President Trump's own Supreme Court nominee rebuked him Wednesday, calling his comments attacking judges and the judicial system “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” So it's no surprise Trump would hit back at Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) for publicizing Gorsuch's comments on the matter.
But Trump's complaint simply doesn't make much sense — nor does White House press secretary Sean Spicer's attempt to explain it.
Here's what Trump tweeted Thursday morning:
Sen.Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie),now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017
Hours after Trump's tweet, the White House still hasn't adequately explained what Blumenthal “misrepresented." Nor, most importantly, has Gorsuch's team.
In fact, Gorsuch's spokesman confirmed Wednesday that he said “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” And in a statement Thursday morning, they didn't take issue with what Blumenthal said and again confirmed his concerns about criticisms like the ones Trump has made of the judiciary.
There is also little in Blumenthal's quotes for Trump to take issue with, beyond those two words. Blumenthal simply didn't say much else. A lawyer by trade, he seemed careful not to, in fact.
Here's how Blumenthal's comments were reported in The Washington Post:
Blumenthal said Gorsuch, whom Trump nominated to the Supreme Court just over a week ago, agreed with him that the president’s language was out of line.
“I told him how abhorrent Donald Trump’s invective and insults are toward the judiciary. And he said to me that he found them ‘disheartening’ and ‘demoralizing’ — his words,” Blumenthal said in an interview.
Gorsuch “stated very emotionally and strongly his belief in his fellow judges’ integrity and the principle of judicial independence,” he added. “And I made clear to him that that belief requires him to be stronger and more explicit, more public in his views.”
And here's CNN, which first reported Blumenthal's version:
“He said very specifically that they were demoralizing and disheartening and he characterized them very specifically that way,” Blumenthal said of Gorsuch. “I said they were more than disheartening and I said to him that he has an obligation to make his views clear to the American people, so they understand how abhorrent or unacceptable President Trump's attacks on the judiciary are.”
Ron Bonjean, who is leading communications for Gorsuch during the confirmation process, confirmed Gorsuch called Trump's tweet about the “so-called judge” “disheartening” and “demoralizing” in his conversation with Blumenthal.
Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he brought up examples of Trump's recent rhetoric, including the tweets and the president's criticism of the federal court Wednesday morning before law enforcement officials.
That's when Gorsuch expressed disappointment in Trump's comments, Blumenthal said. “He didn't disagree with me on that point.”
“I said to him if a litigant before your court — and the president of the United States is in fact a litigant right now in the immigration ban cases — said what President Trump said, you would hold him in contempt of court,” Blumenthal said, adding that Gorsuch did not give a response to that comment.
About the only quibble-worthy point I can see is whether Gorsuch was speaking specifically about Trump's comments about the “so-called judge” or more generally about criticizing the judiciary.
Gorsuch's team seems to be saying it's the latter. Former senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who is advising Gorsuch, said in a statement Thursday morning:
Judge Gorsuch has made it very clear in all of his discussions with senators, including Senator Blumenthal, that he could not comment on any specific cases and that judicial ethics prevent him from commenting on political matters. He has also emphasized the importance of an independent judiciary, and while he made clear that he was not referring to any specific case, he said that he finds any criticism of a judge's integrity and independence disheartening and demoralizing.
And Spicer drove home that argument at his daily briefing Thursday afternoon, saying, “The judge was very clear that he was not commenting on a specific matter.”
But the sentiment would be completely the same. There is nothing else in the news that Gorsuch would be referring to when he called criticism of the judiciary “disheartening" and “demoralizing." The comments may not be directly about Trump, but they certainly apply to him. This is some remarkable hair-splitting.
And Republican Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) on Thursday morning seemed to confirm the general flavor of Gorsuch's views on criticisms of the judiciary, saying he got “pretty passionate" about Trump's comments.
"Any attack on brothers or sisters of the robe is an attack on all judges," @BenSasse says Gorsuch told him about judicial attacks.
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) February 9, 2017
Blumenthal stood by his version of Gorsuch's comments Thursday morning. “The long and short of it is that there's no doubt that he said that Donald Trump's attack on the judiciary is demoralizing,” Blumenthal told The Post's Ed O'Keefe, adding that Trump's “own White House staff was in the room, so I think he just needs to talk to them.”
We'll see if Gorsuch's team or the White House has anything to add, but it would not be unprecedented if Trump was over his skis here. Trump and those surrounding him often offer different versions of events, with the president seeming to prefer the version of events that reflects most positively upon himself, even if it doesn't square with the facts.
In this case, that means disputing Gorsuch's highly unusual rebuke of the man who, after all, nominated him for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court of the United States.