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."