Back road drive, secret flight brought Trump's court pick to Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A secret meeting at a neighbor’s house, a drive through a back country road, and a clandestine flight on a military jet marked Judge Neil Gorsuch’s journey to the White House this week after U.S. President Donald Trump chose him as his Supreme Court nominee.

Neil Gorsuch arrives with his wife Marie Louise as U.S. President Donald Trump announces his nomination of Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Trump, who took office on January 20, called Gorsuch on Monday to inform him that he had prevailed among a handful of finalists to succeed deceased Justice Antonin Scalia on the high court.

That decision set off a rapid and secretive process to get Gorsuch to Washington without alerting journalists and other Supreme Court watchers of the president’s selection.

After Trump called the Colorado-based judge, a team from the White House counsel’s office flew to Denver and then drove to Boulder, roughly 45 minutes away, to meet with Gorsuch and his family.

They met at a neighbor’s house to avoid detection.

Then the White House staff spirited him though a “back farm road” to a waiting military plane to transport him to Washington, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on Tuesday night in the White House East Room.

Gorsuch stayed at a friend’s residence before being brought to the White House for the Tuesday evening announcement.

The secrecy continued up until the last minute.

When Trump, a former reality television star, entered the East Room, he came alone, addressing the cameras and the waiting crowd, which included Scalia’s widow, at a podium before calling on Gorsuch and his wife to come in.

Trump’s decision came after he narrowed a list of 21 candidates down to six, including Thomas Hardiman, William Pryor, Amul Thapar, Diane Sykes, and Don Willett.

Then President-elect Trump interviewed Gorsuch, Hardiman and Pryor on Jan. 14 in his New York residence. He also interviewed Thapar.

“He finalized the decision recently,” after considering all 21 candidates “very deeply,” said Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser and counselor to the president.

White House counsel Don McGahn informed Hardiman, Pryor and Thapar that they had not been chosen, Spicer said.

The White House was determined to keep the president’s Supreme Court selection a secret and make the announcement of his choice a success after the botched rollout of his refugee executive order contributed to confusion and worldwide criticism last weekend.

The strategy to get Gorsuch confirmed will kick off right away, Spicer said, with former Senator Kelly Ayotte serving as the “sherpa” to help steer the nominee through the Senate confirmation process.

Editing by Michael Perry