(CNN) – President Obama shocked the White House Press Corps Friday afternoon when he crashed the daily briefing to announce Justice David Souter's retirement.
The surprise appearance took a little maneuvering and a lot of discipline from administration staff not to leak.
According to administration officials, President Obama was waiting for Justice Souter's letter to arrive to officially notify him of the retirement. But the letter didn't show up in time for Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to announce the news in his afternoon briefing. So Gibbs, after delaying the briefing for about 30 minutes, began his afternoon exchange with reporters anyway. He said he had no official confirmation that any Supreme Court Justice intended to step down. Then he went on to take reporters’ questions.
But during the briefing, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said Souter's letter arrived at the White House. The president received the letter in the Oval Office, and immediately called Justice Souter to congratulate him. Then the president headed to the briefing room to tell reporters himself that he had spoken with the Justice and was working toward nominating his replacement. His appearance was met with shock and laughter following a day in which White House staff remained mum and sometimes coy about reports of Souter's imminent retirement.
It appeared that Obama's arrival even caught his press secretary off guard.
When the president jumped behind the podium, Gibbs headed in the wrong direction as he tried to exit the stage, stepping toward a bank of cameras before doing an about face and walking around the president to get out of way.
After Mr. Obama's announcement, Gibbs was asked if he knew the president was coming: "No. We would've put a fancy seal up and everything," he said.
It turns out Gibbs didn't know for sure, but was warned it could happen. Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said several in the press office were given a head's up that if Souter's letter arrived during the briefing the president could make an appearance.
Burton, who was sitting in the briefing, said he got a message on his BlackBerry from a co-worker inside, tipping him off that Obama was indeed coming.