February 9, 2017

Much is being made of Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s account of his private meeting with Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch. After the meeting, Blumenthal stood before microphones and offered his own account of Gorsuch’s comments about President Trump’s Tweeted criticisms of the judiciary. He said Gorsuch found them “disheartening” and disillusioning.” Blumenthal himself used a stronger adjective --- “abhorrent” --- to describe them.

A spokesman for Gorsuch confirmed that he had used the words “disheartening” and “disillusioning” in reference to recent criticism of the judiciary. But he had not used the word “abhorrent” (that was Blumenthal’s personal take), and he was not referring to a specific remark. We weren’t in the room with the senator and the judge; we don’t know exactly how Gorsuch phrased his comments and certainly can’t put them into the context of the conversation.

But we do know that Sen. Blumenthal used them afterwards for his own political purposes.

President Trump responded, ironically, by slamming the senator in Tweets. But his response, characterized by some as petty, was intended to remind us that Blumenthal is notorious for shading the truth, and that’s a valid point. Yes, there really was a time when Blumenthal traded on his nonexistent “service” in Vietnam. The New York Times reported this in 2010. He apologized in 2015, never admitting to outright lying or misrepresentation but only to being “not as clear or precise as I should have been.”

So when he stands before microphones now, especially in such a politically-charged environment, it might be better to take any paraphrases with a grain of salt. The media jump all over these whenever they reinforce the chosen narrative. But we weren’t in that meeting. And we weren’t in on those phone calls with world leaders that have been paraphrased and likely mischaracterized, either.

Notice that in this commentary, I’m paraphrasing Judge Gorsuch, Sen. Blumenthal (a paraphrase of a paraphrase), Gorsuch’s spokesperson, President Trump, and, by implication, the New York Times. Some paraphrases are based on sources that are a matter of record, such as Tweets or news reports, but some reflect sources that can’t be verified, such as participants in private conversations. Whenever someone paraphrases a private meeting, remind yourself: “Hey, I wasn’t there.”

Sen. Blumenthal is now trying to get more mileage out of this incident, calling on Judge Gorsuch to “publicly defend” the judiciary against Trump’s attacks. Pure politics. Both Trump and Gorsuch should just step back at this point and not add fuel to this very calculated political bonfire.

For details on the story, click here.

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