Kavanaugh in 2016: I'd 'put the final nail in' independent counsel precedent

Two years before President Donald Trump nominated him to a seat on the Supreme Court, federal appeals courts Judge Brett Kavanaugh said he believes the legal precedent that allows for independent counsels to investigate government officials for federal crimes should be overturned.

Asked at a conservative event in 2016 to name a case that he believed should be overturned, Kavanaugh named Morrison v. Olson, a Supreme Court ruling upholding a 1978 law that creates a system for independent counsels to investigate and potentially prosecute government officials for federal crimes. The law had five-year sunset provisions and was allowed to expire in 1999, according to the Congressional Research Service.

"It's been effectively overruled, but I would put the final nail in," Kavanaugh said at an event for the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute. CNN was the first to report the comments.

After the law expired, new regulations allowed for the appointment of "special counsels," but unlike independent counsels, special counsels answer to the U.S. attorney general.

The president's campaign is under investigation by a special counsel, Robert Mueller, as part of the ongoing federal probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.The president has called the investigation a "witch hunt" and the White House has insisted that Trump could fire Mueller if he wanted to. The president has also asserted that he has the "absolute right" to pardon himself.

Kavanaugh's familiarity with special investigations dates back decades. As a young attorney, Kavanaugh worked for independent counsel Kenneth Starr and played a key role in a slew of investigations into President Bill Clinton.

21 PHOTOS
Brett Kavanaugh through the years
See Gallery
Brett Kavanaugh through the years
WASHINGTON DC -- NOVEMBER 13: Brett Kavanaugh, aide to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, during a meeting in the Office of the Solicitor General on November 13, 1996 in Washington DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
US Judge Brett Kavanaugh looks on as the US President announces him as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US Judge Brett Kavanaugh (L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump after being nominated to the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President George W. Bush (R) listens to U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Judge Brett Kavanaugh speak, [moments after being sworn-in at a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House], in Washington June 1, 2006.
U.S. President Donald Trump introduces his Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
UNITED STATES - JUNE 01: Brett Kavanaugh speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 1, 2006 in Washington, D.C., after being sworn in to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals. (Photo by Dennis Brack/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) announces US Judge Brett Kavanaugh (C) as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President George W. Bush (L) watches as Brett Kavanaugh (2nd L) is sworn in as a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy (R) in a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House in Washington June 1, 2006. Kavanaugh's wife, Ashley, holds the bible. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES)
WASHINGTON - MAY 22: District of Columbia Circut Court of Appeals nominee Brett Kavanaugh attends a news conference with Senate GOP leadership in the Capitol May 22, 2006 in Washington, DC. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) said that Kavanaugh deserves a straight up-or-down vote in the Senate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh smiles next to U.S. President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WASHINGTON - MAY 22: District of Columbia Circut Court of Appeals nominee Brett Kavanaugh (L) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) hold a news conference in the Capitol May 22, 2006 in Washington, DC. Frist said that Kavanaugh deserves a straight up-or-down vote in the Senate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh smiles next to U.S. President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
WASHINGTON - MAY 22: (L-R) U.S. Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-KY), District of Columbia Circut Court of Appeals nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) hold a news conference in the Capitol May 22, 2006 in Washington, DC. Frist said that Kavanaugh deserves a straight up-or-down vote in the Senate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MAY 22: (L-R) U.S. Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-KY), District of Columbia Circut Court of Appeals nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) hold a news conference in the Capitol May 22, 2006 in Washington, DC. Frist said that Kavanaugh deserves a straight up-or-down vote in the Senate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 09: Brett Kavanaugh testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be U. S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit. (Photo By Chris Maddaloni/Roll Call/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 09: Brett M. Kavanaugh, who last appeared before the committee in late April 2004, is sworn in to testify during a second Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing. At right are former bosses Judge Walter K. Stapleton, of the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Wilmington, Del., and Judge Alex Kozinski, of the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Pasadena, Calif., who introduced Kavanaugh to the committee. Kavanaugh, President Bush's staff secretary, is the president's nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., held the second hearing because Committee Democrats wanted to ask Kavanaugh, formerly an associate White House counsel, more questions about his involvement in the administration's legal policies, particularly on the National Security Agency terrorist surveillance program and the treatment of detainees held by the U.S. military. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON DC -- NOVEMBER 19: Brett Kavanaugh, associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, sits behind Starr during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the possible impeachment of President Bill Clinton on November 19, 1998 in Washington DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON DC -- NOVEMBER 13: Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, center, talks with Deputy Independent Counsel John Bates, left, and aide Brett Kavanaugh, right, and another colleague in the Office of the Solicitor General during the Whitewater Investigation on November 13, 1996 in Washington DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, his wife Ashley Estes Kavanaugh (off frame) and their two daughters stand by US President Donald Trump after he announced his nomination in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh (R) speaks after US President Donald Trump announced his nomination in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, his wife Ashley Estes Kavanaugh and their two daughters stand by US President Donald Trump after he announced his nomination in the East Room of the White House on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Democratic lawmakers, who have attempted to advance measures in Congress to protect Mueller's probe, immediately pounced on reports of Kavanaugh's comments.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called for Kavanaugh to recuse himself from anything related to the Russia investigation.

"Clearly, Judge Kavanaugh's judicial philosophy incorporates an almost monarchical view of executive power and accountability animated by a belief that our chief executive gets to play by a different set of rules. Judge Kavanaugh, particularly after this interview, needs to recuse himself from anything having to do with the Mueller probe," he said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said it was evident Trump's high court nominee believes "the president is above the law."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Kavanaugh must answer whether he would support the existing special counsel investigation into Russian meddling and the Trump campaign.

Read Full Story