to haunt him.

Update: Here are Kavanaugh’s answers on finances — basically, he says he has followed disclosure guidelines on all of this, which may necessarily mean that the big ticket items, including the down payment for his home, came from Daddy. The one thing not addressed here are big gifts from family.

I have truthfully provided financial information in conjunction with this nomination process and my service in the judicial and executive branches. Since I graduated from law school in 1990, I have worked in public service for 25 of those 28 years. For most of her years of paid employment, my wife likewise has been a federal, state, or local government worker.

During that time, I have filed regular financial disclosure reports as required by law. The Federal Government’s required financial disclosure reports list broad ranges for one’s assets and debt as of one day or period in time.

At this time, my wife and I have no debts other than our home mortgage. We have the following assets:

(1) A house minus the mortgage;

(2) Two Federal Government Thrift Savings Plan retirement accounts (largely accessible to us beginning in 2024), as well as a Texas employees’ retirement account;

(3) A bank account;

(4) A car that we own and a car that we lease; and

(5) Ordinary personal furniture, clothing, and belongings.

Since our marriage in 2004, we have not owned stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or other similar financial investments outside of our retirement accounts.

Our annual income includes my income as a federal judge, my income from teaching law each year, and now also my wife’s income from being Town Manager of Section 5 of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Our annual income and financial worth substantially increased in the last few years as a result of a significant annual salary increase for federal judges; a substantial back pay award in the wake of class litigation over pay for the Federal Judiciary; and my wife’s return to the paid workforce following the many years that she took off from paid work in order to stay with and care for our daughters. The back pay award was excluded from disclosure on my previous financial disclosure report based on the Filing Instructions for Judicial Officers and Employees, which excludes income from the Federal Government. We have not received financial gifts other than from our family which are excluded from disclosure in judicial financial disclosure reports. Nor have we received other kinds of gifts from anyone outside of our family, apart from ordinary non-reportable gifts related to, for example, birthdays, Christmas, or personal hospitality. On the 2018 financial disclosure report, I correctly listed “exempt” for gifts and reimbursements because those are the explicit instructions in the 2018 Filing Instructions for Judicial Officers and Employees.

At this time, we have no debts other than our home mortgage. Over the years, we carried some personal debt. That debt was not close to the top of the ranges listed on the financial disclosure reports. Over the years, we have sunk a decent amount of money into our home for sometimes unanticipated repairs and improvements. As many homeowners probably appreciate, the list sometimes seems to never end, and for us it has included over the years: replacing the heating and air conditioning system and air conditioning units, replacing the water heater, painting and repairing the full exterior of the house, painting the interior of the house, replacing the porch flooring on the front and side porches with composite wood, gutter repairs, roof repairs, new refrigerator, new oven, ceiling leaks, ongoing flooding in the basement, waterproofing the basement, mold removal in the basement, drainage work because of excess water outside the house that was running into the neighbor’s property, fence repair, and so on. Maintaining a house, especially an old house like ours, can be expensive. I have not had gambling debts or participated in “fantasy” leagues.

The Thrift Savings Plan loan that appears on certain disclosure reports was a Federal Government loan to help with the down payment on our house in 2006. That government loan program is available for federal government workers to help with the purchase of their first house. In our case, that loan was paid back primarily by regular deductions from my paycheck, in the same way that taxes and insurance premiums are deducted from my paycheck. That loan has been paid off in full. I am a huge sports fan. When the Nationals came to D.C. in 2005, I purchased four season tickets in my name every season from 2005 through 2017. I also purchased playoff packages for the four years that the Nationals made the playoffs (2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017.) I have attended all 11 Nationals’ home playoff games in their history. (We are 3-8 in those games.) I have attended a couple of hundred regular season games. As is typical with baseball season tickets, I had a group of old friends who would split games with me. We would usually divide the tickets in a “ticket draft” at my house. Everyone in the group paid me for their tickets based on the cost of the tickets, to the dollar. No one overpaid or underpaid me for tickets. No loans were given in either direction.

My wife and I spend money on our daughters and sports, including as members of the Chevy Chase Club, which we joined in recent years. We paid the full price of the club’s entry fee, and we pay regular dues in the same amount that other members pay. We did not and do not receive any discounts. The club is a minute’s drive from our house, and there is an outdoor ice hockey rink and a very good youth ice hockey program. We joined primarily because of the ice hockey program that my younger daughter participates in, as well as because of the gym.

Finally, it bears repeating that financial disclosure reports are not meant to provide one’s overall net worth or overall financial situation. They are meant to identify conflicts of interest. Therefore, they are not good tools for assessing one’s net worth or financial situation. Here, by providing all of this additional information, I hope that I have helped the Committee.

He refused to answer Whitehouse’s question about whether lying under oath is cause for impeachment.

70 replies
  1. Kevin says:

    The GOP may be desperate for this confirmation, but they have to know that a Dem-controlled Congress will figure out if Kavanaugh is being dishonest here. You would think their strategy would have been to put things out in the open and confirm him anyway, which weakens Democrats’ position if they try to impeach. (Something we’ve seen with Trump. Imagine if Access Hollywood came out now.)

    • Kevin says:

      On the other hand, maybe that means that the truth is so damning that he couldn’t get confirmed in the first place, even given the current…questionable…process.

    • sotonohito says:

      Sure, in theory a Democratic controlled congress could determine that Kavanaugh perjured himself and is dirty as hell.

      But so what? Once he’s confirmed it takes 67 votes in the Senate to kick him out, and that will never happen even if the Democrats turn up evidence that he’s a cannibal murderer.

      I hate to be depressing, but we’re kinda  screwed here. The Republicans have the votes to put him in, there will never -EVER- be the votes to kick him out. Sure, we should fight every step of the way and do our utmost to stop him. But in the end we’re going to be stuck with him on the Court for the next 40 to 50 years.

      • Kevin says:

        I agree that it’s pretty unlikely. But imagine a scenario where the midterms are over, GOP prospects for any more policy wins are done (and the party in general is facing an existential crisis), a Trump conspiracy bombshell drops, and it turns out that, e.g., Kavanaugh had his debts paid off by the Russians.

        Alternatively, imagine a scenario where Trump gets impeached and/or removed for conspiracy or other corruption, Republicans get creamed in 2020. There could be little enough public/GOP resistance at that time to remove Kavanaugh (assuming he really deserves it).

        These are longshots, sure, which I guess supports the GOP’s current strategy of “be as sketchy as possible to try to ram the nominee through,” rather than “get stuff out in the open now so it won’t matter as much after Trump is disgraced an discredited.” Maybe one of the problems is that not enough Republicans think that’s going to happen. But I do.

      • Sasha Boucher says:

        This is why any and every possible 2020 candidate should be prepared to expand the size of the SCOTUS and be firmly encouraged to put up unabashedly *left* candidates (no namby pamby center left ones). The left needs to make the judiciary as big a deal for us as it is on the right. Bc it does not matter how progressive (or even just normal) a president is if the judiciary is full of loonies like this guy and Alito and Thomas. Schumer also needs to go as Minority Leader. He is failing miserably at leading his caucus.

  2. Trip says:

    Meh. He can just mail in a photo of himself with the good Catholic girls’ baseball team as a response. I understand that wipes the slate clean.

    • bittersweet says:

      Coach for catholic girls? Was I the only one who was insulted for his second daughter when the only complement he could think to give her was that she is ” the best hugger in the world?” Really, that’s it? Not smart, talented, accomplished….? These were his prepared comments and that is all he could come up with?

        • TheraP says:

          Using those kids as political props was inexcusable!

          It was as if their dad expected the questioning would be softer if his daughters were there.

          To make two kids sit still during a boring day of questioning, that’s a type of child abuse in my book.

          Bad enough their dad is a smarmy suck-up. Even worse to “use” his kids for that too.

          • bmaz says:

            Okay, this is bunk. EVERY nominee trots his or her spouse and family out for committee hearings. There was nothing different here. There are real issues with Kavanaugh, this is not one of them.

        • bmaz says:

          Do not think this was a helpful response to Bittersweet. Not at all. You have been here a short time, Bittersweet forever. And, as such, deserves a better response.

          • Trip says:

            I was agreeing with bittersweet. If Kavanaugh wishes to overturn Roe v. Wade, this is a potential future for those girls; one they won’t make necessarily via self determination. Kavanaugh not highlighting other assets like intelligence, etc. would appear to diminish other value. It’s clear my first comment was sarcasm, and that bittersweet understood. Ditto for the second response. I’m not sure why it got your goat.

    • NorskieFlamethrower says:

      If the Dems take BOTH houses no matter the margin in the Senate, the number of fascist senators up for re-election in 2020 will put tremendous pressure on ’em to get out from under Trumpty before the next cycle. This November 6th will be an existential moment for those who believe in our form of government.

    • Bradley Brooks says:

      Re: 2/3ds Hurdle in the Senate…
      I don’t think the un-likelihood of conviction in the Senate should, in any way, automatically preclude Impeachment in the House. The Senate trial is perhaps the most official, public arena for fully airing grievances against the Head of State. (Just ask Caesar.) I believe that Senate Democrats, in their own flawed and special way, will make their public case as cogently as Meuller’s team “in private” assembled it. And the American People DESERVE this, its inevitable showtrial-iness notwithstanding.

    • AndTheSlithyToves says:

      It’s troubling that he has gotten this far with his history. But, then again, Clarence Thomas is still sitting on the SCOTUS after lying under oath, continuing his sexual predations, and letting his alcoholic wife use his position to enrich the two of them.

  3. Kansas Watcher says:

    Marcy hit this oneOut of the park baseball fans.

    This is the sort of information that gets lost in these times of political hurricanes.

    as a semi “normal” law abiding citizen…  there are 0 exempt gifts a federal judge should be able to receive.

    litterally ANY sort of gift should and must be reported.

    of all the douche things I’ve followed during Special K’s nominations…  this is by far the most disturbing.

    if I was a federal judge I wouldn’t accept a gift of more than 100$ from anyone but my wife or husband.

    seriously bribing judges…  there ought to be a law…

  4. NorskieFlamethrower says:

    Rumors are out there that Kavanaugh has a gambling problem.  If he is found to be in hock to Russians I wonder if we won’t see a bunch of resignations from elected Republicans. The corruption and cooptation of elected folks at all levels by Russian oligarchs began in the early 1990’s and now dwarfs the number coopted by American oligarchs. Have a nice day.

  5. Kick the darkness says:

    Wow.  Sheldon’s questions pretty much should, in a fair evaluation, prep K upon a spit, with the last question placing the apple directly in his mouth.  If there was a only fire, this pig would cook up quite nicely.

  6. Rapier says:

    I am trying to figure out if:

    “24. Is lying under oath an impeachable offense for an Article III judge?”

    Is the height of political correctness, or the death of it in the Senate.

  7. Dan Pearson says:

    This is a great piece.  I love the QFRs of Senator Whitehouse.  However, I am not as wild about question 24 in terms of thinking you can make K give a clear answer.  I think a judge would simply point out the power to determine what constitutes an impeachable offense resides solely with the Article 1 branch and an Article 3 judge should not opine on the matter.  Done and out.  That said, as a shot across the bow and a reminder of the stakes in regards to the rest of the questions it is strong ending.

      • RWood says:

        I suspect Murkowski, given what happened in her last election, may, but Collins…her whole “he said it was settled law” act was paper thin. She’ll vote whichever way the polital wind tells her to.

        The campaign to fund her as-yet-to-be-named opponent made me smile. Clever.

        Pence is no mystery, he’ll vote however mother tells him to.

    • Rayne says:

      I checked five UK online betting sites’ odds — none of them gave odds on Kavanaugh let alone Murkowski or Collins.

      (Strange, though, they all thought Dems would win majority in Senate (7/4) but not the House (4/11) in November. I’d have thought the odds were the other way around.)

      • RWood says:

        Really? That makes no sense at all.

        I’m going with a 60% chance Murkowski votes no and 50-50 on Collins.

        But I’m feeling positive today for some reason. I may smell another indictment coming and its throwing me off.

        • Rayne says:

          Hey, they’re Brits. They probably understand our system of government as readily as we understand theirs. And theirs –the one which set their country on a deliberate course for the edge of a cliff — makes zero sense from here.

          On the other hand, I have to wonder if a number of bets placed by folks in other countries might have skewed the odds in UK betting parlors…

    • Fran of the North says:

      Odds get better as the polls show approval ratings dropping for Grifter In Chief.

      All politics is local, and even though national numbers may be trending down, it all depends what is happenig at the microcosm in the senator’s districts.

  8. punaise says:

    OT: I’m pretty sure the Federalist Society at Berkeley Law (yes, there is one) did not modify a restroom sign in Boalt Hall that now reads:

    “PLEASE… DO NOT put trash in the Supreme Court, it is very difficult to remove. THANK YOU”

  9. Ggovic says:

    Am I understanding this correctly that even if Kavanaugh fixes any non-disclosures before answering Whitehouse’s questions, he is not held accountable in any way?  Legal or illegal financial gains will still get him confirmed?  So, there is nothing on this earth to stop this confirmation even if he is found guilty of something?

    • bmaz says:

      IF, and that is IF, you correct certain matters as to a record, you are probably okay. Thing is, my bet is Kavanaugh is like Trump and just will arrogantly stand by his lies.

  10. Rapier says:

    Are Federal judges allowed or denied, as a matter of law, to bet on the outcomes of the cases they are voting on?

    • TheraP says:

      That article. It’s not just the “over $50 gift” aspect of this, but the greasing of judicial wheels via hobnobbing with those who pay the full fee.

      There is simply too much ethical eliding of boundaries. And this guy seems to be a pro – like Pence – at appearing “godly” while doing devilish work.

      It’s a good thing I only “feel” like grinding and knashing my teeth. Otherwise I’d have ground them to the roots these last couple of years. For some reason it truly feels like we’ve all gone over Niagra Falls in a barrel. And for those of us still breathing, now it’s the rapids with no end.

  11. harpie says:

    2006 was a BIG year for Brett. He “purchased [his] primary residence in Chevy Chase, MD for $1,225,000”, [and it didn’t even make a dent in his bank accounts!] AND he was confirmed to his cushy job on the DC Court of Appeals, where he could protect the Bush WH from challenges to their previous work together.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      An obvious possible source of help would have been his parents.  His dad retired about then with a $13 million cash pay-out from the cosmetics trade association he led for years.

      • Fran of the North says:

        <<Parents>> Absolutely could have been.

        Admittedly, we’re deep in the dark hole of speculation.

        Were the appropriate tax filings made to acknowledge gifts made in excess of the limits imposed?

        Inquiring minds want to know.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          The IRS does does not require the recipient to disclose a gift.  Above an annual limit – currently $15,000 per person – the IRS requires the giver to file an informational return and to count the gift against a lifetime limit for gifts and bequests.

          That individual lifetime limit used to be about $5.5 million.  Trump’s tax overhaul doubled it to about $11.2 million.  For gifts above that, the giver pays a gift tax, up to a maximum of 40%.

          As much as Trump and his wealth peers object to it, these limits affect remarkably few givers, far fewer than the older limits.  But the higher limit helps perpetuate a wealth aristocracy.

          The disclosure requirement for the recipient of a gift would come from government employment and security clearance forms of the sort required for political appointments, such as to the federal appellate bench or the Supreme Court. That’s to keep tabs on who the recipient might owe favors to, which might create a significant conflict of interest.

  12. Kokuanani says:

    Is anyone giving any thought to getting some of the “retiring Republicans” [like Flake, Corker] to vote “no”? None of these retirees has to run again, so why not “do the right thing” and vote against Kavanaugh?

  13. firsttimecaller says:

    Is anyone giving any thought to getting some of the “retiring Republicans” [like Flake, Corker] to vote “no”? None of these retirees has to run again, so why not “do the right thing” and vote against Kavanaugh?

    Might interfere with that sweet gig at Heritage Foundation ….

  14. Teddy says:

    People! — if you’d just read the responses carefully, you would discover that ALL Judge K cares to disclose is in his lengthy and non-specific essay, when asked specific and detailed questions about his finances:

    RESPONSE: Please see my response to Question 11

  15. Trip says:

    Rumored to be related to the #metoo movement, some time when Kavanaugh was in high school. The woman has a lawyer:

    Senate Democrats Have Referred A Secret Letter About Brett Kavanaugh To The FBI

    Dianne Feinstein Withholding Brett Kavanaugh Document From Fellow Judiciary Committee Dem

    • Jenny says:

      Kavanaugh went to an all boys schools.  Interesting how quickly 65 women are defending his character.   The names were provided rapidly from women claiming to have known Kavanaugh in high school 35 years ago.  Was the accusation of the sexual assault known in advance and hidden?  Did someone know this was coming out?  Certainly, the team was prepared to answer fast with names.

  16. Jenny says:

    “People ask me sometimes … ‘When will there be enough women on the court?’  And my answer is: ‘When there are nine.'”  Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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