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Judge Chutkan hands Trump a loss on recusal

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has denied former President Donald Trump‘s motion that sought to have the judge recused from his federal election interference case in Washington, D.C., court.

Trump requested earlier this month to have Chutkan removed from his trial, claiming that the judge—who has overseen several cases involving individuals charged in connection to the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021—could not offer him a fair trial based on statements she’s made in the past.

The former president was indicted in August on four felony counts related to his purported efforts to stay in office after losing in the 2020 election to President Joe Biden. The charges stemmed from the Justice Department’s investigation into Trump’s actions surrounding the January 6 attack.

In a court filing Wednesday, Chutkan wrote that her previous statements regarding Trump or January 6 “were based on intrajudicial sources” and that the former president’s motion did not point to statements that “provide a reasonable basis to question the court’s impartiality” in Trump’s case.

“And the statements certainly do not manifest a deep-seated prejudice that would make fair judgment impossible—the standard for recusal based on statements with intrajudicial origins,” read Chutkan’s filing.

Among Chutkan’s statements that were listed in Trump’s motion include one instance in October 2022 when the judge, while reading the sentencing of January 6 rioter Christine Priola, said that the Capitol riot was the result of “a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.” Trump’s defense team had argued that the meaning of Chutkan’s assertion was that the former president “is free, but should not be.”

Another statement pinpointed by Trump’s team included Chutkan’s remarks while delivering the sentencing for Robert Palmer in December 2021. Chutkan told Palmer that he had “made a very good point” during trial “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 team claimed that the statements “placed blame on President Trump and complained that he had not been charged.”

In Wednesday’s decision, Chutkan wrote that Priola’s sentencing was based on the defendant’s “admission that she had come to Washington, D.C. to join a protest on behalf of then-President Trump.” The judge also pointed out that in either case, she failed to mention any individual who she thought should still be charged in connection to January 6, and that Trump’s defense team were the ones who “assumed that [Trump] belongs in that undefined group.”

“In sum, the statements underlying Defendant’s Motion were based on ‘what the [court] learned from [its] participation in [each] case,'” read the decision.

Legal experts previously dismissed Trump’s motion for Chutkan’s recusal as a ridiculous move, and special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the two federal investigations against Trump, wrote in a court filing that there was “no valid basis, under the relevant law and facts, for the Honorable Tanya S. Chutkan…to disqualify herself in this proceeding.”

In a statement to Newsweek Wednesday evening, a spokesperson for Trump’s campaign reiterated that Chutkan’s past statements prove that she is biased against the former president.

“Judges must not only be, in fact, impartial but must also appear to be unbiased,” read the statement. “Based on her prior statements in other cases that she already holds an opinion regarding President Trump, his legal team believes that Judge Chutkan should have recused herself. Disqualification is required whenever a reasonable person might conclude that the court is biased, such as is the situation here.”

Trump is also facing federal charges in connection to the classified documents recovered by federal officials at his Mar-a-Lago estate. In total, the former president is fighting four criminal indictments as he runs for reelection ahead of November 2024.

Update 9/27/23, 8:34 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with comment from former President Donald Trump’s campaign.

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