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Inside the 'spycraft and subterfuge' operation that Anthony Kennedy used to keep his retirement secret

This is like something out of a movie.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After it had been the subject of widespread rumor and speculation for months, Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement announcement during the summer of 2018 rocked Washington and kicked off what would become the most contentious Supreme Court confirmation in a generation.

Now, however, there's even more to the story. Newly reported information reveals the extraordinary lengths Kennedy and the White House went to in order to keep the timing of the long-expected announcement a secret right up until the very end.

In their new book, "Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court," Judicial Crisis Network chief counsel Carrie Severino and the Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway tell the full story of the Kavanaugh confirmation, including the retirement that started everything.

In an interview with Blaze Media, Hemingway said one of the most surprising stories she came across was the level of "spycraft and subterfuge" in last summer's announcement.

"He wanted to arrange a meeting with the president, without anybody knowing why he wanted the meeting with the president." Why? Because he wanted to inform the president of the court's impending vacancy himself before the information went public. "Seeing how he got out of the Supreme Court without anybody noticing, makes it over to the White House without anyone noticing, and makes it back to the Supreme Court … he does it, and we found out from his fellow justices that they were totally shocked when he retired."

Kennedy went about this by reaching out to a former clerk now employed at the Justice Department, who sat down with him for a secret meeting at a cafe just off the National Mall and then relayed the information to then-White House counsel Don McGahn, whom Kennedy wanted to arrange a meeting with President Trump. Of course, this all had to be done without raising any eyebrows or throwing up any red flags.

The big day eventually arrived. Kennedy told his "shocked" colleagues about his retirement at their end-of-term luncheon, but he asked them to keep the secret for a couple more hours so he could have adequate time to inform the president. A car then arrived to pick him up and take him to the White House, where he met with the president for around 20 minutes in the presidential residence to avoid the Oval Office, which can be a "fishbowl for prying eyes," Severino and Hemingway wrote.

After the brief meeting, Kennedy handed over a letter of resignation before clandestinely returning to the Supreme Court building. Nobody from the press saw Kennedy arrive or leave.

"The biggest secret in town had remained a secret until the end," the book concludes. "The news was then released, and it rocked Washington."

One last thing…
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