Special counsel says there’s ‘no valid basis’ for DC judge in Trump’s Jan 6 case to recuse herself

‘Defendant both takes out of context the Court’s words from prior judicial proceedings and misstates the proper legal standards governing judicial recusals,’ Special Counsel says in filing

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Friday 15 September 2023 14:09 BST
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The office of Special Counsel Jack Smith has argued in a motion that there’s “no valid basis” for Judge Tanya Chutkan to recuse herself after Donald Trump’s legal team claimed that she should leave the case because of statements she made when sentencing January 6 rioters.

“There is no valid basis, under the relevant law and facts, for the Honorable Tanya S. Chutkan, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, to disqualify herself in this proceeding,” the special counsel’s office wrote in a 20-page filing on Thursday. “In service of his motion (ECF No. 50) seeking the Court’s recusal, the defendant both takes out of context the Court’s words from prior judicial proceedings and misstates the proper legal standards governing judicial recusals.”

The special counsel added that Mr Trump “has failed to identify anything approaching the clear and convincing evidence necessary to overcome the presumption of impartiality”.

The office argued that Mr Trump was using “suggestion and innuendo to insinuate something sinister in the Court simply doing its job by addressing sentencing arguments”.

The former president’s legal team argued that Judge Chutkan should leave the case because of statements she had made when sentencing defendants for taking part in the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.

The lawyers for the former president wrote that Judge Chutkan “agreed with portions” of a sentencing memo for one of the January 6 defendants which “wrongly placed blame on President Trump and complained that he had not been charged”.

The defence lawyer for the defendant referred to in the motion said in a sentencing memo that “those voices, including the voice of the then-president himself, had convinced persons such as Mr. Palmer that the election was fraudulent and that they must take action to stop the transition of the presidency. . . . While many of the people who participated in the Capitol riot will be going to prison, the architects of that horrific event will likely never be charged with any criminal offense”.

The Trump lawyers added that “although Judge Chutkan correctly noted that she does not have any influence on charging decisions, her ... comments stating ‘you have made a very good point . . . that the people who exhorted you and encouraged you and rallied you to go and take action and to fight have not been charged’ and ‘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’ reflect her apparent opinion that President Trump’s conduct ... occurred, and supports charges”.

“Otherwise, she would not have characterized the point as ‘very good’,” they said.

“Judge Chutkan’s statement that ‘I have my opinions’ suggests that in her view—formed almost two years before the initiation of this matter—President Trump should be charged,” the Trump legal team added.

After that filing, Judge Chutkan ordered that the prosecution, the legal team of Mr Smith, should file any opposing arguments within three days – a response that came in Thursday’s filing.

The motion from Mr Trump’s legal team arguing for the judge’s recusal came on Monday after she set a trial date of 4 March next year. Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty to four counts in the indictment laying out the case against him for attempting to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory.

Trump lawyer John Lauro argued in his motion that even if Judge Chutkan thinks she can provide a fair trial for Mr Trump, the “public will reasonably and understandably question whether Judge Chutkan arrived at all of her decisions in this matter impartially”.

“The law and the overwhelming public interest in the integrity of this historic proceeding require recusal,” he wrote.

Judge Chutkan gave Mr Trump’s legal team until Sunday to respond to the filing from the office of the special counsel.

If she refuses the request from the Trump team, they could request that the US Court of Appeals disqualify her.

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