Condemnation of comments made by Donald Trump about a federal judge reached the heights of the national Republican leadership when U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan rebuked the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee on June 7, 2016.
"I disavow these comments," the Wisconsin Republican said. "Claiming a person can’t do the job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment. I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It’s absolutely unacceptable."
The judge is presiding over a pair of cases in which the plaintiffs allege Trump University duped them into paying tens of thousands of dollars on the belief they would be trained to learn Trump’s real estate strategies. Trump denies the allegations, saying the students got their money’s worth, with many offering positive evaluations of the program.
Curiel, who was appointed to the federal bench in San Diego by President Barack Obama, was born and raised in Indiana. His parents were naturalized U.S. citizens from Mexico.
So, what exactly did Trump say to draw so much denunciation?
Time for In Context, the feature we use to flesh out sound bites that get widespread attention.
On June 2, 2016, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that Curiel had "an absolute conflict" in presiding over the litigation given that he is "of Mexican heritage" and a member of a Latino lawyers’ association. (When Trump said in a separate interview that Curiel "is a member of a club or society, very strongly pro-Mexican" in referfence to the group, PolitiFact National rated his statement Mostly False.) Trump told the journal the judge’s background was relevant because of his campaign stance against illegal immigration and his pledge to seal the southern U.S. border. "I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest," Trump said.
But Trump expanded on those comments during two Sunday talk show interviews that aired June 5, 2016. Here are the relevant excerpts.
CBS’ Face the Nation
This was the exchange about the judge between Trump and host John Dickerson on CBS’ Face the Nation. The interview was recorded on June 3, 2016.
Dickerson: Let me ask you about, what does the Mexican heritage of the judge in the Trump University case have to do with anything?
Trump: I think it has a lot to do with it. First of all, I've had terrible rulings forever. I had a judge previous to him and it would have been a very quick case. This is a case I should've won on summary judgment. This is a case -- and nobody writes this, and they all know it, but they don't like to write it -- the plaintiff in the case was a woman. She was so bad that under deposition it was over. I mean, she couldn't have been the -- it was a disaster. They went before the judge, they said, "We don't want her to be the plaintiff. We want to put somebody else in." So we said, "Well, that's fine. Dismiss the case. You have to dismiss the case." Wait a minute -- she gave letters, the most incredible reviews of the college you've ever seen, of the university. She gave the most incredible -- then on top of it, we have a tape where she's talking about it in the most glowing terms. You wouldn't speak about your college --
Dickerson: But Mr. Trump, what does this have to do with his parents being from Mexico, how does that --
Trump: Excuse me, excuse me, I'm just saying. We're getting terrible rulings. We go to the judge, we say to the judge, "Hey, you can't let her out of the case." He let her out of the case. We said, "Well, if you're going to let her out of the case, she's the plaintiff. If you're going to let her out of the case, the case is over." No, the case isn't over. OK? Now --
Dickerson: Give me the thought process, though, why -- how does this work?
Trump: He has given me -- my thought process --
Dickerson: No, no, for him, how do his Mexican parents have to do with him not ruling for you?
Trump: He is a member of a club or society, very strongly pro-Mexican, which is all fine. But I say he's got bias. I want to build a wall. I'm going to build a wall. I'm doing very well with the Latinos, with the Hispanics, with the Mexicans, I'm doing very well with them, in my opinion. And we're going to see, you're going to see, because you know what, I'm providing jobs. Nobody else is giving jobs. But just so you understand, this judge has treated me very unfairly, he's treated me in a hostile manner. And there's something going on.
When a woman can be a plaintiff in a case and then say, "I don't want to be" -- and you know why they don't want to be a plaintiff? They don't want her, the lawyers asked that she not be a plaintiff because they would have lost the case immediately.
Dickerson: So, I'm trying to figure out your thinking here, though. If his Mexican heritage -- the fact that his parents were Mexican immigrants -- is a barrier to him doing his job,why would any Mexican voter vote for you? Wouldn't they be the same barrier -- same problem?
Trump: No. They're going to vote for me because I'm going to bring jobs into the country --
Dickerson: But isn't it the same problem? Because you want the wall and all of that?
Trump: No, totally different.
Dickerson then asked Trump what if the judge on the case were Muslim. After some back-and-forth about that and immigration, attention returned to the judge and race.
Dickerson: Isn't there sort of a tradition, though, in America that we don't judge people by who their parents were and where they came from?
Trump: I'm not talking about tradition -- I'm talking about common sense, OK? He's somebody, he's proud of his heritage. And I think that's great that he's proud of his heritage.
Dickerson: But you're saying it's a barrier to him doing his job.
Trump: Well, he's not treating me -- he's not treating me fairly.
Dickerson: And you think it's not because -- you think it's because of where his parents came from?
Trump: I've had numerous lawyers. Look, I have a case where thousands of people have said it was a great school. They've written reviews where they say it's a great school. Not a good school, like great. They gave it the highest marks. I have thousands of these papers. It should've been a summary judgment case, meaning the case should've been dismissed.
And I had a judge who was very fair. I have a lawyer that came in when he came in. I mean, the lawyer, on the other side, sort of entered the case when he entered the case, and we're trying to figure out what that's all about.
Dickerson: Would you have your lawyers say, "Hey, throw this out because the judge is --"
Trump: Well, I may do that now -- we're finding things out now that we didn't know before --
Dickerson: Because of his Mexican heritage, though --
Trump: No, but because of other things. I mean because of other things.
Dickerson: You've said you want to reopen --
Trump: How do you allow a case to proceed when the plaintiff asks to be dismissed from the case? The plaintiff, the one that brought the suit, said, "I don't want to sue anymore. I don't want to sue anymore." They didn't want to sue. You know why they didn't want to? Because she can't win the case. Because she was a disaster. So the lawyers want her dismissed from the case. They go before the judge and he lets her out? Well, he can let her out, but you have to dismiss the case.
Dickerson: Yeah, I guess I'm just still confused how -- what his Mexican parents have to do with that. Let me --
Trump: Excuse me. I want to build a wall. I mean, I don't think it's very confusing.
Trump: Has nothing to do with anything except common sense. You know, we have to stop being so politically correct in this country. And we need a little more common sense, John. And I'm not blaming. I'm proud of my heritage, we're all proud of our heritage. But I want to build a wall. Now, the Hispanics, many of them like what I'm saying. They're here legally. They don't want people coming and taking their jobs and taking their house and everything else. They don't want that.
Dickerson then changed topics.
CNN’s State of the Union
Host Jake Tapper also asked Trump about his comments at some length during their interview on CNN’s State of the Union.
Tapper: You said that you thought it was a conflict of interest that he was the judge because he's of Mexican heritage, even though he's from Indiana.
Trump: OK. Yes. Yes.
Tapper: Hillary Clinton said that that is a racist attack on a federal judge.
Trump: Oh, she's so wonderful. You know, I mean, here's a woman that should be put in jail for what she did with her e-mails, and she's commenting on this.
Tapper: But what about the substance of the …
Trump discussed the plaintiff, how well his school did on student reviews, and how Judge Curiel would not dismiss the case after the lead plaintiff didn’t want to pursue it.
Tapper: But what does that have to do with his heritage?
Trump: I will tell you what it has to do. I have had ruling after ruling after ruling that's been bad rulings, OK? I have been treated very unfairly. Beforehand, 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 have 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, no, he is a member of a society where -- very pro-Mexico. And that's fine. It's all fine.
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? And a lot of people ...
Tapper: But I am not talking about that. I'm talking about ...
Trump: No, that's another -- that's another problem.
Tapper: But you're invoking his race when 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. There's nothing ...
Tapper: But he's American. 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.
Then there was an exchange about details of the case before the conversation turned back to the judge.
Trump: Jake, if he was giving me fair rulings, I wouldn't be talking to you this way. He's given me horrible rulings.
Tapper: But I don't care if you criticize him. That's fine. You can criticize every decision. What I'm saying is, 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.
Tapper: But ...
Trump: I think that's why he's doing it.
The conversation then switched to Clinton, before returning to the judge.
Tapper: Is it not -- when Hillary Clinton says, this is a racist attack -- and you reject that -- if you are 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 -- I respect him for that.
Tapper: But you're saying he 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.
Tapper: He's a legal citizen.
Trump: You know why I'm going to do well with Hispanics?
Because I'm going to bring back jobs, and they're going to get jobs right now. They're going to get jobs. I think I'm going to do very well with Hispanics. But we're 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 on 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.
This judge is giving us unfair rulings. Now I say why. Well, I want to -- I'm building a wall, OK? And it's a wall between Mexico, not another country, and ...
Tapper: But he's not -- he's not from Mexico. He's from Indiana.
Trump: In my opinion -- he is -- his Mexican -- Mexican heritage. And he's very proud of it.
Tapper: But you're not from Scotland because you have Scottish heritage.
Trump: Hey, you know what? I'm not building a wall between Scotland and the United States.
Tapper then changed topics.
On the same day Ryan made his criticism, Trump issued a statement defending his comments, saying they had been misconstrued.
CBS News, Face the Nation video (12:55), June 5, 2016
CNN, State of the Union video, June 5, 2016
Wall Street Journal, "Trump says judge’s Mexican heritage presents ‘absolute conflict,’" updated June 3, 2016