Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is distancing himself from comments that he allegedly made about President Trump in a conversation with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.). In the private conversation, later revealed by Blumenthal, Gorsuch reportedly called the president’s criticism of federal judges “demoralizing and disheartening.”
Now Fox News is reporting that Gorsuch is disputing the context of those comments. In a statement through Kelly Ayotte, a former senator who is assisting Judge Gorsuch in his interviews with senators, Gorsuch attempted to clarify his comments and explain that, in contrast to the impression given by Blumenthal, that he was speaking generally and not criticizing President Trump directly.
According to Blumenthal’s account reported in the Wall Street Journal, the senator asked Judge Gorsuch to respond to President Trump’s attack on a federal judge who ruled against his temporary immigration ban from certain countries. “He said [the attacks] were demoralizing and disheartening—those were his words,” Sen. Blumenthal told reporters. “I believe he has an obligation to make his views known more explicitly and unequivocally to the American people.”
Kelly Ayotte’s statement contradicts Sen. Blumenthal. “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,” Ayotte 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.”
In other words, while Gorsuch declined to comment specifically on President Trump’s criticism of judges, he is upset by any accusation that judges lack “integrity and independence.” Presumably, this view includes, but is not limited to, President Trump’s tweets.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) confirmed Ayotte’s view in Politico. Sasse said that Gorsuch did not personally attack Trump, but said that “we need to affirm public trust” in all branches of government.
“Frankly he got pretty passionate about it. 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. And this is a guy who kind of welled up with some energy and he said any attack on any — I think his term to me was 'brothers or sisters of the robe' — is an attack on all judges,” Sasse said. “What I saw in that guy is he got some energy about it, was this isn't about somebody just who’s just been nominated to Supreme Court. This is a guy if he were on traffic court in Colorado or in Nebraska would have the same view.”
President Trump also questioned Sen. Blumenthal’s credibility based on his claim to have served “in” the Vietnam War. It was revealed during Blumenthal’s 2010 Senate campaign that he had served in the Marine Corps Reserve during the Vietnam era, but had never left the US.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on Fox & Friends that “the president is fully confident in Judge Gorsuch.”
Gorsuch’s true comments may win him support on both sides. Even veiled criticism of the president who just nominated him to the Supreme Court indicates an unwillingness to be a yes-man or rubberstamp for President Trump’s agenda. Yet, criticizing Trump directly would have been a breach of protocol and would have engendered opposition and anger from Trump’s supporters.
In essence, Judge Gorsuch is the only one in the kerfuffle to look like an adult. Gorsuch looks righteous for standing up for the principles of decorum and civility while not directly criticizing the president who nominated him. On the other hand, President Trump looks bad for treating judges in an unprofessional manner and Sen. Blumenthal looks bad for misrepresenting a private conversation.
Brit Hume may have won the day with a tweet that gave the underlying lesson of the entire controversy: “Never have a private conversation with Sen. Richard Blumenthal.”
Originally published on The Resurgent