Updated 10:41 PM EDT, Sun September 17, 2023
Former President Donald Trump’s legal team again argued on Sunday that US District Judge Tanya Chutkan should recuse herself from the 2020 election criminal case against him in Washington, DC.
Trump has argued this before, and his response Sunday was expected. But the language in Trump’s legal argument used Chutkan’s own words against her, and argued in a particularly bold way that Trump’s political successes meant the prosecution of him could be perceived as politically biased, and Chutkan, a harsh judge on January 6 riot cases, should no longer preside.
“The public must have confidence that President Trump’s constitutional rights are being protected by an unbiased judicial officer. No president is a king, but every president is a United States citizen entitled to the protections and rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” his lawyers wrote in a Sunday night filing. Chutkan used the phrase “presidents are not kings,” in denying a Trump bid to block House investigators from obtaining his presidential records. First written by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, now a Supreme Court justice, in a previous Trump lawsuit, the phrase has become well-known as part of Chutkan’s jurisprudence.
Chutkan will ultimately make the decision on whether she should relinquish the case, and while Trump’s ask is a long shot based on the law, his filings on the topic could be used in appeals if he is convicted. Recusal requests like these are often fraught, given that a defendant must question the judge who presides over their trial and that the standard to force a recusal is very high. Such attempts are largely unsuccessful.
Yet Trump has been undeterred in recent days, attacking the case against him in the federal system and questioning Chutkan’s fairness in court papers. His court filings have been more direct in questioning the judge – even while Justice Department officials argue there is nothing Chutkan has done to show that she was improper in handling other January 6 cases.
“The core value at issue here is whether the public will accept these proceedings as legitimate; or instead view them as a politically motivated effort by the incumbent administration to take out its most significant political opponent in a presidential campaign—the opponent who, by the way, is not only free, but has a strong lead in the polls,” Trump’s team wrote. Public confidence “is not an insignificant consideration, it is the consideration,” they continued. “No system of justice can survive if its citizens lose faith in it.”
At the same time, Trump faces a request from federal prosecutors for Chutkan to further limit his public speaking about the case and possible witnesses because, they say, his attacks on social media have caused harassment. The judge is still weighing that request as well.