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FILE - In this June 26, 2017, file photo, The Supreme Court is seen in Washington. Recent presidents have delighted in dramatically revealing the people they have chosen to sit on the Supreme Court. And they’ve gone to some lengths to keep their ultimate choice under wraps. Trump is expected on Monday to announce his choice to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Trump says he 'can't go wrong' with his top court contenders

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By CATHERINE LUCEY , Associated Press

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (AP) — President Donald Trump is going down to the wire as he makes his choice on a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, but he says with his final four options "you can't go wrong."

Trump spoke to reporters Sunday afternoon as he concluded a weekend in New Jersey spent deliberating his decision at his private golf club amid furious lobbying and frenzied speculation. Relishing the suspense, Trump insisted he still hadn't locked down his decision, which he wants to keep under wraps until a 9 p.m. Monday announcement from the White House.

"I'm very close to making a final decision. And I believe this person will do a great job," Trump said. Asked by reporters how many people were being considered, the president said: "Let's say it's the four people ... they're excellent, every one."

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump points before boarding Air Force One at Morristown Municipal Airport, in Morristown, N.J., Sunday, July 8, 2018, en route to Washington from Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

While Trump didn't name the four, top contenders for the role have included federal appeals judges Brett Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman. The White House has been preparing information materials on all four, who were part of a longer list of 25 names vetted by conservative groups.

Trump tweeted later Sunday that he was looking forward to the announcement and said an "exceptional person will be chosen!" He is hoping to replicate his successful announcement of Justice Neil Gorsuch last year.

Supreme Court Gorsuch
In this photo provided by the Public Information Office Supreme Court of the U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., administers the Constitutional Oath to the Neil Gorsuch in a private ceremony attended by the Justices of the Supreme Court and members of the Gorsuch family, including wife Louise Gorsuch, Monday, April 10, 2017, in the Justices' Conference Room at the Supreme Court in Washington. Surrounded by family and his soon-to-be Supreme Court colleagues, Gorsuch took the first of two oaths as he prepared to take his seat on the court. (Franz Jantzen/Public Information Office Supreme Court of the U.S. via AP)

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The president has spent the days leading up to the decision mulling the pros and cons of the various options with aides and allies. He expressed renewed interest in Hardiman — the runner-up when Trump nominated Gorsuch, said two people with knowledge of his thinking who were not authorized to speak publicly. But the situation appeared to remain fluid.

Thomas Hardiman
FILE - In this March 8, 2017, file photo, Judge Thomas Hardiman smiles during a meeting with The Associated Press in Philadelphia. President Donald Trump's list of candidates for the Supreme Court, posted on White House website in November 2017 includes Hardiman. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, file)

Hardiman has a personal connection to the president, having served with Trump's sister on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. He also has a compelling personal story: He went to the University of Notre Dame as the first person in his family to go to college. He financed his law degree at the Georgetown University Law Center by driving a taxi.

KAVANAUGH
FILE -In this April 26, 2004, file photo, Brett Kavanaugh appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Kavanaugh is on President Donald Trump's list of potential Supreme Court Justice candidates to fill the spot vacated by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook, File)

Some conservatives have expressed concerns about Kavanaugh — a longtime judge and former clerk for Kennedy — questioning his commitment to social issues like abortion and noting his time serving under President George W. Bush as evidence he is a more establishment choice. But his supporters cite his experience and wide range of legal opinions. He is also former law clerk to Kennedy, as is Kethledge.

Barrett — a longtime Notre Dame Law School professor who became a federal judge last fall — excited social conservatives since she was questioned about her Roman Catholic faith in her nomination hearings last year, but her brief time on the bench has raised questions about her experience

Trump Supreme Court Contenders
This 2017 photo provided by the University of Notre Dame Law School in South Bend, Ind., shows Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Barrett is on President Donald Trump's list of potential Supreme Court Justice candidates to fill the spot vacated by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. (University of Notre Dame Law School via AP)

Kethledge serves as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio. He co-authored a book with Army veteran Mike Erwin of The Positivity Project published last year called "Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude."

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Trump Supreme Court
In this May 7, 2008, image from video provided by C-SPAN, Raymond Kethledge testifies during his confirmation hearing for the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Donald Trump is closing in on his next Supreme Court nominee, with three federal judges leading the competition to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Trump's top contenders for the vacancy at this time are federal appeals judges Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge, said a person familiar with Trump's thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly.(C-SPAN via AP)

Trump has enjoyed teasing details of his process in recent days, saying Thursday that he was down to four people and "of the four people, I have it down to three or two." On Saturday, he tweeted that a "Big decision" was coming soon. On Sunday he was back to citing "the four people."

The president and White House officials involved in the process have fielded calls and messages and have been on the receiving end of public pleas and op-eds for or against specific candidates since Kennedy announced on June 27 that he would retire this summer.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Roy Blunt of Missouri said Sunday that they believe any of the top four contenders could get confirmed by the GOP-majority Senate.

Lindsey Graham
In this Jan. 25, 2018 photo, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks to reporters as he arrives at the office of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is moderating bipartisan negotiations on immigration, at the Capitol in Washington. Republicans in Congress have learned to ignore President Trump's policy whims, knowing whatever he says one day he'll change by the next. There's even a name for it: the Tuesday president or the Thursday president, referring to his two-day reversal on immigration. But Trump's decision to impose tariffs is another matter. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

"They're good judges," Blunt said on NBC's "Meet the Press." He added: "I think they'd be fine justices of the Supreme Court. I do think the president has to think about who is the easiest to get confirmed here. And I expect we will do that on sort of a normal timetable, a couple of months."

Outside adviser Leonard Leo, currently on leave from the Federalist Society, said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that this kind of jockeying is standard, noting that "every potential nominee before announcement gets concerns expressed about them by people who might ultimately support them."

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