Trump lawyers seek recusal of Judge Chutkan in federal election subversion case

Chutkan, a former assistant public defender, was nominated to the bench by President Obama and has since stood out as one of the toughest punishers of Jan. 6 defendants.

Lawyers for Donald Trump on Monday asked the federal judge presiding over his election subversion case in Washington to recuse herself, saying her past public statements about the former president and his connection to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol call into question whether she can be fair.

The recusal motion from Trump’s lawyers takes aim at U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, a former assistant public defender who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama and has since stood out as one of the toughest punishers of Jan. 6 defendants.

Judge Tanya Chutkan, and former President Donald Trump -- Trump indictments Washington
Left to right: Federal District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, and former President Donald Trump. (Photo: AP News)

The request that she step aside is the latest flashpoint in already delicate relations between the defense team and the judge, who has repeatedly warned against inflammatory public comments from Trump but has nonetheless been lambasted on social media by him.

“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 defense team wrote. “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.”

Chutkan has often handed down prison sentences in Jan. 6 cases that are harsher than Justice Department prosecutors recommended. The judge also previously ruled against 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.

Trump’s lawyers also cited Chutkan’s comments from the sentencing of a rioter who attacked police officers working to hold back the angry pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6. During the December 2021 hearing for Robert Palmer, who was sentenced to more than five years in prison, Chutkan said the defendant “made a very good point” that the “people who exhorted” and encouraged him “to go and take action and to fight” 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,” Trump’s attorneys wrote.

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