The blowback to claims by an NBC News reporter about a supposed "deal" between retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy and Donald Trump over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh has come swift and strong, prompting a partial retraction and a "clarification."
In claims highlighted by Hot Air's Ed Morrissey, NBC News' Leigh Ann Caldwell said she heard that the last few weeks was all a big show because Trump and Kennedy had worked out a deal way back in November to replace him with Kavanaugh.
"Kennedy and Trump/WH had been in negotiations for months over Kennedy's replacement," Caldwell tweeted Tuesday. "Once Kennedy received assurances it would be Kavanaugh, his former law clerk, Kennedy felt comfortable retiring, according to a source who was told of the discussions."
"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," she added, citing fellow NBC's Frank Thorp as a co-reporter.
Caldwell then added a qualifier: "To be clear: This is from one source and dont have any info on whether potus talked to kennedy about a possible replacement."
She also tweeted an article by Politico partly echoing the claim:
In other words, it was all a big charade based on an inside deal between Kennedy and Trump . . .
"That is garbage," Leonard Leo, who presided over the deliberations on Trump's justice nominee, told Hugh Hewitt. "No way that is possible," he added. "That is insulting to Justice Kennedy."
Morrissey agrees that the claim seems "a little fantastical" on its face:
This single-source report seems a little fantastical, if for no other reason than Kennedy had more than one former clerk in the mix; Raymond Kethledge is another of his proteges, and there are likely a few more on Trump’s longer list. More to the point, Kennedy has clearly developed an independent reputation as a jurist on the nation’s top court. Kavanaugh’s track record, after all, suggests that the court may revisit cases like Casey and perhaps even put limits on Obergefell that favor a broader exercise of religious liberty, the very outcome that has LGBT activists spitting nails over Kennedy’s decision to retire with Trump in the White House. Would Kennedy have risked his legacy to make a shabby deal on his way out just to ensure that someone significantly more conservative than he became ended up with his seat?
Caldwell has since backpedaled furiously on the claim, deleting the first tweet and issuing an explanation, which notes that her source was "not directly part of the talks" and the premise of the initial claim was false.
"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," she wrote. "Kavanaugh was the only one who was thought conservative enough to consider, I’m told. 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."