One of President Donald Trump's most important outside advisors assured a group of top Koch network donors over the weekend that the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is just the beginning of an even bigger effort to load up the federal judiciary with conservative judges.
This affirmation from the Federalist Society's Leonard Leo, who advised Trump on the Kavanaugh nomination, shows that while the president has been in a war of words with the organization led by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, the administration and the group still have major goals in common – particularly when it comes to the courts.
At a private meeting Sunday at the Koch summit in Colorado Springs, Leo, along with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told a small group of financiers that the Trump administration was looking to overhaul a large chunk of the federal court of appeals by the end of the year, according to a person who was in the room during the discussion.
"By the end of this year my prediction is that basically 26 percent of the federal appellate bench will have changed under the Trump administration," Leo told donors, prompting a round of applause, said the person, who declined to be named.
Throughout the first two years of his administration, Trump has nominated approximately 30 federal appeals judges with nearly 10 nominees still being reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Cornyn is a member. That's almost double the amount by his predecessor President Barack Obama, who nominated fewer than 20 nominees to the appeals court in his first two years in office.
Cornyn told the donors in the meeting that the Senate plans to confirm more nominees to fill the vacancies on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Arizona, California, Montana and Washington, among other districts. The official website for the court says there are six vacancies. Trump has nominated three candidates to the court.
"You're right we need to do some work on the Ninth Circuit," Cornyn said, according to the person who was in the room. The senator noted that the court has the highest percentage of cases overruled by the Supreme Court.
"We're going to clear the decks on all nominations we can get through the Judiciary Committee before the end of the year," Cornyn added, the person said.
A spokesman for the Koch network would not confirm or deny whether the meeting took place. A spokesman for Cornyn declined to comment. Leo did not return repeated requests for comment.
The private meeting was a divergence from the combative rhetoric expressed by Koch network leaders during the weekend retreat.
Publicly, top officials in the group, which traditionally backs Republican policy initiatives and candidates, suggested they could support some Democrats as the pivotal midterm elections approach. Officials also griped about some of Trump's policies, particularly his aggressive implementation of tariffs on billions of dollars' worth of imported goods. The Kochs espouse a free-trade philosophy. Trump, likewise, has criticized them as "globalists."