Trump has one-in-three chance of facing judge he appointed in special counsel indictment

Four of 12 active district judges in DC elevated to bench during Republican’s White House tenure

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 28 July 2023 18:11 BST
Related: Donald Trump insists Jan 6 indictment doesn’t ‘frighten’ him

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Donald Trump is widely expected to be indicted imminently by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith over his efforts to overturn the 2020 US presidential election result and his role in inciting the Capitol riot of 6 January 2021.

Should that happen and he is brought to trial in Washington DC, Mr Trump would appear before a judge selected at random to oversee the case in accordance with the local rules.

However, since he was the 45th president of the United States, Mr Trump stands a one-in-three chance of coming up against a jurist he personally appointed.

Four of the 12 district judges currently active in DC – Judges Timothy Kelly, Trevor McFadden, Dabney Friedrich and Carl Nichols – were elevated to their current positions during the Republican’s four years in the White House between 2017 and 2021, meaning, at least at that point, he believed them to be politically sympathetic to his own values.

Both Judge McFadden and Judge Nichols have raised eyebrows since then through their handling of January 6 defendants, the former delivering the only acquittal in a bench trial resulting from the failed insurrection and attempting to waive grand jury secrecy in court and the latter finding himself in disagreement with no fewer than 10 of his peers when he ruled that the Justice Department could not charge the accused rioters with obstruction of an official.

The remaining eight active justices were appointed by either Barack Obama or Joe Biden, which, following the same logic, suggests they are likely to have more Democratic leanings.

The ranks of DC’s senior judges, meanwhile, include veterans appointed during the Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W Bush administrations, two of whom – Emmet Sullivan and Amy Berman Jackson – have a recent track record of making enemies of Trumpworld luminaries.

Judge Sullivan told Mr Trump’s short-lived first national security adviser Michael Flynn in 2018 that might have been charged with “treason” over his undeclared lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government, drawing the ire of the MAGA movement, while Judge Jackson attracted headlines when she issued a gag order against self-styled Republican political fixer Roger Stone after he posted a picture of her on Instagram with a rifle’s crosshairs zeroing in on her forehead.

As for DC’s juror pool, citizens of the nation’s capital have distinguished themselves in recent years through their careful and considered handling of January 6 cases, despite voting overwhelmingly for Mr Biden at the ballot box and witnessing the violence of that ignominious day first-hand on their own doorsteps.

For all that, Brandon Van Grack, a former federal prosecutor who worked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Mr Trump’s alleged ties to Russian election meddling in 2016, argues that too much emphasis is placed on a justice’s supposed political affiliations, especially among the conspiracy-minded.

“There are so many exceptions to it,” he told The Messenger.

“I think it’s just too much shorthand for people who don’t know the court and who don’t know the judges.”

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