NBC News Capitol Hill reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell on Tuesday deleted a tweet that had triggered backlash, claiming President Trump and retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy were in cahoots to get Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat.
Caldwell initially tweeted, “On Kavanaugh pick… Kennedy and Trump/WH had been in negotiations for months over Kennedy’s replacement. 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 discussion.”
Kavanaugh, 53, formerly clerked for Kennedy and was elevated to the powerful federal appeals court in the District of Columbia by former President George W. Bush, under whom he had also served as a White House lawyer and staff secretary. Trump officially nominated Kavanaugh to fill Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court on Monday night.
Caldwell also reported, “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.”
After critics slammed Caldwell’s reporting, she initially tried to explain, “To be clear: This is from one source and dont have any info on whether potus talked to kennedy about a possible replacement.” Caldwell even posted a Politico story about Trump’s meeting with Kennedy leaving him confident in Kavanaugh.
Caldwell’s series of tweets – and similar comments from NBC News White House correspondent Geoff Bennett -- caused chaos on social media, as liberal commentator David Corn declared it would “merit a congressional investigation” if true.
“There is literally no evidence of this claim, but it has now gone mainstream because two irresponsible NBC News reporters blasted it out before admitting they had ‘no info’ about whether it actually happened,” conservative commentator James Hasson tweeted.
The tweet even made its way to the White house, where Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah called it “completely false.”
Caldwell eventually deleted the tweet and clarified what she intended to report.
“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,” the NBC News reporter wrote.
Caldwell continued: “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.”
National Review editor Charles Cooke pointed out that the misleading information was retweeted thousands of times, while the correction received little attention. NBC News is regularly mocked by Trump himself and the latest gaffe presumably will add fuel to the fire.
“The idea that a deal was struck with Justice Kennedy is ridiculous,” a senior administration official told Fox News.
NBC News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Fox News’ Jennifer Bowman and Kaitlyn Schallhorn contributed to this report.