Elie Honig, a legal commentator affiliated with CNN, acknowledged the potential validity of Former President Donald Trump’s suit seeking the recusal of Federal District Judge Tanya Chutkan from his case.
In an interview with CNN This Morning, Honig said that while Trump’s request is legally a “extreme longshot,” it’s still “not an outrageous motion” in light of Judge Chutkan’s earlier remarks.
The motion requesting recusal was initiated in response to statements made by Judge Chutkan during the sentencing proceedings for individuals found guilty of involvement in the January 6 Capitol attack. The legal team representing former President Trump asserts that these remarks indicate a potential inclination against him.
Regarding a defendant in the Capitol riot case, Judge Chutkan is cited in the request as saying, “The people who exhorted you and encouraged you and rallied you to go and take action and to fight have not been charged.”
CNN host Poppy Harlow asked: “Trump’s lawyers argue statements like those and others mean she should not be able to hear this case against Trump. They add ‘only if this trial is administered by a judge who appears entirely impartial could the public ever accept the outcome as justice.’ I know recusals don’t happen often in situations like this. There are other statements that are interesting that she’s made. Things like when she said last year, “It’s a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.” They, talking about, you would think Trump. What do you think?”
Honig responded: “So this is an extreme longshot, legally speaking. But you can see where Donald Trump’s coming from. It’s not an outrageous motion when you see various statements that Judge Charlton has made in the course of handling the prosecutions and sentencings of other January 6 rioters. She has said things that seem to pretty clearly suggest that she believed years ago Donald Trump should have been charged, should have been held accountable. And she was essentially making the point at these sentencings that, yes, you’re being prosecuted, rightly so, for storming the Capitol, but more responsible people are not.”
“The problem, however, with Donald Trump’s argument legally is that A: it’s really hard to get a judge to recuse himself or herself. And, B, you can’t base a recusal motion for the most part on something that a judge said during a court proceeding, basically because that’s a judge’s job,” he said.
“They have to take all the evidence in front of them, make decisions, make determinations sometimes about the relative culpability of other people. And so the Supreme Court has basically said if you’re trying to recuse the judge, you have to do it based on something outside of whatever she said in the scope of an actual case in court,” Honig continued.
The legal representatives of former President Donald Trump have submitted a move on Monday, requesting the recusal of U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan from his lawsuit related to the events of January 6. The motion alleges instances of perceived bias on the part of Judge Chutkan, including statements implying that Trump should be incarcerated in connection with the aforementioned disturbance.
The brief submitted by Trump’s legal team makes reference to the judge’s public pronouncements in cases involving defendants from January 6, who were appointed by Obama. Chutkan has garnered a notable notoriety for administering severe prison sentences to those who have been convicted of impeding an official proceeding, a non-violent misdemeanor that generally incurs monetary penalties.
“Judge Chutkan has, in connection with other cases, suggested that President Trump should be prosecuted and imprisoned. Such statements, made before this case began and without due process, are inherently disqualifying,” reads the filing.
“Although Judge Chutkan may genuinely intend to give President Trump a fair trial—and may believe that she can do so—her public statements unavoidably taint these proceedings, regardless of the outcome,” the filing continued.
“The public will reasonably and understandably question whether Judge Chutkan arrived at all of her decisions in this matter impartially, or in fulfillment of her prior negative statements regarding President Trump,” it added.
The former president’s defense team brought up the case of Christine Priola, a defendant on January 6th who brandished a sign that read, “The Children Cry Out For Justice,” and had no past criminal history. She was given a 15-month prison sentence by Chutkan for merely strolling about the Capitol Building.
The instance of Christine Priola, a January 6 defendant with no prior criminal history who carried a sign reading “the children cry out for justice” as she passed past the building, was brought up by Trump’s legal team. Chutkan sentenced Priola to 15 months in jail.
“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,” Chutkan said during sentencing.
“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,” she said.
“It’s a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day,” Chutkan added, which seemed to imply that she believes Trump should be behind bars.
“The public meaning of this statement is inescapable—President Trump is free, but should not be. As an apparent prejudgment of guilt, these comments are disqualifying standing alone,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in the filing.
His legal team also provided a list of additional incidents where Chutkan seemed to be taking issue with the former president’s freedom from prison.
“Public statements of this sort create a perception of prejudgment incompatible with our justice system. In a case this widely watched, of such monumental significance, the public must have the utmost confidence that the Court will administer justice neutrally and dispassionately,” the filing added. “Judge Chutkan’s pre-case statements undermine that confidence and, therefore, require disqualification.”
March 4, 2024 is when Trump’s trial on the allegations from January 6, which claim he planned to manipulate the 2020 election results, is scheduled to start. However, the former president is taking a legal route that he thinks would resolve the matter completely.