NBC Reporter Retracts Trump/Kennedy Deal for Kavanaugh Claim

'I've deleted this tweet because it incorrectly implies a transactional nature' in president's naming of SCOTUS justice's replacement

NBC News Capitol Hill reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell retracted a tweet on Tuesday claiming — based on one source — that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retired only after months of cajoling President Donald Trump to nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh in his stead.

“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,” Caldwell tweeted on Tuesday (Kennedy is pictured above left, Kavanaugh above right).

“Kavanaugh was the only one who was thought conservative enough to consider, I’m told,” Caldwell added.

“They added Kavanaugh — and 4 other names — to the public Federalist list that Trump would choose from in November. We are continuing to report this story.”

Caldwell claimed in her initial tweet that Kennedy waited until after receiving assurances from Trump that he’d nominate Kavanaugh, one of Kennedy’s former clerks, to replace him.

“On Kavanaugh pick Kennedy and Trump/WH had been in negotiations for months over Kennedy’s replacement,” the deleted tweet read. “Once Kennedy received assurances that it would be Kavanaugh, his former law clerk, Kennedy felt comfortable retiring, according to a source who was told of the discussions.”

Caldwell added in a tweet that hasn’t been deleted, “Furthermore, the five names Trump added to his list of Federalist Approved judges last November was to get Kavanaugh on that list. The other four names were considered cover, per source. In other words: the decision has been baked for a while: W/ @frankthorp”

The NBC News reporter soon felt the need to backtrack and clarify her tweets.

“To be clear: This is from one source and dont [sic.] have any info on whether potus talked to kennedy about a possible replacement,” Caldwell attempted to explain.

Caldwell also shared a Politico story with the headline, “How a private meeting with Kennedy helped Trump get to ‘yes’ on Kavanaugh” in an effort to back up her claims.

Although the Politico story analyzed Kennedy’s discussion with Trump prior to his retirement announcement, and Trump’s decision to nominate Kavanaugh, the story did not support Caldwell’s claim that Kennedy made selecting Kavanaugh a prerequisite for his retirement during Trump’s presidency.

Politico also cited multiple anonymous sources in contrast with Caldwell’s lone source, writing, “So even as Trump dispatched his top lawyers to comb though Kavanaugh’s rulings and quizzed allies about whether he was too close to the Bush family, potentially a fatal flaw, the president was always leaning toward accepting Kennedy’s partiality for Kavanaugh while preserving the secret until his formal announcement, sources with knowledge of his thinking told Politico.”

Caldwell then admitted she deleted her tweet “because it incorrectly implies a transactional nature in Kennedy’s replacement.”

The debacle quickly developed into a huge backlash against Caldwell.

Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society’s executive vice president — who has been on leave from the legal group to work with Trump’s Supreme Court nomination team — called the NBC News claim “garbage” during an interview Tuesday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Related: Dems Will Unleash ‘A Lot of Scare Tactics’ Against Kavanaugh

“Anyone who knows Justice Anthony Kennedy knows that that is garbage. He treats his office with tremendous dignity and independence. And there is literally no way in the world that that would have happened,” Leo said. “And no president or White House counsel who even knows Justice Kennedy a little bit would ever have tried to pull that stunt.”

“And there’s just no way, no way that that is possible. And that’s very insulting and offensive to Justice Kennedy,” Leo added. “He’s a man who has greatly valued the independence of the judiciary … and he would understand that doing something like that creates too much of a cozy connection between another branch of government and the judiciary, and I just could never see him doing that.”

Leo said Trump chose Kavanaugh after engaging in “very good interviews with each of the candidates, and this was a full-throttled process.”

“The president went back and forth, you know, between candidates, their plusses and their minuses. He made lots of phone calls about all of them,” Leo added. “This is not someone who was just driven to nominate one person and create subterfuge and distraction by raising other names. This was a real game of jump ball.”

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PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected].