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How Team Obama sneaked Sotomayor into White House without tipping media

May 28, 2009 |  7:49 am

Judge Sonia Sotomayor at Yankee Stadium

Much has been written about how President Obama narrowed his Supreme Court selection from 40 to the final four: federal appeals court judges Diane Wood of Chicago and Sonia Sotomayor of New York, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

But NPR's Nina Totenberg provided fresh details this morning about how Sotomayor, on everybody's short list, eluded the New York stakeout of cameras parked in front of her Manhattan condo, and the equally eagle-eyed reporters in Washington camped out on the White House lawn.

Apparently, Sotomayor walked out of her New York condo Thursday morning as if she were heading to work -- turning the corner with a brown bag lunch in her hand. But this time she wasn't going to the courthouse. Instead, Sotomayor stepped into a waiting car. Her best friend had lent the family car to the cause, and offered her husband as a chauffeur. He drove the judge all the way to the White House (think New Jersey turnpike. She arived at 1 p.m. and was quickly "whisked inside with little fanfare and no public notice."

It was a long day. First, Sotomayor met with Cynthia Hogan, legal advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. Then it was Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, White House lawyers and political strategist David Axelrod. Only then did she meet with Obama, for about an hour.

On Friday, Biden called and interviewed her for another two hours.

On Monday night at 8 p.m. Obama called Sotomayor, who was still in her office, to tell her she had won the nomination, the first Latino nominated to the high court. Still in her office, she drafted remarks, e-mailed them to the White House for tweaks, went home, packed and prepared to leave Manhattan.

And how did she elude the stakeout this time?

Same best friend's car, same driver, this time in the dead of night, arriving in Washington at 2:15 a.m. on Tuesday, checking into a tourist hotel and driving into the White House at 7:30 a.m. for the ceremony.

Team Obama is famous for being able to keep a secret. But the Great Sotomayor Head Fake adds new luster to the team's reputation.

It helps that Sotomayor, seen in a photo above with her nephews Conner and Corey at Yankee Stadium, was not yet a nationally famous face. (By the way the White House has a delightful slideshow of family photos on its site.)

In any event, the whole incident kind of makes you wonder why we in the media do these stakeouts anyway.


-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo credit: Sotomayor family photo provided by the White House