Former President Donald Trump this week filed court documents seeking to have the federal judge presiding over his 2020 election interference case removed and replaced, arguing that she should recuse herself from the proceedings due to negative comments she made about Trump.
In a 9-page motion filed Monday, Trump’s attorneys argued that U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan should be recused due to “inherently disqualifying” statements made about the former president, which would “unavoidably taint these proceedings, regardless of the outcome.”
“The public will reasonably and understandably question whether Judge Chutkan arrived at all of her decisions in this matter impartially, or in fulfillment of her prior negative statements regarding President Trump. Under these circumstances, the law and the overwhelming public interest in the integrity of this historic proceeding require recusal,” the document states. “In a highly charged political season, naturally all Americans, and in fact, the entire world, are observing these proceedings closely. Only if this trial is administered by a judge who appears entirely impartial could the public ever accept the outcome as justice.”
Trump had previously signaled that he believed Chutkan, who was appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama and was randomly assigned the case, could not preside fairly over it. Several days after Trump was formally indicted by special counsel Jack Smith, he took to his social media platform and wrote, “WE WILL BE IMMEDIATELY ASKING FOR RECUSAL OF THIS JUDGE,” adding that Chutkan was the “judge of his dreams,” referring to Smith.
The motion highlights several instances in which Judge Chutkan has been critical of Trump and his numerous attempts to subvert President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, including his participation in the Jan. 6 rally that directly led to the Capitol being overrun with his supporters.
“This was nothing less than an attempt to violently overthrow the government, the legally, lawfully, peacefully elected government by individuals who were mad that their guy lost,” she said during a sentencing for a Jan. 6 defendant. “[T]he people who mobbed that Capitol were there in fealty, in loyalty, to one man — not to the Constitution, of which most of the people who come before me seem woefully ignorant; not to the ideals of this country; and not to the principles of democracy. It’s a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.”
Trump’s lawyers argued that the quote about Trump’s followers showing “blind loyalty” to him suggests she believes “he has culpability” for the events of Jan. 6, saying it would be a “natural interpretation” of her comments for any onlooker.
However, Stephen Gillers, a professor in legal ethics at New York University School of Law, told The Washington Post that Trump’s attempt to have Judge Chutkan removed is nothing more than a Hail Mary, with little chance of success.
“I understand why Trump would like another judge, and I understand why Trump would like another venue,” Gillers reportedly told the newspaper, “but nothing I’ve heard — including the fact that Judge Chutkan has sentenced harshly other Jan. 6 defendants — would warrant a recusal. … Things such as what is said or done within the four corners of a case before her as a judge cannot be a basis for recusal because she’s doing her job. That’s what judges do.”
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