Trump demands recusal of federal judge hearing 2020 election subversion case

FILE - President Donald Trump speaks during a rally protesting the electoral college certification of Joe Biden as President in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. Liberal groups are trying to end Donald Trump's attempt to return to the White House by arguing that he is no longer eligible to be president after trying to overturn the 2020 election results. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Former President Trump has asked for Judge Tanya S. Chutkan to be disqualified from presiding over the federal criminal case related to his actions following the 2020 election. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Lawyers for former President Trump on Monday demanded the recusal of the federal judge presiding over his 2020 election subversion case, saying her past comments about the Jan. 6 insurrection undermine public confidence in her neutrality.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan is presiding over former President Trump's Jan. 6 trial. (Associated Press)

It is unusual for a defendant to win a recusal motion, particularly after a trial date has been set.

In a motion filed Monday, Trump's attorneys argued that U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan's past "negative" comments in other cases involving the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol "unavoidably taint" the case.

"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," the filing states.

Special counsel Jack Smith charged Trump with four criminal counts related to engaging in conspiracies to overturn the results of the 2020 election and keep him in power. Trump has pleaded not guilty. The trial is scheduled to begin March 4.

The motion cites two statements Chutkan made from the bench while sentencing two previous Jan. 6 defendants that appear to reference Trump but do not name him. The motion describes the remarks as a "prejudgment" of Trump's guilt.

In one, from the October 2022 case of Christine Priola of Ohio, Chutkan rebuked the defendant and other Jan. 6 rioters for offering "a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day."

Trump's lawyers also cited in their filing a comment Chutkan made at the December 2021 sentencing of Robert Palmer of Florida in which she said he "made a very good point" that the people who encouraged rioters to go to the Capitol had not been charged. According to the transcript, Chutkan also noted that it was not her role to decide who is charged.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.