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Neil Gorsuch and the Making of SCOTUS — a Donald Trump Production

by Hallie Jackson, Kristin Donnelly and Alex Johnson /  / Updated 
Image: President Donald Trump and Judge Neil Gorsuch
Judge Neil Gorsuch kisses his wife, Louise Gorsuch, as President Donald Trump nominates him to the Supreme Court during a ceremony Tuesday night in the East Room of the White House.Alex Wong / Getty Images

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Like the TV impresario he is, President Donald Trump, working with a small team of top advisers, carefully stage-managed the introduction of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch with a rollout Tuesday night that would make any network executive proud.

Trump kept Gorsuch's identity under wraps right up until the moment he announced the nominee's name, live on national television.

Related: What's Next for Trump's SCOTUS Pick?

Here's how the show was orchestrated, as relayed to NBC News by Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, and Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary:

On Monday, Trump personally called Gorsuch, 49, a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Sometime Monday, a White House team made its way from Washington, D.C., to the ranch outside Boulder, Colorado, where Gorsuch lives with his wife, Louise, their daughters, Emma and Belinda, two horses and a cat.

The call was the culmination of weeks of vetting of Gorsuch and five other contenders: federal appeals judges Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, Bill Pryor of Alabama and Diana Sykes of Illinois; U.S. District Judge Amul Thupar of Kentucky; and Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett.

The field was eventually whittled to Gorsuch, Hardiman, Pryor and Thupar, all of whom Trump met with earlier this month. It was White House Counsel Don McGahn who broke the bad news to the three who didn't get the nomination after a process that heavily involved McGahn, Vice President Mike Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.

With an announcement scheduled for 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, secrecy was important, because Gorsuch had already been sussed out as a finalist.

Spicer said Gorsuch went to a neighbor's house, where he met with the White House representatives. From there, he was whisked via a country back road to a military jet, which flew him to Joint Base Andrews in the Maryland suburbs of Washington. Once he arrived in Washington, he stayed at the private residence of a friend.

Trump and Gorsuch quickly hit it off, Conway said, but the deciding factor was Trump's conclusion that Gorsuch would adhere to the Constitution and not "make stuff up."

By phone, the president personally invited Maureen Scalia — the widow of Justice Antonin Scalia, whom Gorsuch would succeed on the court — to attend the unveiling Tuesday night at the White House. Prominent Democrats were also invited, but they chose not to attend the East Room ceremony, Conway said.

The White House was described as "really proud" of how it handled the entire process — which went off without a single important leak.

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