Trump Attacks Blumenthal Over Supreme Court Nominee's Critical Comments

President Donald Trump attacked Sen. Richard Blumenthal's military record Thursday, a day after the senator revealed critical comments Neil Gorsuch, Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, made about the president's aggressive remarks about the judicial branch.

"Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie), now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?" Trump posted on Twitter at 6:57 a.m., contradicting accounts from Gorsuch's own team and other senators who met with him.

"I was incredulous," Blumenthal said when he learned of Trump's tweet. "There's no question that Judge Gorsuch said in our meeting, in fact said more than once, that he finds the president's vicious attacks on the judiciary to be disheartening and demoralizing."

The attacks Blumenthal referred to include a flurry of tweets critical of the federal judge in Seattle who put a hold on Trump's immigration executive order that suspended the U.S. refugee program and blocked travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. He said the judge and the court system would be to blame "if something happens" because the ban was lifted.

Sean Spicer, Trump's press secretary, didn't dispute that Gorsuch was critical of attacks on the judiciary, but accused Blumenthal of twisting his words. Gorsuch was speaking in generalities, not about Trump's recent comments, he said.

"There's a big difference between commenting on the specific comments that had been made in the tweet and his general philosophy about the judiciary and his respect for his fellow judges," Spicer told reporters at a White House press briefing.

But that explanation was refuted by Blumenthal's colleague Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska. Sasse said he had a similar conversation with Gorsuch, and specifically mentioned a tweet from Trump calling U.S. District Court Judge James L. Robart a "so-called judge."

"Frankly he got pretty passionate about it," Sasse said on MSNBC Thursday. "I asked him about the so-called judges comment because we don't have so-called judges or so-called presidents or so-called senators. This was a guy who kind of welled up with some energy and 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, and he believes in an independent judiciary."

Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire who is helping Gorsuch through the confirmation process and was in the meeting with Blumenthal said in a written statement Thursday: "[Gorsuch] 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."

Blumenthal said "the most charitable way to view it is the president was misinformed and that his denial of the obvious truth" was a result of the "ongoing mayhem in the White House." He said Gorsuch could clear the air by speaking publicly about what he told the senator privately.

Gorsuch's conversation with Blumenthal dominated political news Wednesday and Thursday after he shared the judge's remarks with reporters following a 40-minute meeting in his Senate office. Blumenthal sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold a confirmation hearing on Gorsuch.

On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Thursday, Blumenthal said Gorsuch told him "you should feel free to mention what I said about these attacks being disheartening and demoralizing." Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for the judge, confirmed Gorsuch "used the words disheartening and demoralizing."

The questions about Blumenthal's service in Vietnam Trump raised date to an issue that surfaced during his 2010 campaign against Linda McMahon. Blumenthal held a press conference where he said he had "misspoken" about his military service. While he had said multiple times he served "in" the Vietnam War, he meant to say he served "during" the Vietnam War. Blumenthal spent six years stateside in the Marine Corps Reserves.

"What you should do is ask Sen. Blumenthal about his Vietnam record that didn't exist after years of saying it did," Trump told reporters before a luncheon with senators in the afternoon. "Ask Sen. Blumenthal about his Vietnam record. He misrepresented that just like he misrepresented Judge Gorsuch."

Trump previously revived the Vietnam controversy during a campaign rally in Fairfield in August, saying Blumenthal "went around for years saying he was a great Vietnam fighter. Telling false tales, telling everything." Asked to respond to Trump's attacks, Blumenthal demurred.

"This issue is way bigger than me, even than Judge Gorsuch's nomination," he said. "It's really about the independence and the integrity of our judicial system and our constitutional democracy."

Sen. Chris Murphy, Blumenthal's Democratic colleague from Connecticut, said bringing up the Vietnam issue was "textbook Trump."

"There's a really bad damaging story about him and he distracts everybody by bullying and name-calling," he said. "This is literally what Donald Trump does every single day and everybody keeps on falling for it."

Bill Clark | CQ Roll Call, Supreme Court Judge Neil Gorsuch

Trump tweets on Sen. Richard Blumenthal after Gorsuch meeting

President Trump attacked Sen. Richard Blumenthal in a tweet early Thursday, following the Connecticut Democrat’s remarks about his meeting with Judge Neil Gorsuch, Mr. Trump’s pick to be a Supreme Court justice.

The president accused Blumenthal of “misrepresenting” Gorsuch’s comments, after the senator reported that the conservative judge had expressed disappointment over Mr. Trump’s latest comments about the court system.

Cuomo was quick to fact-check the president, however.

The CNN journalist responded with a tweet of his own Thursday, saying that “it was my first point to the senator - about his having misrepresented military career.”

Late Wednesday night, Blumenthal told CNN that the conservative judge, nominated to the Supreme Court bench by Mr. Trump last month, had said in a meeting that he found the president’s public admonishments of the courts to be disheartening and “demoralizing.” In a separate interview with MSNBC on Thursday, Blumenthal said Gorsuch had specifically told him to “feel free” to mention such remarks. (CBS News’ Margaret Brennan also confirmed from a source on the Supreme Court nomination team that Gorsuch had agreed with the senator that the remarks were disheartening. According to Brennan, the judge also added that Mr. Trump’s words were “demoralizing.”)

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, also seemed to back up Blumenthal’s characterization of his conversation with Gorsuch in an interview wtih MSNBC early Thursday. The Nebraska Republican said that in his own talk with the conservative judge, Gorsuch had said that any attack on any “brothers or sisters of the robe” is an attack on all judges.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, also told reporters that Gorsuch seemed to believe it was “inappropriate” to question the political motives of the courts.

 “I’m not going to go into details about what he said,” she said Thursday, “but there was no question he felt very strongly that it was inappropriate for people to question the independence and integrity of the judiciary.”

The first statements by Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, came less than a day after the president slammed the courts as too “political” during an address to sheriffs and police chiefs in Washington, D.C.

“I never want to call a court biased, so I won’t call it biased,” Mr. Trump had told the room of law enforcement officials, following a series of legal challenges posed to his travel ban. But he added, that “courts seem to be so political, and it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what’s right.”

Over the last week, the president has also repeatedly berated a federal judge for his decision to suspend Mr. Trump’s immigration executive order, which halts the U.S. refugee program and prohibits citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the country.

After U.S. District Judge James Robart declared a nationwide stay on the ban, the president tweeted about the “so-called judge” and even suggested that a future terrorist attack on the country could be blamed on Robart and the court system.

As for Blumenthal’s military service, Mr. Trump -- who himself received five draft deferments during the Vietnam War (four times because he was in college and once because of bone spurs in his feet) -- is correct that the former senator did not fight in that conflict. Blumenthal -- who also obtained at least five draft deferments, according to a New York Times report -- joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1970 and served for six years in the U.S.

Blumenthal has apologized for his exaggerations of his military service, according to a Washington Post report. 

“On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that and I take full responsibility,” Blumenthal said at a news conference in Connecticut in 2010. “But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.”


Trump's Supreme Court pick did call attacks on judges 'demoralizing,' former senator says

President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch did tell senators that he considered attacks on judges "demoralizing," a former senator aiding his confirmation process said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the federal appeals judge "certainly expressed to me that he is disheartened by the demoralizing and abhorrent comments made by President Trump about the judiciary." By Thursday, Trump fired back at Blumenthal, saying he "misrepresents" his conversation with Gorsuch. Trump also attacked his credibility due to misleading statements Blumenthal made about his military service.

Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has aided Gorsuch's confirmation process and sat in on senators' meetings with him, said in a statement Thursday that the judge did call attacks on the independence of judges "disheartening." But she appeared to say that he referred to any criticism of judges' ethics, not Trump's recent comments specifically.

"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," she said. "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."

The Trump administration is locked in a legal battle over his divisive executive order on immigration, and the president's comments during the process have made critics question whether he will respect the independence of the judicial branch. After federal Judge James Robart suspended Trump's order, the president called the Bush-appointed jurist a "so-called" judge and said he would be blamed if a terrorist attack took place.

The administration is now appealing the suspension, and a decision is expected soon. In remarks to a law enforcement conference Wednesday, Trump commented on the appeal proceedings, arguing that courts "seem to be so political."

Some Senate Democrats have promised to block the nomination of the 49-year-old Gorsuch who has a strong conservative track record. Some see his departure from Trump's attacks on the judiciary as bolstering his case to be an independent check on the president.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said later Thursday that "there is a big difference between (Gorsuch) commenting on the specific comments and his general philosophy about the judiciary."

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