President Donald Trump's criticism of the judiciary prompted a rebuke from his nominee for the Supreme Court, who told a senator the president's comments were "demoralizing and disheartening."
Judge Neil Gorsuch, who was nominated by Trump to the nation's high court last week, made the comments Wednesday after Trump accused an appellate court considering his immigration and refugee executive order of being "so political." Over the weekend, the president labeled a judge who ruled on his executive order a "so-called judge" and referred to the ruling as "ridiculous."
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut first relayed Gorsuch's remarks on Wednesday following a meeting with the judge. Trump's own confirmation team for Gorsuch later confirmed he had made those remarks.
But Trump suggested that Blumenthal had misrepresented Gorsuch, tweeting early Thursday, "Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie), now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?"
Blumenthal faced criticism in the past for saying he had served in Vietnam. Blumenthal served in the Marine Corps Reserves during Vietnam. He apologized in 2010, saying he regretted his misstatements.
A spokesman for the team shepherding Gorsuch's nomination in the Senate confirmed Blumenthal's version of the conversation to NBC News and said Gorsuch did use the words "disheartening" and "demoralizing.
GOP former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is helping with Gorsuch's confirmation and was at the meeting, issued a statement saying Gorsuch made clear he was not referring to any specific case. But she said the nominee said he finds any criticism of a judge's integrity and independence to be "disheartening and demoralizing."
Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a press briefing on Thursday that the President has no regrets about what he said about judges.
Spicer also suggested that Gorsuch's comments were "not about any specific matter," and that in general, Gorsuch doesn't like attacks on judiciary.
Spicer added that the president will continue to speak his mind, referencing Thomas Jefferson and presidents commenting on judicial nominees, and that the idea of "one branch commenting on the other branch is as old as our republic."
Gorsuch's comments came at the end of a week of meetings with members of the Senate, which is considering his nomination. His response may have been aimed at drawing a line of separation from the new president, who has been a politically polarizing figure among Democrats in a highly charged partisan fight over the court.
Prior to the judge's meeting with Blumenthal, Trump criticized the court that is deliberating his immigration and refugee executive order, telling a group of police chiefs his immigration order was "done for the security of our nation."
He quoted from the portion of the immigration law that he said gave him the power to enact the ban, calling it "beautifully written" and saying, "A bad high school student would understand this."
"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," he added. "And that has to do with the security of our country, which is so important."
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing the appeal of his executive order on immigration, including a temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries. In a hearing Tuesday, judges on the appeals court challenged the administration's claim that the ban was motivated by terrorism fears, but also questioned an attorney's argument that it unconstitutionally targeted Muslims.
Since a lower-court judge blocked the order last week, Trump has assailed the decision, leading legal experts, Democrats and some Republicans to question whether the president's remarks might jeopardize the independence of the judiciary. Others have expressed fears he may be attempting to use political influence to sway the courts.
Blumenthal, a former state attorney general, told reporters Wednesday he had told Gorsuch that he would need to publicly condemn Trump's attacks on judicial independence.
"It needs to be a strong condemnation and that kind of public condemnation is important to establish his independence," Blumenthal said. "Otherwise, the American public will conclude that he is more likely to be a rubber stamp."
In his speech, Trump sought to link his comments about the court battle over his executive order to the law enforcement community in attendance.
"We have to allow you to do your job," he said. "And we have to give you the weapons that you need, and this is a weapon that you need and they're trying to take it away from you."
The president has repeatedly said people are "pouring in" since the ban was put on hold and suggested that blocking the order would be dangerous for U.S. citizens.
On Wednesday morning he tweeted, "Big increase in traffic into our country from certain areas, while our people are far more vulnerable, as we wait for what should be EASY D!"