Judge Chutkan won’t recuse herself from Trump election conspiracy case

Judge Chutkan won’t recuse herself from Trump election conspiracy case

Judge Tanya Chutkan, the federal district judge who will preside over one of former president Donald Trump’s criminal trials next March, has rejected a request to recuse herself from the federal election conspiracy case against the twice-impeached, quadruply-indicted ex-president.

In a 20-page ruling released on Wednesday, Judge Chutkan said statements which Mr Trump’s legal team had held up as evidence of bias against him actually reflected judgments she had made about other criminal defendants while presiding over cases against them.

In a motion for recusal filed earlier this month, Mr Trump’s attorneys had claimed that a statement Judge Chutkan had made about how a defendant she was sentencing for participating in the January 6 attack on the Capitol had been motivated by “blind loyalty to [Mr Trump] who, by the way, remains free to this day,” as well as another statement during a separate sentencing about how a different defendant’s attorney had “a point” about unnamed “people who ... encouraged” the riot had not been charged as evidence of her bias against Mr Trump.

But Judge Chutkan denied the request for recusal on the grounds that such statements, under Supreme Court precedents, could not be used to force a judge to recuse himself or herself “only in the rarest of circumstances” because they were “intrajudicial” and reflected “information” that she’d “properly and necessarily acquired in the course of the proceedings” and that was “necessary to the completion of {her] task”.

“The statements at issue here were based on intrajudicial sources. They arose not, as the defense speculates, from watching the news,” she said.

Continuing, Judge Chutkan said that even had the statements not been “intrajudicial,” they still would not justify recusal or provide any basis to question her impartiality in the case. She also noted that the statements in question “certainly do not manifest a deep-seated prejudice that would make fair judgment impossible”.

“At the outset, it bears noting that the court has never taken the position the defense ascribes to it: that former ‘President Trump should be prosecuted and imprisoned’. And the defense does not cite any instance of the court ever uttering those words or anything similar,” she noted.

Judge Tanya Chutkan dismissed Trump’s lawyers’ arguments (AP)
Judge Tanya Chutkan dismissed Trump’s lawyers’ arguments (AP)

She rejected that defence’s interpretation of her comments as evidence that she harbours a “secret ‘core view’ about [Mr Trump’s] criminality,” calling his attorneys’ “inferential leap ... not reasonable in light of the relevant facts, record, and law”.

A reasonable person—aware of the statutory requirement that the court address the defendant’s arguments and state its reasons for its sentence—would understand that in making the statements contested here, the court was not issuing vague declarations about third parties’ potential guilt in a hypothetical future case; instead, it was fulfilling its duty to expressly evaluate the defendants’ arguments that their sentences should be reduced because other individuals whom they believed were associated with the events of January 6 had not been prosecuted,” she said.

“Based on its review of the law, facts, and record, the court concludes that a reasonable observer would not doubt its ability to uphold that promise in this case”.

Judge Chutkan, a former criminal defence attorney who was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama, has scheduled Mr Trump’s trial for March 2024.