Pence says Trump's criticism of "so-called judge" was the President "simply expressing a frustration"

Vice President Mike Pence sits down with CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Feb. 5, 2016.

Vice President Mike Pence said Sunday that President Donald Trump wasn’t questioning the legitimacy of a federal judge who halted his immigration executive order when he lambasted the judge on Twitter this weekend -- he was “simply expressing a frustration.”

“I don’t think he was questioning the legitimacy of the judge,” Pence told CBS’ “Face the Nation. “...This was more about the president simply expressing a frustration with a judge who is involving himself in the clear prerogatives of the President of the United States.”

On Friday night, U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle imposed a nationwide hold on Mr. Trump’s travel ban, which halts the refugee program worldwide and stops immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

In response, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to criticize Robart, referring to him as a “so-called judge” and calling his ruling a “terrible decision” that “opens up our country to potential terrorists.”

Pence defended Mr. Trump’s words, saying “every president has a right to be critical of the other branches of the federal government.”

He also noted that the Department of Homeland Security “fully complied” with the judge’s ruling as soon as it was issued and that the administration is going through the court system to appeal Robart’s decision.

“The executive order is on a solid constitutional and statutory foundation,” he said. “One court in Boston confirmed that, another court in Washington came to a different decision, but we’re very confident that as we move through the process of these appeals that the president’s authority in this area will be upheld.”

Pence conceded that the rollout of the executive order could have been smoother, noting that the administration had not partaken in the “usual Washington niceties” of informing Congress before the order was signed.

“At the outset of an administration that is as busy keeping our promises to the American people as this one we’ll concede that sometimes the usual Washington niceties of informing members of Congress were not, you know, fully implemented as they have been in the past,” he said.

Asked about an interview Mr. Trump did with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, in which he seemed to equate extrajudicial killings of journalists and dissidents in Russia to similar actions in the U.S., Pence said Mr. Trump was expressing his desire to “start afresh with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and to start afresh with Russia.” In the interview, O’Reilly called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a killer.” 

“You think our country is so innocent?” Mr. Trump replied.  

Pence said Mr. Trump was not trying to say the U.S. is on the same moral plane as Russia.

“I simply don’t accept that there was any moral equivalency in the president’s comments,” he said. “Look, President Trump, throughout his life, his campaign and this administration, has never hesitated to be critical of government policies by the United States in the past, but there was no moral equivalency there.”

Asked whether he believes the U.S. is “morally superior to Russia,” Pence did not give a yes or no answer. He replied: “I believe that the ideals that America has stood for throughout our history represent the highest ideals of humankind.”

  • Emily Schultheis

    Emily Schultheis is a reporter/editor for CBS News Digital.