Washington — A federal judge rebuffed former President Donald Trump'sfrom overseeing the 2020 election interference case brought by special counsel Jack Smith in Washington, D.C., because of statements she made in court that Trump's legal team argued disqualified her.
Judge Tanya Chutkan said in an opinion Wednesday that her comments during sentencing hearings for two defendants who took part in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021 — which Trump and his lawyers cited in his attempt to remove her from the case — do not warrant recusal.
"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," Chutkan wrote.
Trump is charged with four felony counts over his alleged efforts to stop the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 election. He has pleaded not guilty.
Trump's attorneys highlighted several statements Chutkan made they argued were critical of the former president, including telling one defendant that the violent attempt to overthrow the government came from "blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day."
"The public meaning of this statement is inescapable — President Trump is free, but should not be," Trump's attorneys argued.
But Chutkan said she has "never taken the position" that Trump should be "prosecuted or imprisoned," as the former president's lawyers had argued.
"And the defense does not cite any instance of the court ever uttering those words or anything similar," she wrote.
Her comments referencing Trump in the sentencing hearings were an acknowledgment of the arguments made by the two defendants in why they thought they should receive lower sentences, Chutkan said.
"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; 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," she wrote.
Chutkan noted she "ultimately rejected those arguments" and declined "to assign culpability to anyone else."
The special counsel had argued there was "no valid basis" for Chutkan to recuse herself and that her comments cited by Trump's legal team had been taken out of context.
Trump's attorneys could petition an appeals court to require her to recuse, but such efforts are often not successful. They have not indicated if they will pursue that option.
Trump's attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Graham Kates contributed reporting.
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