Federal judge denies Trump recusal motion in 2020 election interference case News
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Federal judge denies Trump recusal motion in 2020 election interference case

A federal judge in Washington DC rejected former US President Donald Trump’s request that she recuse herself from his pending criminal case on Wednesday. Trump sought to remove US District Judge Tanya Chutkan from the case earlier this month based on comments she previously made during the sentencing of several convicted rioters from the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot.

Chutkan has been the judge in charge of overseeing Special Counsel Jack Smith’s 2020 election interference case against the former president since early August. On September 11, Trump filed a motion requesting Chutkan step aside over allegations that she previously “suggested that President Trump should be prosecuted and imprisoned”—which Chutkan adamantly denies. Because of that, Trump argued that Chutkan would not be a fair and impartial judge, as is required by federal law.

The underlying allegations date back to two previous criminal cases Chutkan oversaw involving two rioters who participated in the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. During the sentencing phases—where a convicted criminal defendant receives the penalty for their crimes—for Robert Scott Palmer and Christine Priola, Chutkan reflected on their efforts to shift blame for their actions onto the former president. In doing so, Palmer and Priola sought shorter sentences.

At Palmer’s October 2021 sentencing hearing, Chutkan noted, “[T]he people who exhorted you and encouraged you and rallied you to go and take action and to fight have not been charged.” But she continued, “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 made a similar acknowledgement at Priola’s October 2022 sentencing by referring to the Capitol rioters’ actions as “blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.”

In her Wednesday decision, Chutkan agreed with the government in finding that there is not enough evidence of bias to trigger her recusal. Chutkan found that the statements failed to rise to the legal standard for recusal. She said that her statements from Palmer and Priola’s sentencing hearings do “not provide a reasonable basis to question the court’s impartiality from ‘the perspective of a fully informed third-party observer who understands all the relevant facts and has examined the record and the law.'” Rather, she found they were a necessary part of the court’s consideration of the information and mitigation arguments before it.

Because of Trump failed to meet the legal standard, Chutkan denied his request that she recuse herself from the case.

This case is just one of the four criminal cases Trump currently faces. Trump has already pleaded not guilty to the four pending criminal charges against him in this election interference case. Because of that, the case is set to proceed to trial before on March 4, 2024.