President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh was all but locked in from the start.
Trump put on a show for the cameras at the White House to end a selection process he had spooled out for nearly two weeks.
But two people close to the selection process said that Kavanaugh, a political operative turned DC Appeals Court judge had been one of the favorites in Trump’s mind even before Anthony Kennedy announced he would vacate the nation’s top bench last month.
White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah, speaking to reporters Tuesday, denied the White House made any assurances to Kennedy that his replacement would be Kavanaugh.
And the President walked away from a private chat with the retiring justice convinced that Kavanaugh — who once clerked for Kennedy — was the top choice, the sources said.
Trump did go through the process. He interviewed several other candidates and spoke to scores of aides and friends as he mulled his decision — and even after he made his choice.
Sources said Trump did want to see how trial balloons about Kavanaugh went down in the conservative media echo chamber, and was heartened to see key conservatives like Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and writers for Breitbart rally behind him in recent days.
“He wanted to see how it was playing out and who was coming to his defense,” a source said.
A senior White House official said that the President finalized his decision on Sunday night, and called Kavanaugh to let him know. He also spoke to Vice President Mike Pence and White House Counsel Don McGahn — who had subtly pushed Kavanaugh’s candidacy.
Still, with his eye, as ever on ratings, Trump did not let it be known until mid-afternoon on Monday that he had made up his mind.
Monday night, striding into the East Room, a cockpit of presidential lore where John F. Kennedy’s body lay in repose and Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, Trump lifted his chin, narrowed his eyes and savored his moment in history.
“I have often heard that other than matters of war and peace, this is the most important decision a President will make,” Trump said, for once not exaggerating the size of the stakes.
An empty seat below the presidential podium bore a piece of paper reserving it for the unidentified spouse of the nominee so as not to tip off nosy reporters and spoil the big reveal.
In an expectant crowd were the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, another key character in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and long list of Republican senators, conservative grandees and White House staff.