Trump Lawyers Seek Recusal Of Jamaica-Born Judge In Federal Election Subversion Case

(AP) — Lawyers for Donald Trump on Monday asked the federal judge presiding over his election subversion case in Washington to recuse herself, saying her past public statements about the former president and his connection to the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol call into question whether she can be fair.

The recusal motion from Trump’s lawyers takes aim at Jamaica-born US District Judge Tanya Chutkan, a former assistant public defender who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama and has stood out as one of the toughest punishers of January 6 defendants.

The request is a long shot given the high threshold for recusal and because the decision on whether to recuse belongs to Chutkan, who is unlikely to see cause to step aside from the case.

Even so, the request that she give up the high-stakes trial marks the latest flashpoint in already delicate relations between the defence team and the judge, who has repeatedly cautioned the lawyers against inflammatory public comments from Trump but has nonetheless been lambasted on social media by him. Special counsel Jack Smith’s team signalled its own concern about his comments, writing last week that Trump’s daily statements — he has derided her as “highly partisan” — could taint a potential jury pool.

Chutkan last month scheduled the trial for March 4, 2024, over the vigorous objections of defence lawyers who said that would not give them enough time to prepare. The case in Washington, charging Trump in a four-count indictment with plotting to overturn the results of the 2024 election, is one of four criminal cases confronting the former president as he seeks re-election to the White House.

In asking Chutkan to step aside, the Trump legal team is relying on a familiar playbook. He tried unsuccessfully to get the judge removed from the hush-money case against him in New York state court, with his lawyers claiming that New York Judge Juan Manuel Merchan is biased because he’s given cash to Democrats and his daughter is a party consultant.

But the judge last month rejected Trump’s demand that he step aside, saying he is certain of his “ability to be fair and impartial.”

Federal judges are supposed to step aside in cases where their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Other bases for recusal include a personal bias against one of the parties. Trump’s lawyers say Chutkan’s comments show she has “already formed an opinion about President Trump’s guilt” and many of the allegations that underpin the indictment against him.

“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 defence team wrote. “The public will reasonably and understandably question whether Judge Chutkan arrived at all of her decisions in this matter impartially, or in fulfilment of her prior negative statements regarding President Trump.”

Chutkan has often has handed down prison sentences in January 6 cases that are harsher than Justice Department prosecutors recommended. The judge also previously ruled against Trump in a separate January 6 case, refusing his request to block the release of documents to the US House’s Jan. 6 committee by asserting executive privilege.

Born in Kingston in July 1962, Chutkan pursued her education at George Washington University, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. She later graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School with a Juris Doctor degree in 1987.