Las Vegas Sun

November 17, 2018

Currently: 54° — Complete forecast

Cortez Masto discusses Kavanaugh, hush money and election security during Nellis visit

Image

Christopher DeVargas

Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto takes a tour of on-base housing for servicemembers and their families stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Friday Aug. 24, 2018.

Senator Cortez Masto Visits Nellis AFB

Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto takes a tour of on-base housing for servicemembers and their families stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Friday Aug. 24, 2018. Launch slideshow »

Nevada’s Democratic senator is joining calls for the Senate to delay the confirmation process for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said she is working to coordinate a meeting with the nominee to ask him about her concerns, especially when it comes to where Kavanaugh stands on the broad powers of the executive branch. Some Democrats recently announced they do not plan to meet with Kavanaugh over Trump’s ties to people in high-profile court cases this week.

“Should we be delaying this to flesh this out a little bit more, to figure out how this plays out over the next couple of months, absolutely, I think there’s reason for that as well,” said Cortez Masto during a visit today to Nellis Air Force Base. “But at the end of the day, as we move forward, I still want the opportunity to sit and talk with Kavanaugh and ask him these questions point blank to see how he responds.”

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted in a tax fraud case and lawyer Michael Cohen took a plea deal in a case involving hush money paid to women who said they had sex with Trump. Cohen said in his plea agreement that Trump directed him to make the payments, raising questions about possible violations of campaign finance law.

Cortez Masto said she understands that some of her colleagues, including Hawaii Sen. Mazie K. Hirono and Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey, no longer want to sit down with Kavanaugh, but that she wants to see firsthand how he responds to questions.

“If (Trump’s) in a position to literally appoint somebody to the United States Supreme Court that’s going to look with favor upon him and his actions, I have concerns about that,” she said.

Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s office has not responded to a request for comment on the Manafort conviction and Cohen plea. Heller said in a July statement that Kavanaugh “has a record of adherence to the Constitution and has demonstrated a commitment to interpreting the law – not making it.”

Cortez Masto, who was at Nellis to talk about a bill she helped introduce to boost oversight in military housing contracts and tour a 97 percent full military housing complex with 1,180 units, said it’s important to protect the integrity and independence of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. She said the investigation has helped bring to light the actions of Cohen and Manafort as well as Russian nationals who have been indicted over suspicions of interference related to party-level data in the 2016 election.

“He needs to be able to finish his job for the sake of our Democracy in particular, to figure out what really happened, why Russia was interfering with our election process, who was involved with it, and then holding them accountable,” she said, noting that she’s been part of bipartisan committee work to consider further sanctions against Russia.

In addition to the $380 million going to states to shore up election infrastructure and new training that includes federal, state and local officials, Cortez Masto said Congress needs to pass the Secure Elections Act, a bipartisan bill that directed the Department of Homeland Security to set up guidelines for testing and auditing election systems, among other provisions. The bill was recently delayed in the Senate.

She also said five states without a paper trail of votes cast in an election need to develop that system, like Nevada has. Cortez Masto said officials need to improve auditing, which can use that paper trail to verify election results.

“I also know the challenge in our rural communities, the resource challenge,” Cortez Masto said. “That’s why there is a role for Congress to play in appropriating additional dollars based on the needs that are out there so that we can protect our election process.”