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Trump formally asks judge in federal election meddling case to recuse herself

The filing contends U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan is biased and should step aside because of her previous comments in relation to Trump and the Jan. 6 riot.
Former President Donald Trump arrives at a rally hosted by the South Dakota Republican Party on Sept. 8, 2023 in Rapid City.
Former President Donald Trump arrives Friday at a rally hosted by the South Dakota Republican Party in Rapid City.Scott Olson / Getty Images

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump moved Monday to "recuse and disqualify" the judge presiding over the federal case charging him with trying to illegally overturn the 2020 presidential election.

In a court filing, attorneys for Trump cited U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan's references to him in other criminal cases tied to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan.
Judge Tanya Chutkan.U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

"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 wrote. "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 filing asks that Chutkan recuse herself and that the court clerk “randomly assign this matter to another District Judge.”

“Additionally, given the overriding public interest in ensuring the appearance of fairness in this proceeding, President Trump requests the Court consider this Motion on an expedited basis and, pending resolution, withhold rulings on any other pending motion,” it says.

Chutkan, who was randomly assigned to the case, will be the only person ruling on the motion, and any decision on recusal would come from her. Judges do not need to wait for one party to move for their recusal, and they can remove themselves from cases if they feel they have any real or perceived conflicts of interest.

A spokesperson for the court did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Chutkan gave special counsel Jack Smith's team three days to file any opposition to the motion, with another three days after that for Trump to file a response. "All other deadlines set by the court remain in effect," she wrote.

Monday's filing had been expected. Trump has bashed Chutkan, an Obama nominee, on social media, calling her a "Trump Hating Judge" and demanding she recuse herself.

The filing centers on comments Chutkan made in previous Jan. 6 cases, which Trump's attorneys said showed she had a pre-existing opinion that Trump deserved to be criminally charged.

In one instance, during the sentencing in October of Jan. 6 defendant Christine Priola, Chutkan said that "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."

The other example cited in the filing was from the 2021 sentencing hearing for Jan. 6 defendant Robert Scott Palmer, who for a time had received the longest sentence in connection with the riot when Chutkan sentenced him to five years in prison. Palmer, a Florida resident, wore a “Florida for Trump” hat and a Trump-themed U.S. flag sweatshirt as he assaulted law enforcement officers with a fire extinguisher during the attack on the Capitol.

“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. That is not this court’s position. I don’t charge anybody. I don’t negotiate plea offers. I don’t make charging decisions. I sentence people who have pleaded guilty or have been convicted. The issue of who has or has not been charged is not before me. I don’t have any influence on that. I have my opinions, but they are not relevant,” Chutkan said at the sentencing hearing.

Trump's lawyers argued Monday: “Public statements of this sort create a perception of prejudgment incompatible with our justice system.

“In a case this widely watched, of such monumental significance, the public must have the utmost confidence that the Court will administer justice neutrally and dispassionately,” they wrote.

Chutkan has a reputation for imposing some of the toughest penalties on rioters who participated in the 2021 attack on the Capitol. At Palmer's sentencing, she said, "It has to be made clear that trying to violently overthrow the government, trying to stop the peaceful transition of power and assaulting law enforcement officers in that effort is going to be met with absolutely certain punishment.”