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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Special counsel Jack Smith argues Judge Tanya Chutkan shouldn’t recuse herself in Trump case

Washington — Special counsel Jack Smith filed a blistering motion in response to former President Donald Trump’s request that the judge overseeing his federal 2020 election interference criminal case recuse herself.

“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,” Smith wrote in a 20-page filing an hour before a deadline set by Chutkan to respond.

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He said that in seeking Chutkan’s recusal, Trump “both takes out of context the Court’s words from prior judicial proceedings and misstates the proper legal standards governing judicial recusals.”

Smith also argued that Trump “cherry-picks” from two of Chutkan’s sentencing hearings for two Capitol riot defendants, and in both cases, “the Court was appropriately responding to—and ultimately rejecting— a common argument raised by scores of January 6 offenders: that they deserved leniency because their actions were inspired by, or were not as serious as, those of others who contributed to the riot but had not been held responsible—including former president Donald J. Trump, the defendant in this case.”

Trump’s lawyersasked in a filing Mondaythat Chutkan remove herself from the case because of previous statements she had made in two separate Capitol riot sentencing hearings.

“Judge Chutkan has, in connection with other cases, suggested that President Trump should be prosecuted and imprisoned,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in their request. “Such statements, made before this case began and without due process, are inherently disqualifying.”

They highlighted statements she made about the former president, including telling one Capitol riot defendant in October 2022 that the violent attempt to overthrow the government came from “blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.”

“The public meaning of this statement is inescapable — President Trump is free, but should not be,” Trump’s attorneys wrote.

But in his filing, Smith provided more extensive transcripts of the remarks Judge Chutkan had made in the two Capitol riot sentencing hearings to make the argument that the full transcripts show that she “did not state that [Trump] was legally or morally culpable for the events of January 6 or that he deserved punishment,” but rather, that “the Court was engaged in its judicial responsibility to hear, acknowledge, and respond to [the Jan. 6 defendant’s] sentencing allocution.”

Addressing the emphasis placed by Trump’s recusal motion on this phrase, “it’s a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day,” Smith wrote, “From this simple statement of uncontroverted fact, the defendant purports to draw the ‘inescapable’ message that the Court believes that defendant Trump should be imprisoned. But the only inescapable thing about the Court’s comment is that it stated an uncontested and accurate fact in response to a mitigation argument that the Court had heard many times before.”

Smith argued Trump has not proven Chutkan made biased claims because he “must show that they display a deep-seated animosity toward him.”

“The defendant cannot meet this heavy burden,” Smith wrote.

“Because the defendant cannot point to any statements expressing actual bias, all he can say—and he says it repeatedly—is that the Court’s comments ‘suggest’ some sort of bias or prejudice toward the defendant,” Smith added.

Ultimately, it is up to Chutkan to decide whether her past statements create the perception of bias. A new judge would be assigned to the case if she recuses. Trump’s attorneys could petition an appeals court to require her to recuse, but such efforts are often not successful.

Trump will be able to respond to Smith’s counter-argument, and his deadline to do so is next week.

Fin Gomez and Graham Kates contributed to this report.

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