Judge Tanya Chutkan denied a motion from former President Trump asking her to recuse herself from overseeing his prosecution on charges related to his efforts to stay in power after losing the 2020 election.
While writing that recusal motions served a vital purpose, “justice also demands that judges not recuse without cause,” she wrote, pointing to a prior court decision noting that recusal motions can be “a procedural weapon to harass opponents and delay proceedings.”
“Motions for recusal could also be wrongfully deployed as a form of ‘judge shopping,’” Chutkan wrote.
Chutaken’s decision comes after a Sept. 11 request from Trump asking her to step aside from the case, noting comments she had made while presiding over the sentencing hearings of two Jan. 6 defendants.
The ruling, however, argues that Trump’s legal team took her out of context in singling out a few comments made in response to arguments from prior defendants — including those blaming the “architects” of the riot — noting that she has an obligation to address each point for the record.
Both defendants, Robert Palmer and Christine Priola, argued they were not key figures in the riot and should receive lower sentences given that higher level figured remained uncharged.
“The defense interprets the court’s verbal reiteration of Palmer and Priola’s arguments about their relative culpability as “suggest[ing]” a secret “core view” about Defendant’s criminality….That inferential leap is not reasonable in light of the relevant facts, record, and law,” Chutkan writes.
“The court was legally bound to not only privately consider those arguments, but also to publicly assess them.”
Chutkan also noted she had never made any comments on Trump’s culpability — noting it was his own attorneys who leaped to that conclusion.
“The court expressly declined to state who, if anyone, it thought should still face charges. It is the defense, not the court, who has assumed that the Defendant belongs in that undefined group,” she wrote.
Chutkan agreed with arguments presented by special counsel Jack Smith’s team, writing that intrajudicial statements made within a courtroom require a higher bar for recusal, a reflection of a role that often requires playing devil’s advocate as each party presents their argument.
There she appeared to take another dig at Trump’s attorney’s, suggesting they would be well aware.
“A reasonable person — aware of the statutory requirement that the court address the defendant’s arguments and state its reasons for its sentence — would understand that in making the statements contested here, the court was not issuing vague declarations about third parties’ potential guilt in a hypothetical future case,” she wrote.
“Instead, it was fulfilling its duty to expressly evaluate the defendants’ arguments that their sentences should be reduced because other individuals whom they believed were associated with the events of January 6 had not been prosecuted.”
Trump can appeal Chutkan’s ruling, but the standard for ejecting a judge from a case is particularly high.
In responding to the ruling, a Trump spokesperson rehashed arguments Chutkan rejected, suggesting she weigh her comments using the lower standard used to evaluate statements judges make outside the courtroom.
“Fairness and impartiality are central tenets of our judicial system. Judges must not only be in fact, impartial, but must also appear to be unbiased. 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 recuse [sic] herself,” the spokesperson said.
Chutkan’s decision comes as Trump has leveled a number of attacks on the judge in various social media posts, complaining about her being an “Obama judge” and saying there’s “no way I can get a fair trial.”
Chutkan is also currently weighing a request from Smith’s team to impose a narrow gag order on Trump, one that would block him from making intimidating statements about witnesses or making disparaging remarks that could taint the eventual jury’s perception of the case.
Updated at 8:34 p.m.