By Andrew Goudsward
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith on Thursday opposed Donald Trump’s request to remove the federal judge overseeing the criminal case accusing the former U.S. president of attempting to subvert the results of the 2020 election.
Smith, whose office is prosecuting the case against Trump, said there was "no valid basis" for U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to recuse herself from the case over prior statements she made in court that appeared to reference Trump’s responsibility for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump, the front-runner for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination, filed a legal motion on Monday asking Chutkan to step aside from the case, arguing that her prior statements raised questions about her impartiality and would taint the proceedings.
The filing cited remarks Chutkan made at two sentencing hearings for defendants convicted of taking part in the Capitol riot, including one in which she said rioters were motivated by “blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.”
Trump has frequently criticized Chutkan on social media since she was assigned to preside over the case.
The case, which accuses Trump of three schemes to try to overturn his defeat by Democratic President Joe Biden, is one of four criminal cases facing Trump as he runs to retake the White House. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and accused prosecutors of political motivations.
Chutkan, an appointee of former Democratic President Barack Obama, has strongly condemned the attack on the Capitol and has given some rioters more severe sentences than prosecutors sought.
U.S. prosecutors said Chutkan’s remarks do not clear the high legal bar that requires federal judges to remove themselves from a case. Judges typically recuse if they have a financial interest in the outcome or a personal connection to someone involved.
Chutkan will make the initial determination on whether to step aside.
(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)