Getting Gorsuch: How Trump picked his Supreme Court nominee

Jeremy Diamond, CNN | 2/1/2017, 10:30 a.m.
"So, was that a surprise?" President Donald Trump said with a grin, moments after unveiling his pick for the Supreme ...
Judge Neil Gorsuch and President Donald Trump CNN photo

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- "So, was that a surprise?" President Donald Trump said with a grin, moments after unveiling his pick for the Supreme Court.

The secret was finally out, more than a week after Trump had actually narrowed down his list of finalists to one man: Judge Neil Gorsuch, a Coloradan who sits on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Until a few days ago, only a half-dozen of the president's closest aides knew Trump had made up his mind, and in a sign of the importance Trump ascribed to the secrecy of the pick, they kept it that way -- even amid a flurry of leaks on other issues. The decision, which Trump made in the first few days after his inauguration, according to a source close to the process, marked the end of a week of suspense-building around the pick that displayed Trump's continued penchant for showmanship.

The White House Tuesday night saw cheerful Republican congressmen -- including those critical of the administration in recent days -- praising Trump's pick and his success in maintaining the suspense. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy remarked to reporters that "they did a very good job" keeping the pick a secret and Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Senate's president pro tempore, congratulated Trump's sons Eric and Donald, Jr. in the halls of the White House on the "great pick."

Trump told Gorsuch he was the nominee on Monday. That phone call set into motion a stealth operation, in which, the federal judge escaped his Colorado home with the help of White House staffers who shuttled him via a back farm road to an awaiting military jet, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said late Tuesday night.

"You saw a very well planned out and well executed strategy tonight. This was a great effort by the entire team," Spicer said.

But there was still some drama. The other favorite for the nomination -- Judge Thomas Hardiman of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals -- ended up driving more than 100 miles Tuesday morning toward Washington from his Pittsburgh home in an apparent gambit to keep everyone guessing -- and continue to flood the airwaves with a suspenseful storyline.

The guessing-game was very much in keeping with the flair for publicity that marked the rollouts of many of Trump's other high-profile picks. Amid his search for a vice president, Trump publicly met with several of the top contenders and trotted them out to rallies for public auditions, for example, and later suggested he might change his mind after then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence had already landed in New York.

Here, Trump played to Washington's craving for hints of who his Supreme Court might be with a lighter touch -- meeting with candidates in private and keeping any inkling that he had made a final decision a secret until Tuesday -- before unveiling the pick in a prime-time address.

Met with four candidates

As Washington scoured for tidbits of information in the last week that would shed light on whom Trump would pick, the president played coy, and helped build the suspense.