As Donald Trump seeks to remove federal judge in Jan. 6 case, prosecutors tout impartiality

WASHINGTON – Justice Department prosecutors argue there is no reason for the judge assigned to Donald Trump’s election interference case to remove herself, as Trump has requested, saying the former president “cherry-picks” quotes from previous sentencings to make her look bad.

Trump on Monday asked for U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan to remove herself because of statements she made while sentencing two rioters convicted in the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump’s lawyers argued the comments revealed that Chutkan thought the former president should be tried and jailed.

At issue were comments Chutkan made in December 2021 and October 2022. In one case, she told a defendant an attempt to violently overthrow the government stemmed from “blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.” In another, she said that that while rioters are going to prison, “the architects of that horrific event will likely never be charged.”.

But government lawyers said Chutkan hadn’t shown bias against Trump when she was rejecting pleas for leniency from rioters who blamed others for their actions.

“The defendant has failed to identify anything approaching the clear and convincing evidence necessary to overcome the presumption of impartiality,” Justice Department prosecutor Molly Gaston wrote Thursday for special counsel Jack Smith. “Instead, he has relied on suggestion and innuendo to insinuate something sinister in the Courtsimply doing its job by addressing sentencing arguments.”.

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Chutkan didn’t immediately rule on the request but asked for arguments from both sides. Trump’s lawyers have two days to respond to the government.

What did Chutkan say that Trump says should disqualify her?

Trump’s lawyers – John Lauro, joined by Todd Blanche, Gregory Singer and Filzah Pavalon – argued in a filing Monday that Chutkan should disqualify herself from his case because she suggested Trump incited the violence and should be jailed.

“Judge Chutkan has, in connection with other cases, suggested that President Trump should be prosecuted and imprisoned,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in their request. “Such statements, made before the case began and without due process, are inherently disqualifying.”.

Government: Trump ‘cherry-picks’ judge’s statements from Jan. 6 sentencings

Government lawyers said she was responding to requests for leniency from defendants who blamed others for inspiring their actions. Chutkan’s comments weren’t focused on Trump but on rejecting pleas for leniency based on blaming others because defendants were acting of their own free will, the lawyers wrote.

In the 2021 case, Chutkan sentenced Robert Scott Palmer to 63 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to assaulting police officers with a dangerous weapon on Jan. 6. Palmer admitted he “threw a wooden plank at” officers, “sprayed the contents of fire extinguisher” at officers and assaulted another group of officers “with a 4-5 foot pole,” according to court records. Palmer argued the riot wouldn’t have happened if not for the organization and financing of others, government lawyers argued.

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In the 2022 case, Chutkan sentenced Christine Priola to 15 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to obstructing an official proceeding by surging with the mob into the Senate chamber, according to court records. She laid the blame for the riot on others and tried to diminish her role, government lawyers argued.

“To support his claim, the defendant cherry-picks from portions of the Court’s sentencings of two individuals for their crimes related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the United States Capitol,” Gaston wrote. “The Court’s statements addressing this sentencing mitigation argument were factually accurate, responsive to arguments presented to the Court, and evidenced no improper bias or prejudgment of the current case.”.

What charges does Trump face in the federal election conspiracy case?

The federal election case is one of four criminal cases Trump faces. Charges in the case include conspiracy to defraud the United States by trying to overturn the 2020 election and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding of Congress. He wasn’t charged with inciting the riot or seditious conspiracy.

Trump has pleaded not guilty.

Trump’s antagonism against the judge is nothing new. He has railed on social media against Chutkan and Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith, drawing comments from both about potentially tainting the jury pool in his case.

Chutkan said at a hearing in August that she would ensure the orderly administration of justice, as in any other case.

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“The more a party makes inflammatory statements about this case which could taint the jury pool or intimidate potential witnesses, the greater the urgency will be that we proceed to trial to ensure a jury pool from which we can select an impartial jury,” Chutkan said.

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