President Trump today suggested that reported comments from his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, calling attacks by the president on the judiciary "demoralizing" and "disheartening," were misrepresented, even though a spokesman for Gorsuch confirmed the remarks.
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In an early-morning tweet, Trump lambasted Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, who on Wednesday reported Gorsuch's private remarks expressing concern over Trump's recent attacks on the judiciary.
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
White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted in today’s press briefing that Blumenthal misrepresented what Gorsuch told him –- telling reporters the judge was not referring to any specific case.
But Blumenthal is standing by his characterization.
"There's no question he said it was disheartening and demoralizing for President Trump to be attacking the judiciary," Blumenthal told ABC News. "What is striking here is the need for him to be more public and explicit and publicly condemn it."
The White House’s position -- which it is hanging on former New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte's telling of the meeting -- not only contradicts Blumenthal’s telling of the meeting, but also what Gorsuch’s spokesman previously told ABC News.
“Sen. Ayotte, who was there, made it very clear that he was commenting in general about attacks on the judiciary,” Spicer said.
Ayotte, who is leading the White House team working to confirm Gorsuch, 49, said in a statement today: "Judge Gorsuch has made it very clear in all of his discussions with senators, including Sen. 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.”
Spicer also maintained that the president has “no regrets” about his selection of Gorsuch and confirmed that “of course” the president will continue to speak his mind.
Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Ben Sasse of Nebraska said Gorsuch made similar statements to them.
"He said any attack on any of — I think his term to me was 'brothers or sisters of the robe' — is an attack on all judges," Sasse said this morning on MSNBC.
Gardner said he agrees with Gorsuch's comments but emphasized that previous presidents have also been critical of the judiciary.
"It's highly unusual for a senator to hold a press conference and disclose the entirety of a meeting after a private meeting like that with a nominee. But that's what he said. I have no reason to not believe Sen. Blumenthal or Judge Gorsuch, what he said or his spokesperson. And I would agree with Judge Gorsuch," Gardner told CNN.
"But this is not the first time that we've seen somebody besmirch a court," Gardner added. "This isn't the first time a president used the power of the office to criticize a Supreme Court decision or a judge."
When pressed by ABC News' Cecilia Vega about the other senators who have confirmed that Gorsuch has made similar comments to them, Spicer didn’t budge.
“I understand. I can tell you with Sen. Ayotte with him on every single thing was very clear about that...She has made it very clear over and over again," Spicer said at the White House today.
Trump has on several occasions castigated a judge who blocked his immigration order in Washington state last week. Over the weekend, he panned Judge James Robart as a “so-called judge” and blamed him for risking national security by issuing the temporary restraining order, which applied nationwide, calling it "a terrible decision."
Speaking to law enforcement leaders Wednesday morning, Trump suggested that the courts are acting politically. He also commented on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judges who could decide whether to lift the restraining order on his travel ban. The three-judge panel heard oral arguments Tuesday night and was expected to rule this week.
Gorsuch met Wednesday with six senators, including Blumenthal, on Capitol Hill.
In an interview that day, Blumenthal said Gorsuch's answers to questions about Trump's comments on the judiciary left him unsatisfied.
"He found them to be disheartening and demoralizing," Blumenthal said of Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge in Denver. "I think he needs to be far stronger and tell the American public rather than state them to me as a senator."
Blumenthal said that he still has "by no means reached a decision on his nomination" and that he pressed Gorsuch on whether he would respect Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision finding that abortion is a constitutional right.
"He declined to commit that he would continue to uphold any specific case," Blumenthal said, adding that he expects such issues to come up again before the Senate Judiciary Committee.