Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s legal team on Monday asked the judge overseeing his federal election interference case—stemming from his efforts to overturn the 2020 results and him provoking the January 6, 2021 insurrection—to recuse herself, citing comments she made during cases involving some of his supporters who stormed the Capitol.
“The recusal motion was a risky gambit by Mr. Trump’s legal team given that the judge, Tanya S. Chutkan, will have the initial say about whether or not to grant it,” The New York Times noted. “Mr. Trump’s lawyers have tried this strategy before, attempting—and failing—to have the judge overseeing his state felony trial in Manhattan step aside.”
Along with those two cases, Trump faces an election interference case in Georgia and second federal case that, like the one overseen by Chutkan, is spearheaded by Special Counsel Jack Smith due to his presidential campaign. Trump remains the front-runner in the GOP’s 2024 primary race despite being indicted four times this year.
A grand jury indicted Trump in the federal election case early last month, hitting him with what one watchdog group called his “most significant charges yet.” His attorneys pushed for a 2026 trial—well after next year’s election—but Chutkan, an appointee of former President Barack Obama who was randomly assigned to the case, scheduled it for March 4, 2024.
“Judge Chutkan has, in connection with other cases, suggested that President Trump should be prosecuted and imprisoned. Such statements, made before this case began and without due process, are inherently disqualifying,” Trump’s lawyers argued in the Monday motion. “Although Judge Chutkan may genuinely intend to give President Trump a fair trial—and may believe that she can do so—her public statements unavoidably taint these proceedings, regardless of outcome.”
The motion points out that during a December 2021 hearing for Robert Palmer, Chutkan said: “Mr. Palmer—you have made a very good point, one that has been made before—that the people who exhorted you and encouraged you and rallied you to go and take action and to fight have not been charged… So you have a point, that the people who may be the people who planned this and funded it and encouraged it haven’t been charged, but that’s not a reason for you to get a lower sentence.”
The filing adds that during an October 2022, the judge told another defendant, Christine Priola:
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. I see the videotapes. I see the footage of the flags and the signs that people were carrying and the hats they were wearing and the garb. And the 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.
Responding to Trump’s motion on social media, University of Alabama law professor Joyce Vance, who is also an NBC News and MSNBC legal analyst, said Monday that it is “unsurprising that he would do this” but it “seems unlikely to succeed.”
“The case for refusing Judge [Aileen] Cannon in Florida would be far stronger and so far, the [government] has not chosen to bring it,” Vance added of the Trump appointee overseeing the other federal case, which involves classified documents.
Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics professor at New York University School of Law, reached a similar conclusion.
“I understand why Trump would like another judge, and I understand why Trump would like another venue,” Gillers told The Washington Post, “but nothing I’ve heard—including the fact that Judge Chutkan has sentenced harshly other January 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,” he continued. “That’s what judges do.”
Some legal scholars and advocacy groups argue that regardless of the results of the four criminal cases, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution disqualifies Trump from holding office again because he incited an insurrection. A watchdog and lawyers for six Republican and unaffiliated Colorado voters filed a related lawsuit last week.