Donald Trump's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, on Wednesday described the president's Twitter attacks on the judiciary as "disheartening and demoralizing," Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.
Gorsuch spokesman Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist hired by the White House to help guide the judge's nomination through the U.S. Senate, confirmed that Gorsuch used those words when he met Blumenthal.
Trump took to Twitter over the weekend to condemn the Friday order by Judge James Robart that placed on hold the president's Jan. 27 temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries and on all refugees.
The administration appealed that ruling to a three-judge federal appeals panel, which is due to decide the issue this week.
Trump, who took office on Jan. 20, referred to Robart as a "so-called judge" and said his "ridiculous" opinion "essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country."
In an interview with CNN, Blumenthal said he told Gorsuch that he found Trump's attacks on the judiciary unacceptable and asked the judge to condemn them.
"After some back and forth, he did say that he found them to be disheartening and demoralizing," said Blumenthal, who is a member of the Judiciary Committee, which will hold a confirmation hearing on Gorsuch's nomination.
He said Gorsuch was "non-committal" about publicly criticizing the attacks, "and that's one reason why I remain deeply concerned about this nomination."
U.S. presidents are usually hesitant to weigh in on judicial matters out of respect for a U.S. Constitution clause ensuring a separation of powers between the executive branch, Congress and the judiciary.
Trump nominated Gorsuch on Jan. 31 to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia on the nine-member court. Scalia died a year ago this month.
“As the nominee of a President who has viciously attacked the independence of the judiciary and declared multiple litmus tests for justices, Judge Gorsuch has a special responsibility to reassure the American people that he will be an open-minded and independent jurist," Blumenthal said in a statement earlier.
"If he wants the American people to believe that he is truly independent, Judge Gorsuch must tell them in no uncertain terms that President Trump’s attacks are not just disappointing – they are abhorrent and destructive to our Constitutional system – and he must condemn them publicly,” Blumenthal said.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Richard Cowan; Editing by Howard Goller and Leslie Adler)