Attorneys for former President Donald Trump want a new judge in his 2020 election interference case.
In a filing Monday, they argued that Judge Tanya Chutkan should recuse herself from the case for previous statements they say give the appearance of bias. They did not outright accuse Chutkan of being biased against Trump, but highlighted statements they claimed “create a perception of prejudgment incompatible with our justice system.”
“Judge Chutkan has, in connection with other cases, suggested that President Trump should be prosecuted and imprisoned. Such statements, made before this case began and without due process, are inherently disqualifying,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in the filing.
Trump has entered a not guilty plea in the case, filed by special counsel Jack Smith, in which he is charged with four felony counts relating to an alleged scheme to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power after he lost the 2020 election to President Joe Biden.
Trump’s filing highlights several instances during hearings related to defendants in Jan. 6 riot cases in which Trump’s attorneys say Chutkan appeared critical of the former president.
“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,” Chutkan said during one October 2022 hearing, later adding, “it’s blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.”
Trump’s attorneys called that statement “an apparent prejudgment of guilt.”
“The public meaning of this statement is inescapable — President Trump is free, but should not be,” they wrote.
The filing also highlights statements Chutkan made to rioter Robert Palmer, who was sentenced to more than five years in prison for using a wooden plank and a fire extinguisher to attack police.
“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 during Palmer’s December 2021 sentencing hearing.
Ultimately, it is up to Chutkan to decide if these past statements create a perception of bias. If she does, a new judge would be assigned to the case. If she disagrees with Trump’s attorneys, she will continue to preside over the matter. If the recusal is denied, Trump’s attorneys could petition an appeals court for a writ of mandamus, essentially an order requiring her to recuse. These efforts are not often successful.
Trump’s lawyers argue any appearance of bias or prejudgment is particularly important in a case like this.
“In a case this widely watched, of such monumental significance, the public must have the utmost confidence that the court will administer justice neutrally and dispassionately,” the lawyers wrote.
Trump has entered not guilty pleas in four criminal cases this year relating to allegations that bookend his presidency. His attorneys also sought to have the judge presiding over a case in New York State court recuse himself. The judge in that case, Juan Merchan, rejected Trump’s effort on Aug. 14.
A previous effort seeking to have that case, in which Trump is accused of 34 counts of falsification of business records, removed to federal court, was also rejected.
Trump’s attorneys have indicated they may seek removal to federal court in another of his cases, in which he’s charged alongside 18 co-defendants in Fulton County, Georgia, for allegedly orchestrating a “criminal enterprise” to thwart the 2020 election results in battleground state.
The only case in which Trump has not sought a new judge or jurisdiction is one in which the special counsel charged him with 40 felony counts related to “willful retention” of national security information. The judge in that case, Aileen Cannon, was appointed by Trump.
Trump has denied wrongdoing in connection with all four cases.