On January 6, 2021, Trump asked President Barack Obama’s appointee Chudgan to recuse himself from the case over comments he made at two sentencing hearings for defendants who pleaded guilty to the attacks on the Capitol. The duo raised questions as to why they should face harsh punishments when they were deemed to be simply carrying out the orders of the then President.
In response, Sudkan noted the fact that Trump and others spreading lies about the 2020 election have yet to face accountability. In one case, Trump “remains free to this day,” he noted.
Refusals in criminal cases are rare and usually arise only when judges have a direct relationship with any of the parties in their court or have a financial stake in the outcome. Federal law and Supreme Court precedent recommend that judges recuse themselves when their impartiality is “reasonably questioned.”
However, judges have wide latitude to make their opinions from the bench based on facts and information they learn during their cases — and both defendants have openly invited comparisons to Trump and others who drew the ire of the mob of the day.
Smith’s team, via Gaston and Windom, hammered this point throughout the filing.
“The court … does not hold that the defendant is legally or morally culpable for the events of January 6, or that he deserves punishment,” they wrote. “Clearly, defendant has not cited a case in which an exemption was claimed based on even remotely similar facts.”
Prosecutors emphasized that Sutgan, like all DC-based federal judges, has presided over dozens of cases stemming from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, many of which have involved defendants citing Trump as the instigator of their behavior. They noted that Sudkan’s reference to Trump and others who sowed distrust in the election was a response to — and rejection of — those assertions.
“Indeed, when the Court’s judicial statements, including impeachment of the convicted Trump, tried to mitigate their guilt, the Court rejected the argument and responded that those cases had no impact,” Gaston and Windom write.
Prosecutors specifically responded to Trump’s claim that Sudkan’s reference to Trump being “independent” made her biased against him. The assertion, they say, “stated an unobjectionable and precise truth” in response to the defendant’s January 6 attempt to place some responsibility for his actions on Trump. Sudkhan rejected the argument, they noted.
Smith’s team cited a high-profile Washington, D.C., case to reinforce its point: the Watergate-era investigation of Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman.
“There, the defendants sought to recall a judge presiding over numerous, separate Watergate-related matters, based in part on statements made by the judge during a separate trial in which, among other things, he expressed a belief that ‘criminal liability extended’ beyond the seven individuals charged there,” it said. Gaston and Windom wrote. But in that case, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the recusal was unnecessary because the judge’s comments stemmed from proceedings in his courtroom.
Trump’s legal team said the timing and tone of Sutkan’s comments at the sentencing indicated he may have relied on facts outside the courtroom, but prosecutors said there was “no evidence” for such an assertion and that records from previous cases provide a sufficient explanation. For her comments.
Prosecuting Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for talking to Russia’s U.S. ambassador in post-2016 election conversations: Prosecutors also cited a case familiar to Trump to bolster their view that judges being forced to resign is rare. During a plea hearing for Flynn, U.S. District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan told the retired Defense Intelligence Agency chief and retired Army lieutenant general that he “sold your country out.” The judge quickly retracted his opinion and the DC Circuit later rejected attempts to force him out of the case.