White House chief of staff Ron Klain gave a “limited number of people” an early heads-up that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer would announce his retirement last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin told reporters Monday.
According to Durbin (D-Ill.), Klain called him Jan. 26 and explained that President Biden “wanted me to know that Stephen Breyer was about to announce his retirement from the court.”
“They were telling a limited number of people and that I should be keep it confidential,” added Durbin. “The official announcement will be made on Thursday. I said, of course I would.”
News of Breyer’s retirement leaked out that same day, with NBC News breaking the story and citing people “familiar with his thinking.”
“That’s what confidential on Capitol Hill leads to, I guess,” said Durbin, who claimed that he only told his wife about Klain’s call.
Hours after the story broke, Fox News’ Shannon Bream reported that Breyer was “surprised” that the story of his retirement emerged prematurely.
The justice confirmed his departure in a Jan. 27 letter to Biden, saying he would leave the high court following the current term assuming a successor has been confirmed.
Some commentators were appalled at Klain spreading the word about Breyer’s pending retirement.
“If Biden cared about decorum at all he’d fire [Klain] for this,” tweeted Republican strategist Matt Whitlock.
“Never tell anything to Biden or Ron Klain,” warned Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney.
“What a clown show,” raged radiologist and health policy commentator Pradheep J. Shanker. “In their own way, this group of idiots is as bad as the previous group.”
“The Biden White House pressured Justice Breyer off the bench and then robbed him of the dignity of announcing his retirement on his own terms by leaking the news — shameless,” tweeted the conservative Judicial Crisis Network.
Biden has said he will nominate a black woman to replace Breyer — in keeping with a key campaign promise — and vowed to make his choice by the end of this month.