I’m not going anywhere, Don!
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has refused to recuse herself from former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election interference case, rejecting his claims that past comments raise doubts about her fairness.
Trump had accused Chutkan, who was randomly assigned to hear the case, of bias because of remarks she made when doling out harsh sentences to other Jan. 6 defendants.
But she fiercely defended her integrity and commitment to giving Trump a fair shake in a 20-page ruling issued late Wednesday.
“The court has never taken the position the defense ascribes to it: that former ‘President Trump should be prosecuted and imprisoned,’” Chutkan wrote, referring to herself. “And the defense does not cite any instance of the court ever uttering those words or anything similar.”
Trump himself has spewed ugly rhetoric about Chutkan, a Jamaican immigrant and highly respected jurist, calling her a tool of Democrats and part of the so-called witch hunt aiming to prevent him from winning back the White House.
His lawyers built their argument around Chutkan’s statement in sentencing a Jan. 6 attacker that the rioters acted out of “blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.”
Trump’s lawyers said that amounted to a call for Trump to be held criminally liable for the attack. But Chutkan insisted she was merely stating an “undisputed fact” that Trump remained free.
“It went no further,” she wrote.
Legal analysts considered the recusal motion to be a legal Hail Mary and were unsurprised that Chutkan swatted it aside.
There is a high bar to seek recusal of a judge and it would normally require some kind of personal bias or previous rulings involving a defendant.
Chutkan wrote in her order that though recusal is a valid step when merited, judges should not step aside “without cause,” as she suggested the Trump lawyers were asking her to do.
Federal special counsel Jack Smith agreed in legal papers there was no valid basis to have Chutkan removed from the case.
Chutkan has proven to be a no-nonsense jurist in the several weeks since Trump was indicted on four counts including conspiring to defraud the U.S. and depriving people of their rights. He is accused of hatching a sprawling plot to stay in power after losing the 2020 election, a campaign that culminated with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Chutkan set at March 4 trial date and has warned Trump that she won’t entertain delay tactics.
The judge is also considering a request by Smith’s team for a narrow gag order that would bar Trump from making “inflammatory” and “intimidating” comments about witnesses, lawyers and other people involved in the case. Trump’s lawyers objected this week to that request.