In a surprising shift, CNN’s top legal analyst Elie Honig admitted that former President Donald J. Trump’s motion demanding Federal District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s recusal from his case might have some merit.
While speaking on CNN This Morning, Honig stated that Trump’s request is an “extreme longshot” from a legal standpoint but added that it’s “not an outrageous motion” given the statements Judge Chutkan has made in the past.
The motion for recusal stems from comments made by Judge Chutkan during the sentencing of defendants involved in the January 6 Capitol attack. Trump’s attorneys argue that these remarks indicate a potential bias against the former president.
One such statement cited in the motion has Judge Chutkan addressing a Capitol riot defendant, saying, “The people who exhorted you and encouraged you and rallied you to go and take action and to fight have not been charged… I have my opinions, but they are not relevant.”
Host Poppy Harlow probed the issue further, referencing other statements made by Judge Chutkan, including one where she mentioned a “blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.”
Honig noted that the judge’s remarks seemed to suggest that she believed Trump should have faced charges. “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.”
Chutkan has also made parallels between January 6, September 11, and the Boston Marathon bombing. However, Honig pointed out the legal challenges facing Trump’s motion. It’s challenging to get a judge to recuse themselves and that recusal motions can’t typically be based on comments made by a judge during court proceedings. “They have to take all the evidence in front of them, make decisions, make determinations sometimes about the relative culpability of other people,” Honig elaborated.
Yesterday Trump’s legal team filed a motion that called on Chutkan to recuse herself from the federal case in which the former president of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.
In a filing posted Monday, September 11, Trump’s legal team pointed to public comments made by the Obama-appointed judge in cases for January 6 defendants. Chutkan has garnered a reputation for handing down some of the most stringent prison sentences for non-violent protesters convicted of obstructing an official proceeding, an offense that generally results in a fine.
“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 outcome. 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.”
Trump’s legal team pointed to the case of Christine Priola — a January 6 defendant with no criminal record who held a sign saying “the children cry out for justice” while walking through the building — who was sentenced to 15 months in prison by Chutkan.
“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,” Judge 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.”
“It’s a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day,” she added, implying that Trump should be in prison before even conducting a trial.
“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. The legal team also listed additional examples in which Chutkan appeared frustrated that the former president was not in 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 continues. “Judge Chutkan’s pre-case statements undermine that confidence and, therefore, require disqualification.”