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Donald Trump

Donald Trump calls for judge's recusal, venue change in his 2020 election case

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump will ask for the federal judge presiding in his criminal case over his attempts to overturn the 2020 election to recuse herself, along with a change of venue outside of the District of Columbia, accusing the judge of being partial against him.

“There is no way I can get a fair trial with the judge ‘assigned’ to the ridiculous freedom of speech/fair elections case,” Trump posted on his social media platform, Truth Social. “Everybody knows this and so does she! We will be immediately asking for recusal of this judge on very powerful grounds and likewise for venue change, out (of) D.C.”

The federal judge assigned to Trump’s case, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, is known for being one of the tougher judges in cases involving Jan. 6 defendants who were a part of the mob that breached the U.S. Capitol. She has delivered harsher sentences for some defendants than what prosecutors requested. In one sentencing, Chutkan described the attack on the Capitol as a “very real danger” to American democracy.

Trump’s 2020 election case is also not the first time Chutkan has dealt directly with the former president. In 2021, Chutkan rejected Trump’s claim of executive privilege to block the release of documents to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack.

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Former President Donald Trump speaks as the keynote speaker at the 56th Annual Silver Elephant Dinner hosted by the South Carolina Republican Party on August 5, 2023 in Columbia, South Carolina. President Trump was introduced by South Carolina's Governor Henry McMaster.

Judge overseeing Jan. 6 case unlikely to recuse herself

Chutkan has shown no sign she plans to recuse herself, so it is unlikely Trump will see a different judge. Ty Cobb, Trump's own White House special counsel, was one of several legal analysts familiar with Chutkan who described her as a consummate professional set to handle the sensitive case with the utmost care.

Given her background, Cobb told USA TODAY, Chutkan is likely to do what is within her power to protect the former president's rights as a criminal defendant.

Even before Trump’s comments, Cobb predicted Trump might try to have Chutkan disqualified because of her tough stance on Jan. 6 rioters.

"They'll try to (disqualify) her because she's not the judge they want, but there's no basis for that. So I think that goes nowhere," Cobb said.

Cobb added that given her background, Trump would be smart not to oppose her, because he believes she'll be as fair to the former president, if not more so, than other judges might be.

Her decades as a public defender and private law firm defense counsel "certainly underscores her familiarity with what a defendant's rights are, and I'm sure she'll be careful ... not to abuse them," Cobb said.

Former President Donald Trump walks to speak with reporters before he boards his plane at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023, in Arlington, Va., after facing a judge on federal conspiracy charges that allege he conspired to subvert the 2020 election.

Trump's other legal motions are long-shots

Trump and his legal team have also called for future proceedings to move to a location such as West Virginia, which Trump has described on Truth Social as “politically unbiased” compared to Washington, which his legal team has argued is an impossible location for Trump to receive a fair trial.

Trump said Washington was “over 95% anti-Trump,” in the same Truth Social post, likely referring to the 2020 election, where Biden overwhelming won the District of Columbia with 92% of the vote. 

But it is unlikely Trump will see a change of venue either, given that other requests from Jan. 6 defendants have been rejected. 

Trump’s request for a recusal and change of venue comes days after special counsel Jack Smith filed a request for a protective order against the former president, which would prevent Trump from publicizing evidence. Smith cited a post from Trump on Truth Social that read in all-caps, “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU.”

Following the request, Trump’s campaign released a statement saying the post was unrelated to the Jan. 6 case and was instead targeted at “dishonest special interest groups and Super PACS.” 

Chutkan gave Trump’s legal team until 5 p.m. on Monday afternoon to respond to prosecutors. Trump’s attorneys requested an extension, but Chutkan rejected their request. John Lauro, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump’s defense team plans to oppose the request.

Protestors gather outside of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse before Former President Donald Trump arrives to be arraigned on four charges related to the 2020 election. Federal prosecutors are accusing the Trump of undermining American democracy by organizing a wide-ranging conspiracy to steal the 2020 election that prosecutors allege fueled a brazen and historic insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
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