By Jack Phillips
Former President Donald Trump has asked District Judge Tanya Chutkan to recuse herself from a federal election subversion case brought against him by special counsel Jack Smith, according to a court filing submitted on Sept. 11.
In the filing (pdf), President Trump pointed to public comments that Judge Chutkan, an Obama appointee, in cases involving Jan. 6, 2021, protesters. Those statements and others “unavoidably taint these proceedings, regardless of outcome,” it said.
“Judge Chutkan has, in connection with other cases, suggested that President Trump should be prosecuted and imprisoned,” the filing stated. “Such statements, made before this case began and without due process, are inherently disqualifying.”
The judge is the only person ruling on this motion, meaning that any decision on her recusal would come solely from her. It isn’t clear if she will recuse herself, but if she does, a new judge would be assigned.
Should Judge Chutkan disagree, she’ll continue to preside over the case. If she denies the request, President Trump’s attorneys could petition an appeals court for a writ of mandamus, which would require the judge to step aside.
In the court papers filed on Sept. 11, the former president’s lawyers pointed to October 2022 remarks that Judge Chutkan made before Mr. Smith, the special counsel, was appointed. She was commenting during the sentencing phase for Jan. 6 protester Christine Priola, a Cleveland schools worker who got 15 months in prison.
“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,” she said, according to President Trump’s motion. “I see the footage of the flags and the signs that people were carrying and the hats they were wearing and the garb.”
She then claimed 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.”
His team then highlighted the final sentence about President Trump, arguing that the judge was suggesting that he shouldn’t be free. They also cited another statement she made in a separate case that, according to his lawyers, is evidence that she believes President Trump should be prosecuted for the Jan. 6 Capitol breach.
“[Trump] didn’t like the result, and he didn’t want the transition of power to take place because his guy lost,” Judge Chutkan said, referring to the former president’s statements after the 2020 election.
“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,” she told another Jan. 6 defendant during sentencing, adding that “I have my opinions, but they are not relevant.”
Those statements, President Trump’s team wrote, suggest that the judge agreed with the Jan. 6 defendant’s argument that “similarly” and “wrongly” blamed the former president, and “complained that he had not been charged.”
“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,” his attorneys wrote.
Judge Chutkan has, meanwhile, handed down some of the harshest prison sentences in Jan. 6-related cases—often handing out more severe terms than Justice Department prosecutors had recommended, according to The Associated Press.
The judge also previously ruled against President Trump in a separate Jan. 6 case. In November 2021, she refused his request to block the release of documents to the U.S. House’s Jan. 6 committee by asserting executive privilege.
On social media, President Trump has accused Judge Chutkan of being “highly partisan” and “unfair” due to her past comments during sentencing hearings for Jan. 6 cases. Last month, she issued a warning to President Trump’s lawyers that his defense shouldn’t be mounted “on the internet.”
Previously, President Trump attempted to remove a judge overseeing his case in Manhattan, where he is accused of making false business statements in connection to his 2016 campaign. The former president’s lawyers argued that New York state Judge Juan Merchan should have recused himself because his daughter performed consulting work in President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign; Merchan rejected the request.
Last month, in a separate case, the former president and 18 other co-defendants were charged in Fulton County, Georgia, for alleged 2020 election interference in that state. All have pleaded not guilty.
Judge Chutkan hasn’t made a public statement about the latest motion, as of the evening of Sept. 11.