Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said Gorsuch used the words in a meeting with him Wednesday, an account that was confirmed by other sources, The Washington Post reports. But Trump questioned Blumenthal's credibility Thursday morning, tweeting, "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 then attacked Chris Cuomo of CNN, who interviewed Blumenthal about the Gorsuch meeting. "Chris Cuomo, in his interview with Sen. Blumenthal, never asked him about his long-term lie about his brave 'service' in Vietnam. FAKE NEWS!" he tweeted. And the president told a reporter this afternoon that the senator misrepresented his military record "just like he misrepresented Judge Gorsuch," according to Politico.
Blumenthal did make misleading statements several years ago about his military service, saying he "served" in Vietnam, when in fact he was stationed in the U.S. throughout his time in the Marine Reserves during the Vietnam War. He received much criticism for the misrepresentation during his Senate run in 2010. He has admitted he misspoke and meant to say he served "during" the conflict. "On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that and I take full responsibility," he said in a 2010 news conference.
Blumenthal's account of the Gorsuch meeting, however, has been corroborated by several others who were there, including Ron Bonjean, who is part of a group "guiding the judge through his confirmation process on behalf of Trump's administration," the Post reports.
The senator had said of the meeting, "I told [Gorsuch] 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," according to the Post. As for the controversy involving Blumenthal's statements about his military service, he told the paper, "The issue is really not about me. It's about the independence of the American judiciary. There is a fundamental core democratic principle at stake."
While Gorsuch's comments reportedly did not refer to a specific Trump attack, Blumenthal had brought up the president's denunciation of U.S. District Judge James Robart. Robart has blocked Trump's executive order temporarily suspending entry to the U.S. by people from seven majority-Muslim countries as well as entry by refugees from any nation, and indefinitely barring refugees from Syria. Trump called Robart a "so-called judge" and said his ruling "put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system."
Blumenthal stood by his remarks about the meeting. Trump's "own White House staff was in the room, so I think he just needs to talk to them," the senator told the Post. Some Republicans, such as Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and former Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, recounted other conversations in which Gorsuch, currently a federal appeals court judge, expressed concerns about Trump's criticism of the judiciary.
Some observers have floated a "competing theory" that Gorsuch's stated concerns "were a calculated attempt ... to assert his independence," the Post reports. Conservative backers of his Supreme Court nomination, however, said Gorsuch's independence is genuine, while some liberals said his statements were too mild to muster much support from the left.
"Calling Trump's attacks on the judiciary 'disheartening' and 'demoralizing' says nothing about his willingness to stand up to abuses of authority, and isn't even very strong criticism of Trump's wholesale attacks on the judicial branch," People for the American Way senior fellow Elliot Mincberg wrote in a blog post.
The organization's communications director, Drew Courtney, wrote in another blog article, "Is Gorsuch distancing himself from Trump? As we say on the internet: LOL." Gorsuch's "tepid response" expresses just "faint disapproval," Courtney continued.
And Matt House, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the chamber's top Democrat, told the Post, "Given the president's comments, that's a very milquetoast response. Anyone can be disheartened, but the judge has refused to condemn the comments privately or publicly."