Mon, 25 Sep 2023

WASHINGTON (CN) - Donald Trump's legal team filed a motion Monday afternoon requesting that the federal judge presiding over the ex-president's election subversion case recuse herself, arguing she is biased against him.

The motion comes after weeks of public statements from Trump and his lawyers on social media and television casting doubt on the impartiality of U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, claiming she has a "prejudgment of guilt" against Trump and pointing to statements she had made while sentencing people for their actions during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol - which special counsel Jack Smith says was the result of Trump's efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

"Judge Chutkan has, in connection with other cases, suggested that President Trump should be prosecuted and imprisoned," John Lauro, Trump's defense lawyer, wrote. "Such statements, made before this case began and without due process, are inherently disqualifying."

Lauro, of the firm Lauro & Singer, specifically highlighted a statement the Barack Obama appointee made during an October sentencing hearing for Christine Priola, a defendant who pleaded guilty to participating in the attack.

"This was nothing less than an attempt to violently overthrow the government, the legally, lawfully, peacefully elected government by individuals who were mad their guy lost," Chutkan said before sentencing Priola to 15 months in prison. "The people who mobbed that Capitol 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."

Lauro put special emphasis on the final phrase of that statement as proof that Chutkan already believes Trump is to blame for the attack on the Capitol and thus should be disqualified from the case.

Trump referenced that exact quote in a late-night tirade against Chutkan on his social media site, Truth Social, in August, where said her comments were proof that she "obviously wants me behind bars."

Lauro requested in the motion that another judge, besides Chutkan, be randomly assigned the case, in the hopes of landing someone more sympathetic to the former president.

That may prove difficult, however, as many of Chutkan's colleagues have made similar comments over the course of approximately 623 Jan. 6 sentencing hearings, as many defendants and their lawyers have argued that the former president played an outsized role in bringing them to Washington, many of whom claiming they never would have been there had Trump not called his supporters to attend.

While Chutkan has been described as a particularly harsh sentencer for Capitol rioters - having ordered prison sentences in each case she presided over - it is unlikely Trump will find much leniency by judges he had appointed.

Just last week, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, passed down the longest prison sentence of any Jan. 6 defendant - 22 years for ex-Proud Boy founder Enrique Tarrio.

Lauro added another similar quote from a December 2021 hearing for Capitol rioter Robert Palmer, where Chutkan made a veiled reference to Trump 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 has also tried to call into question whether he can receive a fair trial in Washington, pointing to the jury pool in a city that overwhelmingly voted for President Joe Biden in 2020.

He has called for the case to be transferred to another district, offering West Virginia as a potential location - a state he won with 68% of the vote.

The chances of Chutkan approving a venue change are slim considering the Sixth Amendment requires a trial take place in the "district wherein the crime shall have been committed," which in this case would be the Capitol, just down the street from the federal courthouse in Washington.

Trump, who is currently the front-runner in the Republican presidential primary, faces three other criminal cases across the country. He faces charges federal court in Florida over the handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate - also brought by Smith - and in state courts in Fulton County, Georgia, over election interference in 2020 and in Manhattan for hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election.

He has pleaded not guilty to the total 91 charges across his four criminal cases.

Chutkan ordered Smith and his team to file a response no later than Thursday, Sept. 14.

Source: Courthouse News Service

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