Attorneys for former President Donald Trump met the Sunday deadline of filing a response to the Department of Justice's (DOJ) opposition that the judge presiding over their case recuse herself.
Special counsel Jack Smith is prosecuting a case against the former president, charging him with four counts of conspiracy and obstruction for his actions in challenging the 2020 election results. Presiding over the case in Washington, D.C., is Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is known for being a harsh sentencer in the several Jan. 6, 2021-related cases she has already ruled on.
Defense attorneys argued that Judge Chutkan has already made a presumption of President Trump's guilt, based off a number of statements she made when sentencing other cases. The DOJ argued there was "no valid basis" for recusal, because all the statements were made during official judicial duties and, therefore, could not be constituted as bias.
Trump attorneys argue that the DOJ position is "ludicrous and contrary to the law."
They noted the DOJ did not dispute that the judge made those statements, or that the statements referenced President Trump without naming him, or that one could interpret her statements "as clear prejudgment of guilt."
Judge's Statements"Judge Chutkan’s statements point to the unmistakable conclusion that the appearance of prejudgment will infect every aspect of this case and cause the public to rightly question the very legitimacy of these historic proceedings," the attorneys argued in the new reply.
"This was nothing less than an attempt to violently overthrow the government, the legally, lawfully, peacefully elected government by individuals who were mad that their guy lost. I see the videotapes. I see the footage of the flags and the signs that people were carrying and the hats they were wearing and the garb. And the people who mobbed that Capitol were there in fealty, in loyalty, to one man—not to the Constitution, of which most of the people who come before me seem woefully ignorant; not to the ideals of this country; and not to the principles of democracy. It’s a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day."She made similar statements in another sentencing, stating that the defendant went to the Capitol "because his guy lost," which attorneys pointed out referred to President Trump.
While the attorneys argued that the judge was in fact pre-judging President Trump, implying he was "responsible" in this case, the prosecutors argued the opposite.
The prosecutors offered another interpretation of the statements, claiming that the defendants and their legal counsel had tried to pin the blame on President Trump in hopes of lighter sentencing, and that Judge Chutkan in fact did not pre-judge President Trump and give in to those tactics. They argued that in fact her serious sentencing of those defendants showed she did not place the blame on President Trump.
"So you have a point, that the people who may be the people who planned this and funded it and encouraged it haven’t been charged, but that’s not a reason for you to get a lower sentence," Judge Chutkan said during one sentencing.
The attorneys argued there was no judicial reason for the judge to make those statements about President Trump, and the "self-serving and irrelevant statements" were made in cases that were not in related to the former president, thus the information must have been gathered outside of court and could not qualify as intrajudicial statements.
Antagonism?The defense and prosecution offered very different interpretations of the bar required for recusal.
"Every defendant in the United States has the right to a trial by an impartial judge who has not prejudged his guilt or innocence," attorneys for President Trump wrote. "Judge Chutkan’s strongly stated suggestions that President Trump should be charged and imprisoned defy this core principle and are 'sufficient to permit the average citizen reasonably to question [Judge Chutkan’s] impartiality.'"
“Because our system of justice is based on the reality and appearance of fairness, recusal is required whenever 'impartiality might reasonably be questioned.'”
The prosecution meanwhile argued that the statements failed to show the "the deep-seated antagonism required for recusal."
Judge Chutkan is the sole decision-maker when it comes to recusal in this case, and will decide herself if she will step down or not.
The attorneys criticized the prosecution for failing to support the image of a neutral court.
"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," they wrote. "That is not an insignificant consideration, it is the consideration. No system of justice can survive if its citizens lose faith in it."
In fact, the public's faith in the justice system is the subject of the DOJ's recent motion to impose a "narrow" gag order on President Trump. Last week, Mr. Smith filed a motion asking the judge to restrict what President Trump may say in public, noting that his posts on social media attacking the "two tiered" justice system may hurt the DOJ's image and influence Washington, D.C., jurors in his favor. Attorneys for President Trump declined to comment, and have yet to file their response to the DOJ's request.