An NBC News reporter tweeted early Tuesday that Justice Anthony Kennedy secretly negotiated the terms of his departure from the U.S. Supreme Court with the Trump administration, citing a single unnamed source, The Daily Caller reports.
The reporters pursuing the story, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Frank Thorp, first claimed that the justice quietly conferred with the White House for several months in advance of his retirement, and agreed to step aside once he “received assurances” that Judge Brett Kavanaugh would be selected as his successor.
Caldwell took back her initial claim, stating it “incorrectly implies a transactional nature in Kennedy’s replacement.” She then explained that all Kennedy did was provide a list to Donald Trump of suggestions for acceptable replacements.
I’ve deleted this tweet because it incorrectly implies a transactional nature in Kennedy’s replacement. I am told by a source who was not directly part of the talks that Kennedy provided Pres. Trump/ WH a list of acceptable replacements. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/ptxJmrbH9S
— Leigh Ann Caldwell (@LACaldwellDC) July 10, 2018
This is quite an accusation from Caldwell, whose original tweet insinuated that Kennedy and Trump had a deal contingent on the nomination of Kavanaugh.
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah flatly denied the initial report when a CNN White House reporter inquired about it Tuesday morning.
Asked Raj Shah to clarify: Did anyone in the White House assure Justice Kennedy that his replacement would be Brett Kavanaugh if he retired?
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) July 10, 2018
Politico offers a more plausible version of the NBC report, in which Kennedy expressed a preference for Kavanaugh in his private meeting with Trump on the day he announced his retirement, but did not make his retirement contingent on any particular set of choices.
Trump himself made no secret of his consultation with the justice. When Kennedy visited the White House to relay news of his retirement, the president told reporters that he asked the justice for guidance as to possible successors. There was no indication in Trump’s remarks that Kennedy insisted on a particular replacement.