The strange collective reality show the country continues to live in during the Trump administration took an unexpected and odd turn Tuesday.
The Indiana-born federal judge who President Donald Trump once said could not be impartial because he was “Mexican” cleared a major obstacle standing in the way of Trump’s long-promised border wall with Mexico. Read more about his 100-page order Tuesday that the current administration, like administrations before it, can waive environmental laws.
The judge, Gonzalo Curiel, first entered the Trump political story long before the President came to the White House, back when Curiel got a class-action lawsuit concerning students who said they had been defrauded by Trump University. The case was ultimately settled after Trump won the White House.
Trump said Curiel was not going to be impartial because he was “Mexican.” Curiel works in the Southern District of California but was born in Indiana.
Trump’s attacks on Curiel weren’t a one-off thing, either. They were repeated and sustained and mean. “I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater,” Trump said in San Diego in May of 2016, kicking off the controversy.
Trump’s comments led to accusations of racism, including from Republicans. It was a very big deal. And he wouldn’t back down.
Back then, Trump said Curiel wouldn’t give him a fair shake on anything specifically because of a perceived animus based on the wall.
But despite Curiel’s ruling Tuesday, don’t look for Trump to apologize for his previous attacks and strike a note of respect for federal courts anytime soon.
He’s long seen the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits above Curiel, as a bogeyman out to get him. And Trump was newly frustrated Monday that the Supreme Court had not stepped in to overrule a 9th Circuit hold on his decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program.
“I mean, it’s really sad when every single case filed against us is in the 9th Circuit,” Trump told a gathering of governors Monday at the White House. “We lose, we lose, we lose, and then we do fine in the Supreme Court. But what does that tell you about our court system? It’s a very, very sad thing.”
It is totally worth going back to examine Jake Tapper’s interview in June of 2016 with then-candidate Trump, which got in-depth with Trump’s comments about Curiel. Trump was convinced beyond doubt that Curiel was biased against him, and he would not let it go.
This transcript is incredible to read now in the context of Curiel ruling that Trump can set aside environmental restrictions to move forward with the wall:
TAPPER: What does this have to do with his heritage?
TRUMP: I’ll tell you what it has to do. I’ve had ruling after ruling after ruling that’s been bad rulings, OK? I’ve been treated very unfairly. Before him, we had another judge. If that judge was still there, this case would have been over two years ago.
Let me just tell you, I’ve had horrible rulings, I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I’m building a wall, OK? I’m building a wall. I am going to do very well with the Hispanics, the Mexicans –
TAPPER: So, no Mexican judge could ever be involved in a case that involves you?
TRUMP: Well, he’s a member of a society, where – you know, very pro-Mexico, and that’s fine. It’s all fine, but –
TAPPER: Except that you’re calling into question his heritage.
TRUMP: I think he should recuse himself.
TAPPER: Because he’s Latino?
TRUMP: Then, you also say, does he know the lawyer on the other side? I mean, does he know the lawyer? You know, a lot of people say –
TAPPER: But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about –
TRUMP: That’s another problem.
TAPPER: You’re invoking his race, talking about whether or not he can do his job.
TRUMP: Jake, I’m building a wall. OK? I’m building a wall. I’m trying to keep business out of Mexico. Mexico’s fine.
TAPPER: But he’s an American.
TRUMP: He’s of Mexican heritage and he’s very proud of it, as I am where I come from, my parents.
TAPPER: But he’s an American. You keep talking about it’s a conflict of interest because of Mexico.
TRUMP: Jake, are you ready? I have a case that should have already been dismissed. I have thousands of people saying Trump University is fantastic, OK? I have a case that should have been dismissed. A judge that never, ever gives – now, we lose the plaintiff. He lets the plaintiff of the case out.
So, why isn’t he calling the case? So, we thought we won the case.
TAPPER: So, you disagree with his rulings. I totally understand that.
TRUMP: I’ve had lawyers come up to me and say, you are being treated so unfairly. It’s unbelievable. You know the plaintiffs in the case have all said wonderful things about the school and they’re suing. You know why they’re suing? Because they want to get their money back.
TAPPER: I don’t want to really litigate the case of Trump University.
TRUMP: You have to, because if he was giving me fair rulings, I wouldn’t say that.
TAPPER: My question is –
TRUMP: Jake, if you were giving me fair rulings, I wouldn’t be talking to you this way. He’s given me horrible rulings.
TAPPER: I don’t care if you criticize him, that’s fine. You can criticize every decision. What I’m saying, if you invoke his race as a reason why he can’t do his job.
TRUMP: I think that’s why he’s doing it. I think that’s why he’s doing it.
TAPPER: When Hillary Clinton says it’s a racist attack –
TRUMP: Hillary Clinton is a stiff. If Hillary Clinton becomes president –
TAPPER: Paul Ryan today – Paul Ryan today said he didn’t care for the way that you are attacking this judge.
TRUMP: Look, I’m just telling you, Paul Ryan doesn’t know the case. Here’s the story –
TAPPER: Isn’t it the –
TRUMP: I should have won this case on summary judgment. This is not a – this is a case I should have won on summary judgment. You know, the law firm paid Hillary Clinton hundreds of thousands of dollars to make speeches. You know the law firm –
TAPPER: I do. And we reported – we reported it on my show.
TRUMP: OK. I’m glad. You’re the only one.
TRUMP: Wait a minute. A law firm paid hundreds and thousands of dollars to Hillary Clinton for speeches.
TAPPER: Before either of you –
TRUMP: She wasn’t working. Everyone fell asleep during a speech, OK?
TAPPER: Before either of you were running for president, they did.
But here’s the final fundamental question –
TRUMP: Do you know they’ve contributed tremendous amounts of money to her campaign?
TRUMP: Do you know they contributed a lot of money to Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general?
TAPPER: Here’s my question –
TRUMP: No, no, do you know that?
TAPPER: I did not know that.
TRUMP: Did you know they went to every attorney general practically in the country that they could and did you know this case was turned down by almost every attorney general from Texas to Florida and to many other states?
TAPPER: Is it not – when Hillary Clinton says this is a racist attack, and you reject that – if you’re saying he can’t do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?
TRUMP: No. I don’t think so at all.
TRUMP: No. He’s proud of his heritage. I respect him for that.
TAPPER: But you’re saying you can’t do his job because of that.
TRUMP: Look, he’s proud of his heritage, OK? I’m building a wall.
Now, I think I’m going to do very well with Hispanics because they are going to get jobs right now. They are going to get jobs. I think I’m going to do very well with Hispanics.
We are building a wall. He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.
The answer is, he is giving us very unfair rulings, rulings that people can’t even believe. This case should have ended years ago in summary judgment. The best lawyers, I have spoken to so many lawyers, they said, this is not a case. This is a case that should have ended.
TAPPER: I –
TRUMP: This judge is giving us unfair rulings. Now, I say why? Well, I’m building a wall, OK? And it’s a wall between Mexico. Not another country.
TAPPER: But he’s not from Mexico. He’s from Indiana.
TRUMP: He’s of Mexican heritage and he’s very proud of it.