Trump seeks removal of federal judge from D.C. election case

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Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a South Dakota Republican party rally in Rapid City, South Dakota, U.S. September 8, 2023. 

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Former President Donald Trump on Monday asked Judge Tanya Chutkan to remove herself from his criminal case for trying to reverse his 2020 national election loss, citing “disqualifying” statements she made while sentencing two people for their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

Trump’s lawyers said Chutkan’s statements would “taint” his right to a fair trial in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., arguing that she has prejudged him as guilty.

“Judge Chutkan has, in connection with other cases, suggested that President Trump should be prosecuted and imprisoned,” the lawyers wrote in their motion asking the judge to recuse herself.

“Such statements, made before this case began and without due process, are inherently disqualifying,” they wrote.

Chutkan will decide whether to recuse herself in the case, which is being prosecuted by the office of special counsel Jack Smith.

The judge later Thursday ordered Smith’s office to file any opposition they have to the recusal motion by Thursday.

Last month, the judge scheduled Trump’s trial to begin March 4, 2024, which prompted Trump to blast her in a social media post as a “biased, Trump Hating Judge.”

If Chutkan steps off the case, it could be randomly assigned to another judge in the same court.

Trump last month lost a similar recusal motion in the New York state criminal case where he is charged with falsifying business records related to a 2016 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. Manhattan Supreme Court Juan Merchan ruled that he could be “fair and impartial” toward Trump despite claims by the former president that the judge had conflicts of interest in the case.

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Trump has previously railed against Chutkan over some of the same statements his lawyers cited in their recusal motion.

On his Truth Social site last month, he said Chutkan “obviously wants me behind bars,” pointing to her remarks from an October sentencing hearing for Christine Priola.

Priola is one of the hundreds of people to face criminal charges related to the riot by a mob of Trump supporters who invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when a joint session of Congress was meeting to certify the election of President Joe Biden.

During Priola’s sentencing, Chutkan said, “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.”

“And the people who mobbed that Capitol were there in fealty, in loyalty, to one man — not to the Constitution,” she said. “It’s a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.”

Trump’s attorneys referenced those statements in Monday’s filing, arguing that “the public meaning of this statement is inescapable — President Trump is free, but should not be.”

“As an apparent prejudgment of guilt, these comments are disqualifying standing alone,” the attorneys wrote.

They also cited comments Chutkan made to the Jan. 6 defendant Robert Palmer when she sentenced him in 2021.

“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,” Chutkan said.

The Republican separately is charged in state court in Atlanta with conspiracy and other crimes related to his attempt to overturn Biden’s victory over him in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election.

Trump also is charged in federal court in Florida with crimes related to his retention of classified government records after he left the White House.