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Trump Wants New Judge to Hear Election Fraud Case

FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at the 56th annual Silver Elephant Gala in Columbia, South Carolina, Aug. 5, 2023.
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at the 56th annual Silver Elephant Gala in Columbia, South Carolina, Aug. 5, 2023.

Ken Bredemeier

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. President Donald Trump is contending that the federal judge randomly picked to oversee the trial accusing him of conspiring to overturn his 2020 election defeat will not be fair to him and should be replaced.

Trump is also arguing the case should be moved out of Washington, where residents have overwhelmingly voted against him in two elections, and prospective jurors would be picked from among registered voters.

Trump, on his Truth Social site, said in all caps on Sunday, "There is no way I can get a fair trial with the judge ‘assigned,’” referring to U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan.

This undated photo provided by the Administrative Office of the US Courts shows US District Judge Tanya Chutkan.

He resumed his attack on Monday, saying that with Chutkan presiding over the case, “deranged” Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith will be prosecuting the case “before his number one draft pick, the Judge of his ‘dreams.’”

Trump also claimed that “thug prosecutors” are trying to stifle his comments on the case while at the same time “illegally leaking, everything and anything” to the mainstream news media.

Despite Trump’s comments, his lawyers have not filed requests for Chutkan to recuse herself or for the trial to be moved outside of Washington. Trump attorney John Lauro on Sunday suggested that the trial be held in the eastern state of West Virginia, which Trump easily won in the 2020 election.

Chutkan has given prison sentences to all 38 Trump supporters who appeared in her court to face charges stemming from their roles in the January 6, 2021 riot, when thousands of Trump adherents rampaged into the U.S. Capitol to protest congressional approval of President Joe Biden’s victory.

In four of the cases that Chutkan has heard, prosecutors had not asked for any jail time for the defendants. U.S. media outlets have reported that Chutkan, among two dozen federal judges hearing the January 6 cases, has proven to be among the toughest of sentencers.

A federal grand jury in Washington last week handed up a four-count indictment against Trump sought by Smith. Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday before a U.S. magistrate judge, but Chutkan has now assumed control of the case and plans to set a trial date at an August 28 hearing.

The case is being heard at the U.S. federal courthouse in Washington. The courthouse lies just blocks from the White House, where Trump is accused of plotting to illegally upend his election loss, and the Capitol, where then-Vice President Mike Pence oversaw the Electoral College vote count certifying that Biden had won the November 2020 election.

Against Trump’s demands, Pence refused to send the vote back to legislatures in states that Biden had narrowly won, in an effort to reverse the result in Trump’s favor.

A specially appointed committee in the House of Representatives examined the riot at length in public hearings last year and Chutkan played a role in the committee’s evidence gathering.

Trump sought to block the release of documents sought by the committee by asserting executive privilege over the material, even though he was no longer president and Biden had cleared the way for the National Archives to turn over the papers. Chutkan ruled that Trump could not claim that his privilege "exists in perpetuity."

Chutkan notably wrote, "Presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president."

Trump lawyer John Lauro, appearing on five news talk shows Sunday, suggested that the criminal case be tried in West Virginia, where Trump won 68.6% of the vote against Biden in 2020.

In Washington, Biden won by a 92%-to-5% margin, a worrying factor for Trump because the jurors would be picked from among registered voters if the case remains in the national capital city.

Federal judges overseeing the January 6 cases, including Chutkan, have repeatedly turned down requests for changes of venue. In one case, Chutkan ruled against a defendant who claimed that the jury pool would be politically biased against an accused protester.

Chutkan said the claim was “not an appropriate basis for changing venue,” writing, “Jurors’ political leanings are not, by themselves, evidence that those jurors cannot fairly and impartially consider the evidence presented and apply the law as instructed by the court.”

Trump’s complaints against Chutkan came as Lauro rejected the premise of the federal indictment alleging that Trump fraudulently tried to overturn his 2020 reelection loss.

The lawyer said Trump’s efforts in trying to keep Congress from certifying Biden’s victory amounted to constitutionally protected free speech.

Smith’s indictment alleged that Trump conspired to defraud the government to stay in power by getting Pence to block congressional certification of the vote and to send the names of fake electors to Congress supporting Trump in states he narrowly lost to Biden.

“When you’re engaging in free speech, you’re not engaging in fraud on the government,” Lauro told CNN’s “State of the Union” show. “Anything you’re alleging is free speech.”

“Asking is aspirational; it’s free speech,” he said of Trump’s demand that Pence pause the congressional certification of the Electoral College vote on January 6, 2021, for 10 days so legislatures in some states Trump lost could reconsider the outcomes in their states. “Mr. Pence rejected that.”

The contentious jousting of Trump’s trial to come is already on full display. Lauro said he would oppose Smith’s bid for a protective order from Chutkan to keep Trump from disclosing sensitive grand jury testimony in the case or other documents indicating who might be witnesses against him at the trial.

Smith sought the protective order after Trump said Friday in all caps on the Truth Social media site he co-owns, “If you go after me, I’m coming after you!” Trump’s campaign said the warning was aimed at Trump’s Republican political opponents.

Chutkan gave Lauro and other Trump lawyers until 5 p.m. Monday Washington time to respond to Smith’s request for the protective order.

“We will not agree to keep from the public nonsensitive information, from the press,” Lauro said. “I’m shocked that the press has not lined up against this proposed protective order.”

Meanwhile, Trump continued Saturday night to assail Smith and the charge that the former president tried to illegally overthrow the election.

At a political rally in the southern state of South Carolina, Trump said, “We call it a sham indictment. They are trying to make it illegal to question the results of an election.”

He went on to unleash new attacks on Smith, calling him “mentally ill” and “a sick man.”

The election fraud case is the third indictment against Trump in the last four months.

Other cases allege that he illegally hoarded highly classified national security documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida after leaving office and that he illegally altered business records at his family real estate conglomerate, the Trump Organization, to hide a hush money payment to a porn film star ahead of his successful 2016 presidential campaign. He also could soon face new election fraud charges in the southern state of Georgia.

Even with his increasing legal perils, Trump is far and away the leading contender among Republican voters for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination. If nominated, he would likely again against Biden, who is seeking a second term.