Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday lost a bid to have a federal judge remove herself from presiding over his criminal election-interference case in Washington, D.C., because of statements she made while sentencing Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendants.
Judge Tanya Chutkan said in a ruling that her recusal was “not warranted in this case.”
Trump’s lawyers argued Chutkan made “disqualifying” statements about him during Capitol riot sentencings, which they said showed prejudice against Trump and a belief that he “should be prosecuted and imprisoned.”
The judge rejected that argument, writing Wednesday “the court has never taken the position the defense ascribes to it.”
“Based on its review of the law, facts, and record, the court concludes that a reasonable observer would not doubt its ability to uphold” her judicial oath to be fair to defendants, Chutkan wrote in her 20-page opinion.
Trump is charged in a four-count indictment in U.S. District Court in Washington with conspiring to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
He has pleaded not guilty in the case being prosecuted by special counsel Jack Smith, which is due to begin trial in March. It is one of four pending criminal cases against the former president.
The Jan. 6, 2021, riot is a central element of the prosecution’s claims about Trump in the Washington case.
Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol that day after weeks of him falsely claiming that Biden benefited from widespread ballot fraud.
In asking Chutkan to recuse herself, Trump’s lawyers pointed to her remarks at sentencing hearings for two people, Christine Priola and Robert Palmer, convicted for their conduct during the riot.
During Priola’s sentencing, Chutkan said, “The people who mobbed that Capitol were there in fealty, in loyalty, to one man — not to the Constitution.”
“It’s a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day,” the judge said.
Trump’s lawyers wrote that the remark in Priola’s hearing sent an “inescapable” message: “President Trump is free, but should not be.”
When Palmer was sentenced, Chutkan told him, “Mr. Palmer — you have 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.”
Trump’s attorneys wrote that Chutkan’s comment to Palmer “reflect her apparent opinion” that Trump’s conduct “supports charges” against him.
But Chutkan, in her ruling denying the recusal motion, said that her statements “reflect the information and arguments presented by the defense in each case.”
And she said that she “has never taken the position the defense ascribes to it: that former ‘President Trump should be prosecuted and imprisoned.'”
Trump has slammed Chutkan as a “biased, Trump Hating Judge.”
Chutkan, who was appointed to the bench in 2014 by then-President Barack Obama, has imposed longer sentences than prosecutors requested in multiple Jan. 6 defendants’ cases.
Smith has asked Chutkan to impose a partial gag order on Trump that would limit what he can say about prospective witnesses, as well as about court officials and other people involved in the case.
Trump’s lawyers on Tuesday urged Chutkan not to impose those restrictions, claiming they are an attempt to “unconstitutionally silence” Trump as he seeks the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.