Donald Trump on “Fox & Friends” on Monday fielded fire over his recent claim the judge overseeing the suits against his now-defunct university may be biased, in favor of the plaintiffs, and he said one critic in particular, Newt Gingrich, had pretty much blind-sided him.
“I was surprised at Newt,” Trump said, during his morning interview. “I thought it was inappropriate what he said.”
Trump was referring to Gingrich’s statements about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a Hispanic whom the billionaire businessman thinks may potentially be biased because Trump is “building a wall.”
Curiel is due to hear the fraud charges against Trump University. On Friday, Trump told Jake Tapper on CNN: “[Curiel’s made] rulings that people can’t even believe. He’s proud of his heritage. I respect him for that. He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.”
And that interview followed comments he made on Thursday, when he told the Wall Street Journal that Curiel had an “inherent conflict of interest” in the suit.”
Gingrich, in an email to the Washington Post that was soon widely reported, responded to Trump’s remarks with criticism.
“I don’t know what Trump’s reasoning was and I don’t care,” said Gingrich, in his email. “His description of the judge in terms of his parentage is completely unacceptable.”
Gingrich, who has been talked about as a possible running mate for Trump, then followed those remarks with others a day later, calling the billionaire’s remarks “inexcusable” and “one of the worst mistakes” of his campaign, the Hill reported.
Others in both conservative and liberal camps said similarly.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement: “The comment about the judge the other day just was out of left field for my mind.”
And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reminded, during a national television interview, in reference to Curiel: “This is a man from Indiana.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich condemned Trump’s remarks Monday.
“Attacking judges based on their race &/or religion is another tactic that divides our country. More importantly, it is flat out wrong,” Kasich wrote in the first of two tweets.
“@realDonaldTrump should apologize to Judge Curiel & try to unite this country. #TwoPaths,” he continued.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, released the following statement:
“Donald Trump’s comments on the ethnic heritage and religion of judges are absolutely unacceptable. His statement that Judge Curiel could not rule fairly because of his Mexican heritage does not represent our American values. Mr. Trump’s comments demonstrate both a lack of respect for the judicial system and the principle of separation of powers.”
The National Review, a media outlet that’s become a voice for the “Never Trump” crowd, published a piece Monday entitled, “Trump’s Outrageous Attack on Judge Curiel,” and that pressed the billionaire’s view “plays into the left’s identity-politics game, in which one’s heritage or sex determines whether one can render a fair judgment.”
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough called Trump’s remarks “completely racist.”
“Here you have a guy that is from Indiana, from Indiana. I think his family, if I’m not mistaken, had been in the country longer than Trump’s grandmother,” Scarborough said.
Co-host MikaBrzezinski then asked guest Rev. Al Sharpton if Trump’s comment represented racism.
“Oh, it’s absolutely, unequivocally racist,” Sharpton said.
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Hillary Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, kicked off an ad against Trump on Monday, using statements from the billionaire’s own party – McConnell, Ryan, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, to name a few – to gain political traction over the Curiel matter.
The ad, “GOP disunity: Donald Trump’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel,” opens with his interview with Tapper on CNN where the host suggested his views might be racist. And to that, Trump responded: “No, I don’t think so at all. We’re building a wall. He’s a Mexican.”
The ad then transitions to the other featured Republicans and showcases clips where they make statements that appear to contradict Trump’s views.
But not all see Trump in a negative light.
The former U.S. attorney general under George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales, penned a piece in the Washington Post that stated bluntly, in the title: “Trump has a right to ask if Judge Gonzalo Curiel is fair.”
The piece goes on: “If judges and the trials over which they preside are not perceived as being impartial, the public will quickly lose confidence in the rule of law upon which our nation is based. For this reason, ethics codes for judges – including the federal code of conduct governing Curiel – require not only that judges actually be impartial, but that they avoid even the ‘appearance of impropriety.’ That appearance typically is measured from the standpoint of a reasonable litigant.”
Gonzales then writes: “I am not judging whether Curiel is actually biased against Trump. Only he knows the answer to that question. I am not saying that I would be concerned about him presiding over a case in which I was a litigant. And if I were a litigant who was concerned about the judge’s impartiality, I certainly would not deal with it in a public manner as Trump has … But none of these issues is the test. The test is whether there is an ‘appearance of impropriety’ under the facts as they reasonably appear to a litigant in Trump’s position.”
Gonzales reminded it’s not just Curiel’s ethnicity that Trump questions – it’s the fact that the judge is reportedly a member of La Raza Lawyers of San Diego, and possibly, friendly to the National Council of La Raza, groups that have publicly condemned Trump’s views of immigration.
Trump on Sunday told CBS’ John Dickerson that it’s possible he would have similar concerns with a Muslim judge due to his proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S.