Trump files motion to have judge in federal election interference case disqualified

The motion cites comments Judge Tanya Chutkan made in previous Jan. 6 cases.

September 11, 2023, 4:54 PM

Former President Donald Trump on Monday made his first formal push to have the judge overseeing his federal 2020 election interference case be recused and disqualified, according to a filing from his attorneys.

The recusal motion filed by Trump's attorneys cites comments from D.C. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in past cases she oversaw for individuals charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which they argue shows she "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 said in the motion. "Although Judge Chutkan may genuinely intend to give President Trump a fair trial -- and may believe that she can do so -- her public statements unavoidably taint these proceedings, regardless of outcome."

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges of undertaking a "criminal scheme" to overturn the results of the 2020 election by enlisting a slate of so-called "fake electors," using the Justice Department to conduct "sham election crime investigations," trying to enlist the vice president to "alter the election results," and promoting false claims of a stolen election as the Jan. 6 riot raged -- all in an effort to subvert democracy and remain in power.

The former president has denied all wrongdoing and denounced the charges as "a persecution of a political opponent."

Monday's filing comes after Judge Chutkan recently rejected an effort by Trump's attorneys to push his trial date to April of 2026. She instead scheduled the trial to begin in March of next year.

The filing points to several statements Chutkan has made during past sentencings of rioters convicted of various charges for their role in the Jan. 6 attack.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the South Dakota Republican Party Monumental Leaders rally, Sept. 8, 2023, in Rapid City, S.D.
Toby Brusseau/AP

In one hearing in October of 2022, Chutkan described the Capitol assault as "nothing less than an attempt to violently overthrow the government" by Trump's supporters, who "were there in fealty, in loyalty to one man."

"It's a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day," Chutkan said at the sentencing.

"The public meaning of this statement is inescapable -- President Trump is free, but should not be," Trump's attorneys argue. "As an apparent prejudgment of guilty, these comments are disqualifying standing alone."

They further point to another hearing in December of 2021 when Chutkan was speaking to a convicted rioter who she said "made a very good point, one that has been made before -- that 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, however, that was "not this court's position" and that was not a reason for the man to receive a lower sentence.

"Public statements of this sort create a perception of prejudgment incompatible with our justice system," Trump's attorneys said in the filing. "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. Judge Chutkan's pre-case statements undermine that confidence and, therefore, require disqualification."

A spokesperson for the office of special counsel Jack Smith, who is prosecuting the case, declined to comment to ABC News.

It is not immediately clear when Chutkan could issue a ruling on Trump's motion.

Chutkan has set the trial's start date for March 4, 2024.

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