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Trump Is Going Through the Motions to Dismiss until He Resumes the Presidency

One of the reasons I suspect that Trump-leaning Republicans replaced Kevin McCarthy with a key player in Trump’s last attempted coup is because Trump shows no signs of any plan to try to win his Federal criminal trials.

For some time, it has appeared (to me at least) that he has approached these cases with the belief that if he can use them as a campaign prop with which to get reelected, then he can simply pardon himself or remain President indefinitely to beat the Federal rap. That’s one of the reasons, I think, why he is treating many of his DC court filings as stunts, especially his extensive fundraising and messaging campaign around the gag order.

Delay, disinform, then dismiss.

I get that. I expected that. Yet, I still expected him to present the best legal case he could as insurance in case winning or stealing the election and self-pardoning doesn’t work.

He has lawyers capable of making very competent legal arguments.

So I’m frankly shocked by how inadequate his Motions to Dismiss have been. I wrote them up here and made this nifty table summarizing the arguments.

This is not just a legal observation — though some of his purportedly legal arguments, most notably his selective prosecution motionare legally shitty. Don’t take my word for it: take Carissa Byrne Hessick’s expert opinion, who says, “his motion is embarrassingly awful & should clearly be denied under current law.”

This is not just a legal observation. Partly, it’s box-ticking one. As I show below, Trump isn’t even addressing all the allegations against him.

As DOJ noted in the response to Trump’s MTD for Absolute Immunity, Trump totally misrepresented the indictment. As DOJ laid out, the indictment consists of four charges — three of them, conspiracy charges (18 USC 371, 1512(k), and 241). For each of those charges, DOJ alleged that Trump used five means of pursuing that conspiracy, laid out as five bullet points in the indictment. Those five bullets read:

a. The Defendant and co-conspirators used knowingly false claims of election fraud to get state legislators and election officials to subvert the legitimate election results and change electoral votes for the Defendant’s opponent, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., to electoral votes for the Defendant. That is, on the pretext of baseless fraud claims, the Defendant pushed officials in certain states to ignore the popular vote; disenfranchise millions of voters; dismiss legitimate electors; and ultimately, cause the ascertainment of and voting by illegitimate electors in favor of the Defendant. [state]

b. The Defendant and co-conspirators organized fraudulent slates of electors in seven targeted states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), attempting to mimic the procedures that the legitimate electors were supposed to follow under the Constitution and other federal and state laws. This included causing the fraudulent electors to meet on the day appointed by federal law on which legitimate electors were to gather and cast their votes; cast fraudulent votes for the Defendant; and sign certificates falsely representing that they were legitimate electors. Some fraudulent electors were tricked into participating based on the understanding that their votes would be used only if the Defendant succeeded in outcome-determinative lawsuits within their state, which the Defendant never did. The Defendant and co-conspirators then caused these fraudulent electors to transmit their false certificates to the Vice President and other government officials to be counted at the certification proceeding on January 6. [fake electors]

c. The Defendant and co-conspirators attempted to use the power and authority of the Justice Department to conduct sham election crime investigations and to send a letter to the targeted states that falsely claimed that the Justice Department had identified significant concerns that may have impacted the election outcome; that sought to advance the Defendant’s fraudulent elector plan by using the Justice Department’s authority to falsely present the fraudulent electors as a valid alternative to the legitimate electors; and that urged, on behalf of the Justice Department, the targeted states’ legislatures to convene to create the opportunity to choose the fraudulent electors over the legitimate electors. [Jeffrey Clark]

d. The Defendant and co-conspirators attempted to enlist the Vice President to use his ceremonial role at the January 6 certification proceeding to fraudulently alter the election results. First, using knowingly false claims of election fraud, the Defendant and co-conspirators attempted to convince the Vice President to use the Defendant’s fraudulent electors, reject legitimate electoral votes, or send legitimate electoral votes to state legislatures for review rather than counting them. When that failed, on the morning of January 6, the Defendant and co-conspirators repeated knowingly false claims of election fraud to gathered supporters, falsely told them that the Vice President had the authority to and might alter the election results, and directed them to the Capitol to obstruct the certification proceeding and exert pressure on the Vice President to take the fraudulent actions he had previously refused. [PenceCard]

e. After it became public on the afternoon of January 6 that the Vice President would not fraudulently alter the election results, a large and angry crowd–including many individuals whom the Defendant had deceived into believing the Vice President could and might change the election results–violently attacked the Capitol and halted the proceeding. As violence ensued, the Defendant and co-conspirators exploited the disruption by redoubling efforts to levy false claims of election fraud and convince Members of Congress to further delay the certification based on those claims. [mob] [red brackets my own]

Here’s how DOJ described the indictment in their response to Trump’s Absolutely Immunity filing.

A grand jury charged the defendant in a four-count indictment. ECF No. 1. The defendant moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground that he “is absolutely immune from prosecution.” Mot. 1. When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must view the indictment “as a whole[,] and the allegations must be accepted as true.” United States v. Weeks, 636 F. Supp. 3d 117, 120 (D.D.C. 2022) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Count One, which charges a conspiracy to defraud the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, alleges that the defendant, then a candidate seeking re-election to the presidency, conspired with, among others, several individuals outside the Executive Branch to “overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud to obstruct the federal government function by which those results are collected, counted, and certified.” ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 1, 7, 8. The indictment further alleges that the defendant aimed at accomplishing the conspiracy’s objectives in five ways: [state] using deceit toward state officials to subvert the legitimate election results in those states, id. at ¶¶ 13-52; [fake electors] using deceit to organize fraudulent slates of electors in seven targeted states, and cause them to send false certificates to Congress, id. at ¶¶ 53-69; [Jeffrey Clark] leveraging the Department of Justice to use deceit to get state officials to replace the legitimate electoral slate with electors who would cast their votes for the defendant, id. at ¶¶ 70-85; [PenceCard] attempting to enlist the Vice President to fraudulently alter the election results during the certification proceeding on January 6, 2021, and directing supporters to the Capitol to obstruct the proceeding, id. at ¶¶ 86-105; and [mob] exploiting the violence and chaos that transpired at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, id. at ¶¶ 106-124. Counts Two and Three, which incorporate allegations from Count One, charge conspiracy and substantive violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) for corruptly obstructing the certification of the presidential election results on January 6, 2021. Id. at ¶¶ 125-28. Count Four, which likewise incorporates the allegations from Count One, alleges that the defendant conspired to violate one or more person’s constitutional right to vote and have one’s vote counted. Id. at ¶¶ 129-30. [red brackets my own]

Get used to this paragraph: you’re going to see some version of it in the response to many if not all of the MTDs submitted last week.

To address the charges, you need to explain why each of those five means don’t substantiate, either alone or in combination, the elements of the offense of the charges. Effectively, Trump has to show how these five means don’t prove the three different ways they have been charged criminally.

One reason you have to address the alleged means of conspiracy is that First Amendment protected activities, if they are part of a conspiracy, may be included as overt acts in that conspiracy. Scores of January 6 defendants have already made the same First Amendment argument Trump is, including some members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who, like Trump, didn’t breach the Capitol. But if DOJ can prove speech was part of a conspiracy, that speech can come in as evidence of that conspiracy. Trump’s MTD on Constitutional Grounds, for example, which is substantially the same argument about the First Amendment that has already failed for other Jan6ers, names each of the crimes alleged.

These points are not in dispute. Nonetheless, in an astonishing display of doublethink, the prosecution simultaneously claims that President Trump—simply by speaking his mind and petitioning for a redress of grievances—also somehow conspired to “defraud the United States,” “oppress rights,” and “obstruct an official proceeding.” Id. at ¶ 5–6, 125–130.

Then, purportedly citing to the five bullets that describe the means, he spins the five means as giving voice to concerns about election integrity, not his unlawful goal of trying to invalidate the votes of 81 million Biden voters.

As the indictment itself alleges, President Trump gave voice to these concerns and demanded that politicians in a position to restore integrity to our elections not just talk about the problem, but investigate and resolve it. See id. at ¶ 10(a) (state legislators and election officials) act) [sic]; ¶ 10(b) (Vice President and other government officials); ¶ 10(c) (state officials); ¶ 10(d) (vice president); ¶ 10(e) (members of Congress).

This passage replaces the instrumentality alleged with the targets of what Trump calls persuasion. Trump correctly describes one target of the state means (but not the coercion involved). But then he spins the creation of fraudulent documents as, instead, an attempt to persuade Mike Pence. He redefines the hijacking of DOJ in order to make a seemingly authoritative false statement as an attempt to persuade state officials (long after the involvement of state officials was concluded). He describes efforts to get Pence to violate the law as instead an attempt to persuade him. And he calls a violent mob threatening to assassinate members of Congress as, instead, an attempt to persuade those members.

Trump is a con man. And his First Amendment argument is a breathtaking claim that the means he uses to sustain his con — including fraud and coercion backed by violence — are merely free speech.

To some degree, this quick sleight of hand doesn’t matter: In the discussion of the First Amendment that follows, he never returns to address the charges against him. As a result, Trump’s First Amendment argument is sloppy fluff compared to the First Amendment January 6 challenges that have gone before and will be before the DC Circuit by the time Trump goes to trial.

Having at least acknowledged the existence of all five “means” bullet points in his MTD on Constitutional Grounds (even if he redefined them as targets of persuasion), the section of Trump’s MTD on Statutory Grounds addressing 371 pretends the indictment names just three means, not five.

As relevant here, the indictment alleges three types of conduct that supposedly involved making a false statement: (1) claims that the 2020 Presidential election was rigged or tainted by fraud or other irregularities, made both in public and in communications with public officials; [state] (2) organizing and submitting contingent slates of electors to the President of the U.S. Senate and the Archivist of the United States; [fake electors] and (3) making public claims about the scope of the Vice President’s legal authority with respect to the election certification. [PenceCard] [red brackets my own]

Trump doesn’t even pretend to address two of the five means alleged involve a conspiracy to defraud the government: the Jeffrey Clark and mob means. In the sections addressing 1512 and 241, Trump never revisits those other two means (or, in any specificity, the three he does include).

And that’s how, in the section on 1512 (an area where he could, but does not, piggyback on two years of determined work from other January 6 defense attorneys, including several who are members of his larger defense team), he claims he did nothing that could have obstructed the official proceeding — the January 6 vote certification — that he never even identifies.

As discussed above, lobbying members of Congress and state officials to act in a certain way when they conduct an official proceeding does not “obstruct” or “impede” that official proceeding. Nothing about lobbying Congress to act a certain way “places an obstacle” or “impediments,” “hinders … from action,” “gets in the way of the progress of,” “holds up,” or “blocks” Congress from acting. See id. at 1132, 1159. On the contrary, lobbying Congress to act in a certain way presupposes that Congress will conduct an official proceeding, and it seeks to persuade Congress to act in a certain way during that official proceeding. That is the antithesis of “obstructing” or “impeding” the proceeding.

Think about that! If Trump bothered to mention the vote certification, he would literally be claiming that he had absolutely nothing to do with its interruption on January 6, 2021. Nothing.

Even the illegal order to Pence, clearly identified as item 3 in Trump’s 371 section and a primary focus of both Judge David Carter’s opinion finding it likely this did amount to obstruction and the January 6 Report, is gone here. Jeffrey Clark never gets put back in. Most importantly, the obvious means of sending thousands of angry Trump supporters, many armed, to Congress to chase lawmakers out of their chambers remains absent from Trump’s discussion.

This is why (as I noted earlier) I think Trump is simply trying to make his incitement of actual mobsters go away with the Motion to Strike. His legal arguments ignore the incitement of the mob entirely, even after his recusal stunt introduced evidence of someone convicted under 1512, Robert Palmer, who said he committed crimes “at the behest” of Trump, even after his gag fight introduced evidence of a Jan6er stalking Obama immediately after Trump sent him.

To the extent that Trump’s MTDs don’t result in the wholesale dismissal of his indictment (and DOJ argued that by allegedly conspiring with five people outside of government, most of the allegations against Trump couldn’t be treated as official acts even if he did win the Absolute Immunity argument) Trump’s failure to address some of the means he allegedly used will lead to the failure of these efforts.

With the exception of the MTDs for Absolute Immunity (arguing that as a former President Trump, can’t be charged for things he did as President) and Selective Prosecution, these MTDs don’t attempt to argue that the entire indictment should be dismissed. And where in some cases he could make compelling arguments — I think the Jeffrey Clark means, for example, is particularly prone to legal challenge, though Trump barely addresses it — so long as you leave one of the means intact, you won’t succeed in dismissing the indictment.

In practice, the scope of what Trump actually addresses in his MTDs looks something like this:

Not only doesn’t Trump ever address the indictment as alleged (DOJ notes that a Motion to Dismiss must accept the facts alleged as true), but in none of these MTDs does he address all the means alleged. The only place he fully deals with the Jeffrey Clark allegation (which, again, I think is the most susceptible to legal challenge) is in the Absolute Immunity filing that is weak for other reasons. The only place he deals with the mob means is in the Motion to Strike, his legal effort to sweep his role in the violence all under the rug.

If his effort to do that — to remove the descriptions of his own role in the violence from the indictment with his Motion to Strike — fails, then that means alleged in the indictment will survive no matter what else happens.

To be sure, these MTDs have no bearing on whether he’ll ultimately be successful. Trump doesn’t need any of these MTDs to succeed to be acquitted. There will be a contentious fight about admissible evidence and arguments, where this First Amendment argument will be even more contentiously argued than it is here. The fight over advice of counsel arguments has already started, And ultimately he only needs to find one MAGAt willing to ignore all evidence to keep on a jury.

But the big gaps in Trump’s MTD arguments, to say nothing of the way he spins having his campaign submit fraudulent documents to NARA and Congress, seem to reflect points where even his lawyers recognize his case is so weak they just won’t bother — they’ll just try to sweep it all under the rug some other way, like that Motion to Strike.

Again, even if this goes to trial in March as currently scheduled, Trump needs only persuade one voter. If he can use these court filings as a means to delay that trial and as campaign props to win the election, these weak points won’t matter.

Update: Corrected trial date, which is scheduled to start on March 4, per Sean Sullivan.

Like Taylor Taranto, Trump Tries to Excuse Threats by Invoking the First Amendment

The government responded to Trump’s motion to stay Judge Tanya Chutkan’s gag order.

As many people note, it cites the new threats Trump has made — against Judge Arthur Engoron’s clerk (for which the judge fined Trump $10,000 yesterday), against Mark Meadows — since Chutkan temporarily stayed her own order. DOJ used those examples to show that as soon as Chutkan stayed her own gag, Trump resumed his normal incitement.

I find two footnotes raising things that happened months ago more telling. First, a footnote describing the Trump supporter charged with making death threats against Judge Chutkan herself, along with Sheila Jackson Lee, presented as yet another example of how Trump’s attacks lead to credible threats.

Such risks are far from speculative here, the Court found, given uncontradicted facts submitted by the Government showing that when the defendant “has singled out certain people in public statements in the past,” it has “led to them being threatened and harassed.” ECF No. 103 at 66-67.1

1 Shortly after being assigned to the case, the Court itself received a racist death threat explicitly tied to the Court’s role in presiding over the defendant’s case. See United States v. Shry, No. 4:23-cr-413, ECF No. 1 at 3 (Criminal Complaint) (S.D. Tex. Aug. 11, 2023) (caller stating, among other things, “‘If Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024, we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly, b***h. . . . You will be targeted personally, publicly, your family, all of it.’”). This incident, like many of the others the Government cited, was widely publicized and surely well known to the defendant.

And then, a footnote describing how Jan6er Taylor Taranto, a Navy veteran with long-standing mental health issues, invoked the First Amendment after he responded to Trump’s publication of Barack Obama’s DC address by stalking the former President’s Kalorama neighborhood in a van with (locked) weapons.

7 The Government’s submissions, while extensive, did not purport to be a comprehensive account of every occasion when the defendant’s public targeting of perceived adversaries has resulted in threats, harassment, or intimidation. The public record is replete with other examples. See, e.g., United States v. Taranto, No. 1:23-cr-229, ECF No. 27 at 4-6 (D.D.C. Sep. 12, 2023) (affirming detention order for Taranto and explaining that, after “‘former President Trump posted what he claimed was the address of Former President Barack Obama’ on Truth Social,” Taranto— who had previously entered the Capitol on January 6, 2021—reposted the address, along with a separate post stating, “‘See you in hell, Podesta’s and Obama’s’” [sic], and then proceeded, heavily armed, to the area the defendant had identified as President Obama’s address, while livestreaming himself talking about “getting a ‘shot’ and an ‘angle,’” adding, “‘See, First Amendment, just say First Amendment, free speech’”) (quoting Taranto, ECF No. 20).

Here’s more of the Taranto detention memo from which DOJ cited.

Taranto parked his van on the street and began walking around the neighborhood, continuing to film. Taranto made several references to “the Podestas” and stated several times that he was trying to get an interview. Taranto’s continued narration made it clear that he intended to access or enter the private residences of his subjects. For example, Taranto panned the camera to show several sewer grates on the street – calling them “entrance points,” and stating that the grates were an “entrance” to reach “them.” Throughout the video he also stated,

“So if you go down there, there’s obviously tunnels down there. I don’t know how close they’ll get you in terms of access;”

“We’re gonna find a way to the tunnels, underneath their houses;” and,

“We’re looking for tunnel access so we can get the interview, in case they try to weasel their way out. No in or out now! See, First Amendment, just say First Amendment, free speech. Free, it’s free.”

Throughout the video, Taranto repeatedly attempted to couch his actions in terms of “First Amendment” or free speech, as if he believed that simply saying the words, “First Amendment” absolved him from any trespass. When initially approached by Secret Service, Taranto stated, “Hello, just trying to get an angle, for First Amendment, free speech. Thanks. That’s Secret Service, she’s alright.” He also said, “See how it works? Just say, ‘First Amendment.’” Taranto made additional concerning statements during the video including the following statements about getting a “shot”:

“Gotta get the shot, stop at nothing to get the shot. This is where other people come to get the shot;”

“We’re gonna see what we can get, as a shot. If I were them, I’d be watching this, watching my every move;” and,

“This is where everyone goes to get the shot. It’s just me today though. This is an easy way around. Yeah, they can’t stop me from walking through here. Just don’t step foot on the street.”

Regarding getting an “angle,” Taranto states several times, “Let’s see what angles we can get,” and, “Just trying to get an angle, for First Amendment, free speech.” Additional concerning statements included:

“I don’t have any ID, so in case I get detained or something, they’re just going to have to use their cellphone to figure out who I am.”

“So yeah, more than likely, these guys also all hang for treason. See how I said that? You gotta be very safe and careful. Someone warned me.”

“I control the block, we’ve got ‘em surrounded.”

“Oh, is this intimidating? I don’t think so.”

The reference to the threat against Chutkan puts that example into the record before the DC Circuit hears this appeal. DOJ provided the reference to Taranto (Judge Carl Nichols’ affirmation of his detention order post-dates when DOJ initially submitted this motion on September 5) to support this passage, in which DOJ notes that the catalog of past incitement it has presented thus far is in no way comprehensive:

The defendant does not meaningfully dispute the accuracy of any of these findings. Instead, he first argues (ECF No. 110 at 8-10) that they lacked adequate evidentiary support. But the Government’s uncontradicted filings (ECF No. 57 at 2-13; ECF No. 64 at 9-12) documented a long history of targeted tweets as well as a litany of individuals who have described (sometimes in sworn testimony) the repeated and foreseeable effects of his targeting. E.g., ECF No. 57 at 3 (quoting congressional testimony stating, “After the President tweeted at me by name, calling me out the way he did, the threats became much more specific, much more graphic, and included not just me by name but included members of my family by name, their ages, our address, pictures of our home. Just every bit of detail you could imagine. That was what changed with that tweet.”); id. at 5 (quoting congressional testimony stating, “[W]hen someone as powerful as the President of the United States eggs on a mob, that mob will come.”).7 As the Court explained, these citations to public statements and testimony were “[u]ndisputed,” ECF No. 105 at 2, and there was no need to submit the same material as part of an affidavit, ECF No. 103 at 57. Cf. United States v. Smith, 79 F.3d 1208, 1210 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (per curiam) (holding that the parties may proceed by proffer at a detention hearing). The factual findings here were adequately supported and readily distinguish this case from Ford. Cf. Ford, 830 F.2d at 597 (noting that the order was issued sua sponte); id. at 603 (Krupansky, J., concurring) (noting the absence of factual findings). And the defendant will not be able to demonstrate that they are clearly erroneous on appeal.

The Chutkan and Taranto examples reinforce the overall point DOJ makes with this filing: Trump has not contested the proof in their original submission that after he targets people, the mob soon follows.

He has simply ignored that evidence.

Indeed, I called John Lauro out for ignoring that evidence in real time.

Lauro ignores the multiple cases, cited in prosecutors’ filing, where people told Trump directly that his incitement had ratcheted up threats against people like Jeff Duncan, Chris Krebs, and Ruby Freeman.

Trump’s lawyers have now established a pattern.

In the recusal fight, prosecutors pointed out that the two sentencing hearings which Trump cited to justify recusal included one, that of Robert Palmer, where a January 6 defendant stated that he went to the Capitol, where he serially assaulted some cops, “at the behest” of Trump because Trump and others had convinced him he had to take action to stop the vote certification. Trump ignored that discussion in his reply.

When Trump complained that Jack Smith improperly claimed that Trump, “fueled . . . an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” DOJ laid out that, in fact, the indictment did show how Trump riled up the mob, of which this paragraph is just one example:

Finally, on the afternoon of January 6, after “a large and angry crowd—including many individuals whom the [d]efendant had deceived into believing the Vice President could and might change the election results—violently attacked the Capitol and halted the proceeding,” the defendant exploited the disruption in furtherance of his efforts to obstruct the certification, id. at ¶10e.

Trump ignored this reply in his bid for a stay.

Both Trump’s motion to dismiss for absolute immunity and for Constitutional grounds ignore the actual charges and overt acts of which he is accused and instead tell a tale of protected speech. His motion to dismiss on statutory grounds, meanwhile, completely ignores how he mobilized the mob and thereby successfully obstructed the vote certification (which, as noted, DOJ had laid out in this underlying dispute), choosing instead to ask that those allegations be stricken from the indictment and then, assuming that will work, claiming that nothing he did actually did obstruct the vote certification.

That is, in over 130 pages of filings attempting to make his prosecution go away, Trump tried to simply remove all overt acts showing how he sent the mob on January 6 from his indictment, rather than contesting the veracity of those allegations.

As DOJ notes, by appealing this, Trump will have another opportunity to dispute Chutkan’s findings of fact that his attacks do, in fact, result in targeted threats.

The Court’s Order was premised on three well-supported factual findings.6 First, the defendant has a long history of using his social media account and public statements to target perceived adversaries by singling them out and using inflammatory and disparaging language that “vilif[ies] and implicitly encourage[s] violence against” them. ECF No. 103 at 84. Second, when the defendant does so, harassment, threats, and intimidation reliably follow. ECF No. 105 at 2. Third, such harassment, threats, and intimidation “pose a significant and immediate risk that (1) witnesses will be intimidated or otherwise unduly influenced by the prospect of being themselves targeted for harassment or threats; and (2) attorneys, public servants, and other court staff will themselves become targets for threats and harassment.” Id.

6 Although the Court of Appeals will review the propriety and scope of the Order de novo, it will review questions of “historical fact” such as these for clear error. See Thompson v. Hebdon, 7 F.4th 811, 819 (9th Cir. 2021); Keister v. Bell, 879 F.3d 1282, 1287 (11th Cir. 2018); Green v. Haskell Cnty. Bd. of Comm’rs, 568 F.3d 784, 796 (10th Cir. 2009); Gustafson v. Jones, 290 F.3d 895, 906 (7th Cir. 2002).

That’ll provide DOJ yet another opportunity to lay out evidence supporting this formula, and yet another opportunity for Trump to try to ignore it to make it just go away.

“See, First Amendment, just say First Amendment, free speech,” prosecutors cite Taylor Taranto in the footnote, prowling Obama’s neighborhood after having been sent there by a Trump Truth Social post.

There’s no better embodiment of Trump’s formula for violence than a mentally disturbed man invoking the First Amendment — just as Trump does here — even as he stalks someone Trump has invited him to target.

And I’m sure, if asked to on appeal, prosecutors would be all too happy to provide more examples showing how Trump mobilized people like Robert Palmer and Taylor Taranto.

Trump’s Motions to Dismiss Things That Aren’t the Charges Against Him

Last night, Trump just met the deadline for filing motions to dismiss his January 6 indictment.

I’m going to lay out what he filed. I’ll review them at length in follow-ups. Here’s a handy table to understand them.

Motion to Dismiss on Constitutional Grounds: This 31-page motion cites Mollie “Federalist Faceplant” Hemingway. But it doesn’t actually mention the charges in the indictment. Having not described how his (and his fake electors’) false claims were charged as conspiracy to defraud the government, having not explained how orders to Mike Pence and the incitement of his mob obstructed the vote certification, having not acknowledged efforts to reverse vote counts in the states, Trump then claims he’s being prosecuted for First Amendment protected speech.

In a section that significantly overlaps with his Motion to Dismiss on Absolute Immunity grounds, Trump claims the failed January 6 impeachment prevents him from being tried on substantially different crimes.

Motion to Dismiss on Statutory Grounds: This filing moves to dismiss the indictment for failure to state a claim, a motion similar to dozens if not hundreds that have failed for January 6 defendants.

Trump moves to dimiss the 18 USC 371 charge against him because, he claims, all the lying alleged in the indictment (which he all but concedes was false in the MTD on Constitutional Grounds) didn’t involve deceit. He even argues that because there was “a clear difference in form” in the fake electors submitted to NARA, no deceit (or forgery) was involved!

Interestingly, Trump says that his false statements to Congress under 18 USC 1001 (which, he notes, was not charged) would be exempted as advocacy. This ignores the abundant litigation finding the vote certification to be an official proceeding.

Trump’s challenge to 18 USC 1512(c)(2) largely involves completely misrepresenting the finding of Robertson, which I wrote about here. I don’t think Trump even engages with the “otherwise illegal” standard applied to Thomas Robertson. He definitely doesn’t engage with the standard that right wing judges want to adopt: unlawful personal benefit.

Trump’s attack on 18 USC 241 is particularly curious. In spite of the fact that his own DOJ was taking actions against false election claims online in 2020, he argues there was no court decision, in 2020, saying that it would be illegal (the Douglass Mackey prosecution, charged by a guy who had been one of the Bill Barr’s top deputies, has since done so). More curiously, Trump doesn’t even seem to understand that all his other attempts to prevent Joe Biden votes from being counted are also overt acts that support this prosecution.

Motion to Dismiss for Selective and Vindictive Prosecution: This is mostly a political document. It points to the scant evidence that Joe Biden was behind this prosecution. It claims that this indictment was retaliation for Trump’s complaints about his stolen document indictment. He cites his own attacks on Hunter Biden (citing Congressional press announcements, not any of his own posts, though he does include two of his own other posts on more general attacks), including one that post-dates this indictment (which was charged on August 1).

4 See Hunter Biden, Burisma, and Corruption: The Impact on U.S. Government Policy and Related Concerns, U.S. Senate Comm. on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and U.S. Senate Comm. on Finance (Sept. 22, 2020), https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/wpcontent/uploads/imo/media/doc/HSGAC_Finance_Report_FINAL.pdf, at 3.

5 See Second Bank Records Memorandum from the Oversight Committee’s Investigation into the Biden Family’s Influence Peddling and Business Schemes, House of Rep. Comm. on Oversight and Accountability (May 10, 2023), https://oversight.house.gov/wpcontent/uploads/2023/05/Bank-Memorandum-5.10.23.pdf, at 5, 9.

6 See Third Bank Records Memorandum from the Oversight Committee’s Investigation into the Biden Family’s Influence Peddling and Business Schemes, House of Rep. Comm. on Oversight and Accountability (Aug. 9, 2023), https://oversight.house.gov/wpcontent/uploads/2023/08/Third-Bank-Records-Memorandum_Redacted.pdf, at 2. [my emphasis]

This ploy is interesting, given the likelihood that Hunter Biden will file a parallel selective prosecution motion.

He also cites two articles showing that Garland didn’t open an investigation into Trump right away as proof that he was unfairly targeted. I suspect Trump may try to call Steve D’Antuono, whose actions are described in one of them (the famous and problematic Carol Leonnig story), to talk about his own resistance to opening the investigation. This motion doesn’t do the least amount of things it’d need to do to actually get a hearing (in part because the evidence all shows the opposite of what Trump claims). But he would have fun if he somehow did get a hearing (and if he does not but Hunter does, he’ll use Hunter’s efforts to renew the demand).

Motion to Strike Inflammatory Allegations: This is an attempt to eliminate the language in the indictment showing how Trump mobilized his mob because he isn’t charged with mobilizing the mob (as DOJ already laid out, that is one of the means by which he obstructed the vote certification). This is likely tactical, an attempt to remove one of the primary means by which he obstructed the vote certification to make his 18 USC 1512(c)(2) argument less flimsy.

Trump’s First Amendment Defense of Mobilizing His Violent Mob

There’s a move in Trump’s motion for a stay pending appeal of the gag order Judge Tanya Chutkan imposed that deserves more attention.

Trump appealed the gag last Tuesday and requested the stay on Thursday, about which Judge Chutkan ordered additional briefing that same day; we’ll see more briefing about this all week.

MINUTE ORDER as to DONALD J. TRUMP: Upon consideration of Defendant’s opposed 110 Motion for Stay Pending Appeal, Request for Temporary Administrative Stay, and Memorandum in Support, it is hereby ORDERED that the court’s 105 Opinion and Order is administratively STAYED to permit the parties’ briefing and the court’s consideration of Defendant’s Motion. It is FURTHER ORDERED that the government shall file any opposition to Defendant’s Motion by October 25, 2023, and that Defendant shall file any Reply by October 28, 2023.

A substantial portion of the 33-page motion speaks for the First Amendment rights of his mob to hear, respond to, and amplify Trump’s speech. To defend this principle, Trump cites, among other things, the Missouri v. Biden that SCOTUS just agreed to review over the objections of Sam Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch.

Under the First Amendment, violating the rights of a speaker inflicts an equal and reciprocal constitutional injury on the listener. “Freedom of speech presupposes a willing speaker. But where a speaker exists, . . . the protection afforded is to the communication, to its source and to its recipients both.” Virginia State Bd. of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U.S. 748, 756 (1976) (emphasis added) (collecting many cases); see also, e.g., Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. F.C.C., 395 U.S. 367, 390 (1969) (“It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.”); Packingham v. North Carolina, 582 U.S. 98, 104 (2017) (recognizing the right to “speak and listen, and then … speak and listen once more,” as a “fundamental principle of the First Amendment”); Missouri v. Biden, — F.4th –, No. 23- 30445, 2023 WL 6425697, at *11 (5th Cir. Oct. 3, 2023) (holding that the “right to listen is ‘reciprocal’ to the … right to speak” and “constitutes an independent basis” for relief). Thus, injuring President Trump’s ability to speak injures the First Amendment rights of over 100 million Americans who listen to him, respond to him, and amplify his message.

The claim to have 100 million listeners is a bit like calling his NY penthouse 33,000 square feet, insofar as it relies on overlapping numbers, including the 87 million followers he has but does not tweet to on Xitter.

Trump necessarily dedicates a very long footnote to explaining how he has standing to appeal this gag on behalf of his mob.

3 President Trump unquestionably has third-party standing to defend the rights of his audiences in this context. The Supreme Court is “quite forgiving” of third-party standing requirements “[w]ithin the context of the First Amendment.” Kowalski v. Tesmer, 543 U.S. 125, 130 (2004). The First Amendment’s overbreadth doctrine, for example, relieves the third-party plaintiff of the burden to show the usual “close relationship” and “hindrance” required by the third-party standing doctrine, id.; instead, Article III injury is all that is required. See id.; United States v. Sineneng-Smith, 140 S. Ct. 1575, 1586 (2020) (Thomas, J., concurring) (“Litigants raising overbreadth challenges rarely satisfy either requirement [‘close relationship’ and ‘hindrance’], but the Court nevertheless allows third-party standing.”) (citing Dombroski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 487 (1965)); N.J. Bankers Ass’n v. Att’y Gen., 49 F.4th 849, 860 (3d Cir. 2022) (noting that “the requirement that an impediment exist to the third party asserting his . . . own rights” does not apply when the challenged government action “substantially abridges the First Amendment rights of other parties not before the court”). Further, as the Supreme Court held in Bantam Books Inc. v. Sullivan, it is particularly important to allow third-party standing to vindicate First Amendment interests because “freedoms of expression … are vulnerable to gravely damaging yet barely visible encroachments” and must be protected by “the most rigorous procedural safeguards.” 372 U.S. 58, 66 (1963); see also id. at 64 n.6 (upholding the third-party standing of book publishers to assert the rights of distributors because “[t]he distributor … is not likely to sustain sufficient economic injury to induce him to seek judicial vindication of his rights,” whereas the seller has a “greater . . . stake” in vindicating those rights). In addition, the doctrine of third-party standing applies “when enforcement of the challenged restriction against the litigant would result indirectly in the violation of third parties’ rights.” Kowalski, 543 U.S. at 130. Here, the interference and restriction of President Trump’s First Amendment rights “would result indirectly in the violation of third parties’ rights,” id.—i.e., the rights of his audiences to receive, respond to, and amplify his speech.

I think this footnote is suspect, legally and practically. I mean, the notion that Stephen Miller’s NGO for fascism couldn’t vindicate these rights is nonsense. But it is nevertheless telling.

Trump makes that argument even while complaining that Judge Chutkan had to rely on the potential actions of others — that very same mob riled up by the amplified false victimization of Trump — to justify the gag itself.

Unable to justify the Gag Order based on President Trump’s actions, the prosecution pivots to third parties, alleging that unnamed others, outside of President Trump’s control, acted improperly before this case began. Such concerns cannot justify the Gag Order. The Supreme Court has repeatedly explained that citizens of this country cannot be censored based on a fear of what others might do. Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969) (“[T]he constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy . . . except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”).

[snip]

In entering the Gag Order, the Court relied heavily on the anticipated reactions of unidentified, independent third parties to President Trump’s speech. The Court found that “when Defendant has publicly attacked individuals, including on matters related to this case, those individuals are consequently threatened and harassed.” Id. at 2. But the Court cited no evidence that President Trump’s statements—as distinct from the statements of millions of others—caused such alleged threats or harassment, let alone that the statements were directed to inciting imminent lawless action.

Remember, Trump has repeatedly denied that the indictment accuses him of mobilizing the mob against Congress. Even after DOJ disabused Trump of that fantasy, he is playing coy about the fact that the crime he is alleged to have committed significantly involves riling up a mob to use as a weapon.

Indeed, Trump admits this is the plan to get elected: to rile up the mob again, this time by using this prosecution as a trigger.

The prosecution filed the indictment in this matter on August 1, 2023. Doc. 1. As this case is pending, President Trump continues to campaign for President, and one of his core messages is that the prosecutions against him are part of an unconstitutional strategy to attack and silence the Biden Administration’s chief political rival. To advance this message, President Trump has made many public statements criticizing individuals he believes are wrongly prosecuting him, including President Biden, Attorney General Garland, and Special Prosecutor Jack Smith and his team. This viewpoint—that the prosecution is politically motivated—is one shared by countless Americans.

[snip]

President Trump’s speech in support of his re-election campaign—which is inextricably intertwined with this prosecution and his defense—lies “at the core of our electoral process of the First Amendment freedoms—an area . . . where protection of robust discussion is at its zenith.” Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414, 425 (1988) (citations and quotations omitted); see also Buckley v. Am. Const. Law Found., Inc., 525 U.S. 182, 186–87 (1999); McIntyre v. Ohio Elec. Comm’n, 514 U.S. 334, 347 (1995) (“[C]ore political speech” encompasses any “advocacy of a politically controversial viewpoint.” “No form of speech is entitled to greater constitutional protection than” core political speech.).

Some of this is just cynicism: by claiming all this is political speech, Trump does base his appeal on the most expansive First Amendment precedent. The legal arguments here, some of them, anyway, are not frivolous.

But he’s not wrong about his campaign strategy. The key to Trump’s political success since he was sworn in was to polarize the electorate based off false claims that any investigation of Trump’s crimes is an attack on him and his mob.

And at one point, Trump’s argument admits that this is all an argument about democracy.

The Gag Order’s carve-outs exacerbate the vagueness problems by imposing new layers of confusion upon the Order. Doc. 105, at 3. The carve-outs seem to authorize “criticizing the government generally, including the current administration or the Department of Justice,” but that does not seem to include criticizing the most relevant figure of the Department of Justice, i.e., Jack Smith. Id. The carve-outs supposedly allow President Trump to state “that his prosecution is politically motivated,” but the Gag Order prevents him from “targeting” the specific actors involved in his prosecution, so it prevents him from giving any specific or detailed justification for this claim. Id. Where claiming that the prosecution is politically motivated ends, and “targeting” the prosecutors against President Trump begins, is anyone’s guess. The carve-outs apparently authorize “statements criticizing the platforms or policies of . . . former Vice President Pence,” id., but the “platforms or policies” of candidates like Pence (and Biden) are deeply intertwined with their views on election integrity, with specific reference to the 2020 election. When does criticism of Mike Pence’s “platforms or policies” become a statement “that target[s] . . . the substance of [his] testimony,” id., when questions about the integrity of the 2020 election are “central” to the 2024 Presidential campaign?

Joe Biden (comments about whom this gag does not restrict) is running on democracy. Mike Pence is running on defending the Constitution.

Trump is running on a promise that none of that matters: no election outcome — not that of 2020, not that of 2024 — should be respected, unless he wins.

And the way to ensure that happens, Trump knows, is to guard the right of his mob to amplify and respond to his false claims of victimization.

DOJ’s Theory of Trump’s Mob

DOJ’s reply on its bid for a gag on Donald Trump has a number of the things you’d expect.

It has a list of the seven people Trump has threatened since the last filing on this, including Trump’s vicious attack on Mark Milley.

With each filing, DOJ just keeps adding to the list of people Trump either incited or targeted.

The government also notes that Trump may have broken the law — or claimed he did, for political benefit — when he claimed to have purchased a Glock.

9 The defendant recently was caught potentially violating his conditions of release, and tried to walk that back in similar fashion. In particular, on September 25, the defendant’s campaign spokesman posted a video of the defendant in the Palmetto State Armory, a Federal Firearms Licensee in Summerville, South Carolina. The video posted by the spokesman showed the defendant holding a Glock pistol with the defendant’s likeness etched into it. The defendant stated, “I’ve got to buy one,” and posed for pictures with the FFL owners. The defendant’s spokesman captioned the video Tweet with the representation that the defendant had purchased the pistol, exclaiming, “President Trump purchases a @GLOCKInc in South Carolina!” The spokesman subsequently deleted the post and retracted his statement, saying that the defendant “did not purchase or take possession of the firearm” (a claim directly contradicted by the video showing the defendant possessing the pistol). See Fox News, Trump campaign walks back claim former president purchased Glock amid questions about legality (Sept. 25, 2023), https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-campaign-walks-back-claim-former-presidentpurchased-glock-amid-questions-about-legality (accessed Sept. 26, 2023). Despite his spokesperson’s retraction, the Defendant then re-posted a video of the incident posted by one of his followers with the caption, “MY PRESIDENT Trump just bought a Golden Glock before his rally in South Carolina after being arrested 4 TIMES in a year.”

The defendant either purchased a gun in violation of the law and his conditions of release, or seeks to benefit from his supporters’ mistaken belief that he did so. It would be a separate federal crime, and thus a violation of the defendant’s conditions of release, for him to purchase a gun while this felony indictment is pending. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(n).

Notably, the government points to 18 USC 922 as its basis to claim it would be illegal for Trump to purchase a gun. His release conditions don’t prohibit him from owning a gun.

Trump won’t be charged on this. Which means it’ll be another thing Hunter Biden will use to show selective prosecution.

But I’m most interested DOJ’s rebuttal to Trump’s claim that Jack Smith improperly connected Trump to January 6 in his press conference announcing the indictment when he said Trump had, “fueled . . . an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy.”

The defendant seeks to deflect responsibility for his own prejudicial statements by claiming that the indictment in this case was “false and derogatory” and that the Special Counsel’s brief statement upon its unsealing was prejudicial because it ascribed to the defendant responsibility for the events of January 6, 2021—which, according to the defendant’s opposition, the indictment does not allege. ECF No. 60 at 19-20. The defendant is wrong.

[snip]

[T]he indictment does in fact clearly link the defendant and his actions to the events of January 6. It alleges—and at trial, the Government will prove—the following:

  • The defendant’s criminal conspiracies targeted, in part, the January 6 certification and capitalized “on the widespread mistrust the [d]efendant was creating through pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud,” ECF No. 1 at ¶4.
  • In advance of January 6, the defendant “urged his supporters to travel to Washington on the day of the certification proceeding, tweeting, ‘Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!,’” id. at ¶87. He then “set the false expectation that the Vice President had the authority to and might use his ceremonial role at the certification proceeding to reverse the election outcome in [his] favor, id. at ¶96.
  • Then, despite his awareness “that the crowd [ ] on January 6 was going to be ‘angry,’” id. at ¶98, on the morning of January 6, the defendant “decided to single out the Vice President in public remarks,” id. at ¶102, and “repeated knowingly false claims of election fraud to gathered supporters, falsely told them that the Vice President had the authority to and might alter the election results, and directed them to the Capitol to obstruct the certification proceeding and exert pressure on the Vice President to take the fraudulent actions he had previously refused,” id. at ¶10d.
  • Finally, on the afternoon of January 6, after “a large and angry crowd—including many individuals whom the [d]efendant had deceived into believing the Vice President could and might change the election results—violently attacked the Capitol and halted the proceeding,” the defendant exploited the disruption in furtherance of his efforts to obstruct the certification, id. at ¶10e.

In short, the indictment alleges that the defendant’s actions, including his campaign of knowingly false claims of election fraud, led to the events of January 6.

This is a very neat formula of the things Trump did to stoke the violence. The lies provided foundation for the rally which provided an opportunity to target Pence which provided the cause to send mobs to the Capitol. DOJ has been working on laying out this formula for 26 months. Here they lay it out in a few short paragraphs, one way to read a complex indictment.

More remarkably, it comes as part of a gag request that — while it mentioned Trump’s attacks on Pence after the fact — didn’t focus on Trump’s dangerous targeting of Pence to gin up the mob. The initial gag request looked at all the other lives Trump ruined by targeting them. But it didn’t focus on Pence.

Here, once again in the response to an invitation by Trump to do so, DOJ neatly lays out how Trump’s attacks on Pence were a key tool he used to direct the mob.

“Reasonable Persons:” Trump’s Recusal Stunt Flops

Yesterday, Judge Tanya Chutkan denied Trump’s motion for her recusal.

Chutkan’s order was judicious, clinical, and never once responded to the ridiculous claims John Lauro made in his bid to remove a Black woman judge. In other words, it is a model of judicial temperament, and so will hold up under any appeal.

For example, rather than laying out how much video she had seen implicating Trump in the violence and lawlessness of January 6, Chutkan simply corrected the error Trump’s lawyers had made when they falsely claimed she had seen no video on which to base her comments in Chrstine Priola’s sentencing, and so (they insinuated) had formed opinions based on what she had seen on the news.

The statements at issue here were based on intrajudicial sources. They arose not, as the defense speculates, from watching the news, Reply in Supp. of Mot. for Recusal, ECF No. 58 at 4 (“Reply”), but from the sentencing proceedings in United States v. Palmer and United States v Priola. The statements directly reflected facts proffered and arguments made by those defendants. And the court specifically identified the intrajudicial sources that informed its statements.

[snip]

The court also expressly based its statements in Priola’s sentencing on the video evidence presented earlier in the hearing. Priola Sentencing Tr. at 11– 14, 29. Priola. The statements directly reflected facts proffered and arguments made by those defendants. And the court specifically identified the intrajudicial sources that informed its statements.

Here’s the proof, from the sentencing transcript Trump’s attorneys cited themselves, that prosecutors entered the video that Trump’s lawyers claimed they couldn’t find into evidence.

As we’ve discussed, I would like to play seven video clips which the government feels are the best evidence of the defendant’s conduct that day. The clips total about ten minutes. Each was an exhibit to the government’s sentencing memorandum. Before I play each clip, I’ll just preview a little bit about what each clip shows.

[Introduction of each of 6 videos, including notation that the videos were played.]

THE COURT: There’s no Exhibit 6. Is that right?

MS. ZIMMERMAN: No. That was a mistake, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Okay.

(Video played.)

[snip]

Does the Court have any questions about any of the videos?

THE COURT: No. Thank you.

Having established that the comments about which Trump complained arose in the course of her role as a judge, Chutkan described that she was obligated to directly address the bids that Robert Palmer and Christine Priola made for a downward departure because they were not as culpable as Trump.

To begin, the court’s statements reflect its obligation to acknowledge Palmer and Priola’s mitigation arguments on the record. As already noted, both defendants sought a lower sentence on the grounds that their culpability for the January 6 attack was lesser than that of others whom they considered to be the attack’s instigators, and so it would be unfair for them to receive a full sentence while those other people were not prosecuted. See supra Section III.A. The court was legally bound to not only privately consider those arguments, but also to publicly assess them. By statute, every judge must “state in open court the reasons for its imposition of the particular sentence.” 28 U.S.C. § 3553(c). For every sentence, the court must demonstrate that it “has considered the parties’ arguments,” Rita v. United States, 551 U.S. 338, 356 (2007), including a defendant’s arguments that their case involves mitigating factors that should result in a lower sentence, United States v. Pyles, 862 F.3d 82, 88 (D.C. Cir. 2017). That is what the court did in those two cases. A reasonable person—aware of the statutory requirement that the court address the defendant’s arguments and state its reasons for its sentence—would understand that in making the statements contested here, the court was not issuing vague declarations about third parties’ potential guilt in a hypothetical future case; instead, it was fulfilling its duty to expressly evaluate the defendants’ arguments that their sentences should be reduced because other individuals whom they believed were associated with the events of January 6 had not been prosecuted.

While Chutkan’s comment about what a “reasonable person” should know given sentencing obligations might be a dig at Trump’s lawyers’ claimed ignorance of this basic fact, it nevertheless adopts the standard for recusal: not what a defense attorney feigning ignorance might argue, but instead what a reasonable person might understand.

Chutkan similarly noted that Trump’s team had to adopt a “hypersensitive, cynical, and suspicious” in order to interpret her factual statements as if they necessarily addressed Trump himself.

But the court expressly declined to state who, if anyone, it thought should still face charges. It is the defense, not the court, who has assumed that the Defendant belongs in that undefined group. Likewise, for the sentencing hearing in Priola, the defense purports to detect an “inescapable” message in what the court did not say: that “President Trump is free, but should not be.” Id. at 2 (emphasis added). The court did state that the former President was free at the time of Priola’s sentence—an undisputed fact upon which Priola had relied for her mitigation argument—but it went no further. To extrapolate an announcement of Defendant’s guilt from the court’s silence is to adopt a “hypersensitive, cynical, and suspicious” perspective rather than a reasonable one. Nixon, 267 F. Supp. 3d at 148.

Again, this opinion should be rock solid in the face of appeal, even if it won’t impress those of “hypersensitive, cynical, and suspicious” disposition.

This opinion addresses what reasonable people should understand and believe. It certainly won’t persuade Trump’s groupies, because they are not reasonable people. But it soundly addresses the standard for recusal and the actual evidence before Chutkan.

John Lauro’s False Claims about Assaults “at the Behest” of Donald Trump

As I predicted, John Lauro misrepresented the timing of prosecutors’ request for a limited gag on Trump’s violent speech. Lauro presents his response as if DOJ first asked to limit Trump’s violent speech on September 15 in docket entry 57, and not (in sealed form, to which Trump objected, on September 5) at docket 47.

President Trump respectfully submits this response in opposition to the prosecution’s motion to impose unconstitutional prior restraints on President Trump’s political speech. (the “Motion,” Doc. 57, seeking the “Proposed Gag Order,” Doc. 57-2).

Here’s the handy dandy annotated docket I did so NYT journalists could understand the true timing (even if they didn’t note their corrections once they did belatedly understand it).

One reason Lauro’s manufactured misrepresentation about the timing of the motion — September 5 versus September 15 — matters is because he’s now falsely suggesting that DOJ only issued this request after Biden got a bunch of bad polling data.

At bottom, the Proposed Gag Order is nothing more than an obvious attempt by the Biden Administration to unlawfully silence its most prominent political opponent, who has now taken a commanding lead in the polls. Indeed, this very Motion came on the heels of adverse polling for President Biden.

To be sure, Lauro must recognize what rank bullshit this claim is, given that he doesn’t cite the polling in question (which probably is meant to invoke the outlier WaPo poll of this week). This is designed to work for the Federalist and Fox set, not for Judge Chutkan.

But the timing matters for another reason.

Probably because Lauro wants to set up a future argument balancing election-related speech against defendant-related restrictions, he suggests DOJ is doing this primarily to silence criticism of Jack Smith, and not to protect witnesses, prosecutors, and Judge Chutkan herself.

[T]he prosecution complains that President Trump’s political statements “undermine confidence in the criminal justice system,” which it asserts somehow justifies the Proposed Gag Order. Motion at 2, 6, 8, 15. The prosecution cites no authority in support of this bizarre claim. Nor can it. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized, “speech critical of the exercise of the State’s power lies at the very center of the First Amendment.” Gentile, 501 U.S. at 1034; New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 273 (1964) (“Criticism of their official conduct does not lose its constitutional protection merely because it is effective criticism and hence diminishes their official reputations.”). This includes criticism of the Court and the Special Counsel.

When Lauro finally gets around to dealing with the violent threats Trump has issued, he ignores the bulk of the examples DOJ provided, instead focusing exclusively on the one Trump’s team had already addressed.

[N]o witness has suggested that he or she will not testify because of anything President Trump has said. To the contrary, witnesses appear eager to share their expected testimony with the media and will undoubtedly testify at a potential trial, if called to do so.7 Nor has any witness suggested that President Trump’s protected statements have “influenc[ed] [his or her] testimony,” as the prosecution baselessly suggests. Motion at 15.

This is entirely unsurprising, as President Trump has never called for any improper or unlawful action. Quite the opposite, the prosecution’s cited posts show that President Trump intends to redress the unfairness of this proceeding through legitimate means. This includes, for example, filing motions with the Court—a form of relief that President Trump has every right to pursue and talk about. This is a far cry from the type of “true threat” the prosecution would need to show to justify a prior restraint. Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343, 360 (2003) (“Intimidation in the constitutionally proscribable sense of the word is a type of true threat, where a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.”).8

Unable to identify any instance where President Trump uttered any threat, the prosecution points to others, claiming President Trump “knows that when he publicly attacks individuals and institutions, he inspires others to perpetrate threats and harassment against his targets.” Motion at 3. Again, the prosecution offers no evidence of any causal connection between his speech and the alleged unlawful acts of others to support this meritless claim.

7 Two “potential witnesses” the prosecution does not want President Trump speaking about, for example, are former Attorney General Bill Barr and former Vice President Mike Pence. Both have written books about their tenure with President Trump and the latter is currently running for president. See, e.g., Geoff Bennett, Bill Barr: Trump Committed a “Grave Wrongdoing” in Jan. 6 Case, PBS NEWSHOUR, Aug. 3, 2023. Neither shies away from a hearty public debate with President Trump. Both were at the very top of government and it is absurd to think that they would be intimidated by social media posts. Others the prosecution identifies as “harassed,” are likewise current and former government officials who have made politics, for all its discord and discourse, a large part of their lives.

8 The prosecution once again cites President Trump’s August 4, 2023, Truth Social post; however, as previously explained, Doc. 14 at 7–8 n.8, that post did not concern this case. See Nick Robertson, Trump campaign defends threatening social media posts as free speech, The Hill (August 5, 2023) (quoting a Trump campaign statement that “[t]he Truth post cited is the definition of political speech, and was in response to the RINO, China-loving, dishonest special interest groups and Super PACs, like the ones funded by the Koch brothers and the Club for No Growth.”).

In today’s environment, this Court could easily take judicial notice that “[t]he language of the political arena . . . is often vituperative, abusive, and inexact,” Watts, 394 U.S. at 708 (citations omitted), and even “very crude [or] offensive method[s] of stating a political opposition” are not true threats. Id.

Finally, the prosecution raised (and President Trump addressed), this same post in connection with its motion for a protective order. Doc. 14 at 7–8 n.8. Despite having ample opportunity to dispute President Trump’s explanation, including in a reply brief, Doc. 15, and at oral argument, Doc. 29, the prosecution chose not to do so. Now, the prosecution once again tries to revive this debunked position in support of its Motion. The Court should accord such unpersuasive arguments no weight. [my emphasis]

Lauro ignores the multiple cases, cited in prosecutors’ filing, where people told Trump directly that his incitement had ratcheted up threats against people like Jeff Duncan, Chris Krebs, and Ruby Freeman. He ignores prosecutors’ citation of Trump bragging about the way his followers respond to Trump.

As he acknowledged in a televised town hall on May 10, 2023, his supporters listen to him “like no one else.”

Perhaps more importantly, Lauro ignores something he has already ignored, in his reply to his own motion to recuse Tanya Chutkan.

As I noted, by filing a motion to recuse based off things Judge Chutkan said when January 6 defendants blamed Trump for their actions, Trump invited prosecutors to lay out the many more times defendants had done just that. Not only did prosecutors provide eight other examples where defendants already sentenced by Chutkan blamed Trump for their actions, DOJ laid out something that Robert Palmer said of his own actions on January 6: That he went to the Capitol “at the behest” of Trump and took action to prevent the certification of the vote because of the false claims Trump had made.

On December 17, 2021, the Court sentenced Robert Scott Palmer, an individual who, on January 6, 2021, after attending the former president’s remarks at the Ellipse and while wearing a “Florida for Trump” hat, “threw a wooden plank at” police officers; “sprayed the contents of a fire extinguisher at the officers until it was empty, and then threw the fire extinguisher” at them; and “assaulted another group of law enforcement officers with a 4-5 foot pole,” which he threw “like a spear at the officers.” United States v. Palmer, 21-cr-328, ECF 30, at 10, 2 (Govt. Sentencing Mem.); id., ECF No. 23, at 3 (D.D.C. Oct. 4, 2021) (Statement of Offense). Palmer was charged with, and pled guilty to, assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 111(a) and (b). Id., ECF No. 24 at 1 (D.D.C. Oct. 4, 2021) (Plea Agreement).

In a sentencing memorandum filed before his hearing, Palmer’s attorney asserted that he had gone to the Capitol “at the behest of” the defendant and had been convinced by individuals, including the defendant, that the election was fraudulent and that Palmer needed to take action to stop the presidential transition. Id., ECF No. 31 at 8 (D.D.C. Dec. 13, 2021) (Def. Sentencing Mem.). [my emphasis]

John Lauro is lying when he claims that there is “no evidence of any causal connection between his speech and the alleged unlawful acts of others.” Lauro himself elicited that evidence. And the evidence is that, according to Robert Palmer, because of the false claims Trump and others told about the election, Palmer went to the Capitol on January 6 “at the behest of” Donald Trump, and serially assaulted several cops.

Trump’s reply ignored the substance of Palmer’s claims; it even dropped all mention of the Palmer case. Trump thereby left uncontested DOJ’s representation of Palmer’s claim that he did what he did “at the behest” of Trump.

Thus far, in the case against Trump, DOJ has been rather reserved about the dockets and dockets full of evidence that rioters believed they had been ordered by Trump to do what they did. The indictment itself shows that Trump’s several days of pressure — including his 2:24PM tweet — resulted in direct threats from rioters to Pence.

111. At 2:24 p.m., after advisors had left the Defendant alone in his dining room, the Defendant issued a Tweet intended to further delay and obstruct the certification: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

112. One minute later, at 2:25 p.m., the United States Secret Service was forced to evacuate the Vice President to a secure location.

113. At the Capitol, throughout the afternoon, members of the crowd chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!”; “Where is Pence? Bring him out!”; and “Traitor Pence!”

Yet, DOJ has not made it anywhere explicit that evidence in the case of dozens, if not hundreds, of Jnauary 6 defendants make it clear that these threats to Pence arose directly from Trump’s statements. And in their motion for a gag order, DOJ did not tie the threats against Pence Trump elicited on January 6 to one he has made recently that they included in the motion.

But because John Lauro made it an issue in his recusal motion, DOJ has provided crystal clear evidence of one case where someone believed he was taking action — violent assaults against cops — “at the behest of Trump.”

John Lauro wanted it this way — he wanted to create the false illusion that whatever gag Chutkan might impose came only after he accused her of being a biased Black Woman. But in the process, he himself elicited proof that Trump’s statements to lead directly to violence.

On Recusal, Give Trump the Evidentiary Hearing He Demands!

There are a number of fairly insane claims made in Trump’s reply seeking Judge Tanya Chutkan’s recusal.

Trump scolds that an impartial judge should express no opinion.

2 Consistent with the presumption of innocence and due process, an impartial court would ordinarily avoid stating any opinion regarding a third party’s guilt or innocence until that party has received an opportunity to present a defense. See United States v. Microsoft, 253 F.3d 34, 114 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

But that is precisely what Chutkan did when she said she “I have my opinions, but they are not relevant:” she didn’t express her opinion. By Trump’s own definition, Chutkan is an impartial judge!

Trump makes a very narrow argument that the eight additional defendants Chutkan sentenced who attributed their actions to Trump, mentioned by the prosecution, did not say Trump directed them to engage in violence, enter the Capitol, or interfere with the proceedings (I included that footnote in this post).

1 None of the excerpts cited in footnote 1 of the Response claim that President Trump directed or encouraged anyone to enter the Capitol, undertake violence, or interfere with proceedings at the Capitol. Of course, no such evidence exists. The defendants in these other cases obviously sought to explain the circumstances of their conduct, but that had no relevance to whether President Trump should be charged. That issue was never before the Court prior to this case. Therefore, the only reasonable conclusion—and the very one that the prosecution consciously avoids—is that Judge Chutkan formed her disqualifying opinions from information outside of the courtroom.

Even ignoring that several of them did say Trump told them to go to the Capitol, that’s a distraction. As prosecutors have shown, one of the two defendants that Trump himself raised, Robert Palmer, literally said that he went to the Capitol “at the behest” of Trump, where — because he had been persuaded by Trump and others he needed to prevent the transition of power — he proceeded to serially assault cops. Trump simply ignores that one of the two cases he himself raised did precisely that.

But the most batshit claim — one that I hope backfires wildly — is the claim that when Judge Chutkan said, “I’ve seen video” during the Christine Priola sentencing, there was no video in evidence before her.

Similarly, Judge Chutkan’s statement that President Trump “remains free to this day,” Motion, Ex. A at 29:17–30:3, had no factual or legal relevance to the matter before her. That conclusion was formed, according to Judge Chutkan, based upon unspecified “videotapes” and “footage” that the prosecution has not established were in evidence and appear not to be. Id. (“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.”). But even if they were in the record of the Priola case, they could hardly support a conclusion that President Trump should be charged.

In addition to the sentencing memo DOJ submitted for Priola, they formally noticed the following videos:

1. Government Exhibit 1 is a video approximately 26 seconds in length that shows the crowd behind the barricades on the east side of the Capitol. People in the crowd can be heard chanting, “Stop the steal.” Priola’s sign can be seen in the crowd.

2. Government Exhibit 2 is a video approximately 1 minute and 23 seconds in length that shows the rioters outside the East Rotunda (Columbus) doors, including some rioters reacting to pepper gas. Priola and her sign can be seen while she is standing about 15- 20 feet from the entrance. People in the crowd can be heard chanting, “USA, USA.”1

3. Government Exhibit 3 is a video approximately 3 minutes in length that shows rioters outside the East Rotunda doors attempting to enter the Capitol building. Priola’s sign can be seen in the crowd outside. The video also shows the doors being forced open from the inside and Priola (now inside the building) talking to another rioter on camera and walking down the corridor. People in the crowd can be heard chanting, “Who’s our President? Trump!”; yelling, “Tear it down”; and later chanting, “Defend your Constitution. Defend your liberty.”

4. Government Exhibit 4 is a video approximately 26 seconds in length that shows the breach of the East Rotunda doors. Priola’s sign can be seen outside the building through the open doors.

5. Government Exhibit 5 is a video approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds in length that shows the rioters breaching the East Rotunda doors. Priola can be seen with her sign soon after she enters the building.

6. Government Exhibit 72 is a video approximately 1 minutes and 28 seconds in length that shows the rioters, including Priola, walking down the east corridor inside the Capitol Building. It also shows Priola holding her sign up to one of the windows and tapping on the glass to get the attentions of rioters outside. Rioters can be heard chanting, “Defend your Constitution. Defend your liberty.” and “Who’s house? Our house.”

7. Government Exhibit 8 is a video approximately 14 seconds in length that shows rioters, including Priola, on the Senate Chamber floor. Priola can be seen and heard talking on her cell phone.

1 The government’s sentencing memorandum incorrectly stated that the crowd could be heard chanting “Stop the steal” and “Who’s our President? Trump!” during this video. ECF No. 56 at 10. [my emphasis]

More importantly, there’s all the other video Chutkan had seen by October 28, 2022.

Do you know how insane it is for someone to tell Judge Tanya Chutkan that by October 28, 2022, the date of Priola’s sentencing, she had not seen video evidence on which she could form an opinion about how central Trump was to January 6? Do you have any idea how many hundreds of hours of video DC judges like Chutkan, pertaining to Priola in Chutkan’s case, but also pertaining to the series of assault defendants whose detention proceedings she had presided over and defendants sentenced before Priola, had seen by that point?

Trump made the argument that by October 28, 2022, Judge Tanya Chutkan had not seen sufficient evidence about January 6 to form an opinion about Trump’s role in the attack. If I were Judge Chutkan, I’d order the hearing Trump claims he wants, refuse to waive his appearance, and force him, his attorneys, and the journalists only beginning to pay attention to January 6 because Trump has been charged to review the video of the attack she had sat through by October 2022.

As one example, Chutkan presided over several spectacular assault cases, including one where a former Marine who had attended the TCF Center mob in Detroit after the election brought his hockey stick to the Capitol and used it to beat a cop, one of the many spectacularly brutal assaults that happened that day.

Trump claims that during the year and a half of January 6 cases she had presided over by October 28, 2022, Chutkan had not seen any evidence from which she could form an opinion about the event. By all means, let’s put the evidence she had seen in the record.

By Asking for Tanya Chutkan’s Recusal, Trump Invited a Lesson in His Centrality to January 6

Trump’s motion for Tanya Chutkan to recuse was not designed to work. Rather, it was designed as a messaging vehicle, to establish the basis for Trump to claim that a Black Judge was biased against him so he can better use it to discredit rule of law and as a campaign and fundraising vehicle.

Because Trump’s motion was primarily a messaging vehicle, the — legally apt — messaging with which DOJ responded is of some interest.

Invited to do so by Trump, DOJ laid out how central Trump is to the thousand other January 6 prosecutions.

Invited to do so by Trump, for example, DOJ provided eight other times — in addition to the cases of Robert Palmer and Christine Priola cited in the recusal motion — where defendants before Judge Chutkan have implicated Trump in their actions.

This Court, like all courts in this District, has presided over dozens of criminal cases related to January 6. And this Court, like all courts in this District, gained knowledge about the events of January 6 and insight about the persons charged based on its daily administration of those cases. For instance, the Court learned that numerous individuals charged with January 6 crimes attempted to minimize their actions and spread blame to others, including to defendant Trump and to the mob that each rioter joined at the Capitol. Indeed, the Court regularly heard variations of such arguments from other defendants, in the form of sentencing memoranda and allocutions, before similar claims were made by the defendants in the two sentencing hearings on which the defendant bases his claim of bias.1

1 See United States v. Bauer, 21-cr-49, ECF No. 38 at 3 (D.D.C. Oct. 6, 2021) (Def. Sentencing Mem.) (arguing that Bauer “only decided to turn from the Ellipse and head towards the Capitol when then-President Trump directed the crowd to proceed in that direction” and then followed the group); United States v. Hemenway, 21-cr-49, ECF No. 39 at 2 (D.D.C. Oct. 6, 2021) (Def. Sentencing Mem.) (arguing that Hemenway decided “to take part in the political rally on the Ellipse” and got “caught up in the group mentality of the crowd that entered the Capitol”); United States v. Bissey, 21-cr-165, ECF No. 29 at 17 (D.D.C. Oct. 12, 2021) (Sentencing Tr.) (defense attorney arguing that Bissey had minimal role on January 6 and “did not come to D.C. with any intention other than supporting her president”); United States v. Miller, 21-cr-226, ECF No. 52 at 4 (D.D.C. Dec. 8, 2021) (Def. Sentencing Mem.) (arguing that “[Miller] had absolutely no expectation or desire to overthrow the government. Rather, she was supporting the President in what he claimed were legitimate efforts to claim victory in the Presidential election.”); United States v. Perretta, 21-cr-539, ECF No. 55 at 2 (D.D.C. Jan. 4, 2022) (Def. Sentencing Mem.) (arguing that Perretta “attended the ‘Save America’ political rally, where then-President Trump encouraged listeners to march to the Capitol to make their voices heard” and then went to the Capitol with thousands of other individuals from the Ellipse); United States v. Ehmke, 21-cr-29, ECF No. 30 at 2-5, 8-9 (D.D.C. May 6, 2022) (Def. Sentencing Mem.) (arguing that Ehmke had a minor role and that others, “including the former president, the rally’s organizers and speakers, and other nefarious, organized groups . . . arguably bear much greater responsibility”); United States v. Ponder, 21-cr-259, ECF No. 58 at 21-22 (D.D.C. Jul. 26, 2022) (Sentencing Tr.) (Ponder asserting that he marched from Ellipse to Capitol “with the intentions on a peaceful protest. However, things had spiraled out of control” and he “got caught up in it.”); United States v. Cortez, 21-cr-317, ECF No. 80 at 38 (D.D.C. Aug. 31, 2022) (Sentencing Tr.) (defense attorney arguing that Cortez was “being told these things by the president, you need to save your country, and he’s trying to do something right”). [my emphasis]

Again, these are just defendants Judge Chutkan has already sentenced. The footnote conveys how routine it is for defendants, before every single DC judge, to blame Trump for their role in assaulting the Capitol.

Invited to do so by Trump, DOJ laid out how Christine Priola wore Trump merch as she surged through the East door alongside the Oath Keepers and Joe Biggs, and then helped occupy the Senate floor on January 6.

On October 28, 2022, the Court sentenced Christine Priola, who on January 6, 2021, surged with other rioters into the Capitol and onto the Senate floor, “carrying a large sign reading, ‘WE THE PEOPLE TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY’ on one side and ‘THE CHILDREN CRY OUT FOR JUSTICE’ on the other,” United States v. Priola, 22-cr-242, ECF No. 65 at 3 (D.D.C. July 26, 2022) (Statement of Offense), and wearing pants with the phrase, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN,” id., ECF No. 56 at 13, 16 (D.D.C. Oct. 21, 2022) (Govt. Sentencing Mem.). Priola was charged with, and pled guilty to, obstructing an official proceeding, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2). Id., ECF No. 66 at 2 (D.D.C. Feb. 21, 2023) (Sentencing Tr.)

In her sentencing memorandum, Priola, too, laid the groundwork for spreading the blame to others, noting that “[a]fter the presidential election, Donald Trump . . . and his inner circle began spreading the word that the election was ‘stolen’ from him by Democrats and others,” with claims “made on media sources, as well as by the President himself, that the election system had been corrupted and that the integrity of the election should be questioned.” Id., ECF No. 57 at 3 (D.D.C. Oct. 21, 2022) (Def. Sentencing Mem.). Priola’s sentencing memorandum then sought leniency for Priola in part because she “played no role of importance” at the Capitol, and had she not been there, “there wouldn’t be one change in what transpired.” Id. at 14.

At her sentencing hearing, Priola likewise explained that, at the time of her criminal conduct, she believed that the election had been stolen and that “certain politicians or groups have, like, taken over things that maybe weren’t supposed to be.” Id., ECF No. 66 at 26 (D.D.C. Feb. 21, 2023) (Sentencing Tr.). [my emphasis]

Because Priola raised Trump in her sentencing submission, DOJ explained, binding precedent required Chutkan to respond to it.

Similarly, on Trump’s invitation, DOJ laid out how Palmer claimed he went to the Capitol “at the behest of” Trump where, while wearing a Florida for Trump hat, he serially assaulted cops defending the Capitol.

On December 17, 2021, the Court sentenced Robert Scott Palmer, an individual who, on January 6, 2021, after attending the former president’s remarks at the Ellipse and while wearing a “Florida for Trump” hat, “threw a wooden plank at” police officers; “sprayed the contents of a fire extinguisher at the officers until it was empty, and then threw the fire extinguisher” at them; and “assaulted another group of law enforcement officers with a 4-5 foot pole,” which he threw “like a spear at the officers.” United States v. Palmer, 21-cr-328, ECF 30, at 10, 2 (Govt. Sentencing Mem.); id., ECF No. 23, at 3 (D.D.C. Oct. 4, 2021) (Statement of Offense). Palmer was charged with, and pled guilty to, assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 111(a) and (b). Id., ECF No. 24 at 1 (D.D.C. Oct. 4, 2021) (Plea Agreement).

In a sentencing memorandum filed before his hearing, Palmer’s attorney asserted that he had gone to the Capitol “at the behest of” the defendant and had been convinced by individuals, including the defendant, that the election was fraudulent and that Palmer needed to take action to stop the presidential transition. Id., ECF No. 31 at 8 (D.D.C. Dec. 13, 2021) (Def. Sentencing Mem.). Two paragraphs later in the memorandum, Palmer’s attorney argued that the Court should, as a mitigating factor, “consider that the riot almost surely would not have occurred but for the financing and organization that was conducted by persons unconnected to Mr. Palmer who will likely never be held responsible for their relevant conduct.” See id. at 8-9. [my emphasis]

Because Palmer blamed Trump for his actions in his sentencing package, DOJ explained, binding precedent required Chutkan to respond to it.

Even before it laid out how the claims of defendants obligated Chutkan to address their claims that Trump caused them to do what they did, DOJ laid out the precedents that apply to intrajudicial comments about related cases, a much higher standard for recusal than the precedents Trump invoked. At Trump’s invitation, then, DOJ cited Watergate, where the DC Circuit did not find that Judge John Sirica should have recused from the Haldeman trial because he had, during the burglars’ trial, correctly judged that the conspiracy extended well beyond those men.

[T]he Supreme Court has held that where a recusal motion rests on statements made in a judicial setting and reflect “opinions formed by the judge on the basis of facts introduced or events occurring in the course of the current proceedings, or of prior proceedings,” recusal will be warranted “only in the rarest circumstances” where the comments “display a deepseated favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible.” Id. at 555. After all, “opinions held by judges as a result of what they learned in earlier proceedings” are “normal and proper,” and “not subject to deprecatory characterization as ‘bias’ or ‘prejudice.’” Id. at 551; see Belue v. Leventhal, 640 F.3d 567, 573 (4th Cir. 2011) (“The high bar set by Liteky for predispositional recusals makes good sense. If it were otherwise—if strong views on a matter were disqualifying—then a judge would hardly have the freedom to be a judge.”).

This higher standard applies equally when a court’s intrajudicial statements were made in separate proceedings, including proceedings in which the defendant was not a party. The D.C. Circuit made this clear in its decision in United States v. Haldeman, 559 F.2d 31 (D.C. Cir. 1976) (en banc). There, defendants sought recusal of the judge presiding over numerous, separate Watergate-related matters, in part based on statements the judge had made during an earlier, separate trial in which, among other things, he “expressed a belief that criminal liability extended beyond the seven persons there charged.” Id. at 131-32 & n.293. The Circuit found that recusal was not warranted because the grounds for the claim were “judicial acts” including “prior judicial rulings . . . or the exercise of related judicial functions.” Id. at 133-34. The Circuit further stated that the “disabling prejudice” necessary for recusal “cannot be extracted from dignified though persistent judicial efforts to bring everyone responsible for Watergate to book.” Id.

At Trump’s invitation, DOJ likened the January 6 rioters to Watergate burglars directed by those trying to help the President retain power.

And, at Trump’s invitation, DOJ recalled a more recent DC Circuit opinion finding that far stronger intrajudicial statements also did not require recusal. At Trump’s invitation, DOJ recalled how Trump’s people had started selling out the country even before being sworn in.

On the other side of the ledger are countless cases in which recusal based on judicial comments was deemed unwarranted—even based on comments that, unlike this Court’s comments on which the defendant bases his motion, directly criticize a defendant. For instance, recently in this District, a judge told a defendant at a hearing, “Arguably, you sold your country out. . . . I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense.” In re Flynn, 973 F.3d 74, 83 (D.C. Cir. 2020) (en banc) (per curiam). The D.C. Circuit found that these statements did not meet the Liteky test, stating, “the District Judge was not simply holding forth on his opinions; rather, each of the statements to which Petitioner objects was plainly made in the course of formal judicial proceedings over which he presided—not in some other context.”

Trump wants his January 6 trial to be messaging and fundraising vehicle.

But that may serve as little more than an invitation for DOJ to lay out just how deeply implicated he is in the entire assault on the Capitol.

Todd Blanche Confuses Aileen Cannon’s Prior Trump Reversal with Tanya Chutkan’s Individualized Guilt

John Lauro is the Trump lawyer who submitted and signed the motion for recusal in Trump’s January 6 case, and so virtually all commentators are attributing the motion to him. But Todd Blanche also appears on the document.

That means one of Trump’s lawyers from the stolen documents case, in which Aileen Cannon — confirmed in the period after Trump lost the election and cozy with Leonard Leo — chose not to recuse herself after a blistering reversal over her earlier decision to butt in last summer, in which Aileen Cannon has done nothing (nothing public, at least) to preserve the Sixth Amendment rights of Trump’s co-defendants, but has instead served the interests of the Trump-paid lawyers representing them, has remained silent about any conflict in that case but signed onto a claim of conflict with Tanya Chutkan.

There is an overwhelming public interest in ensuring the perceived fairness of these proceedings. In a highly charged political season, naturally all Americans, and in fact, the entire world, are observing these proceedings closely. Only if this trial is administered by a judge who appears entirely impartial could the public ever accept the outcome as justice.

Todd Blanche’s willingness to sign onto this motion only underscores the bad faith of it.

The substance of the claimed conflict is remarkably thin: In the sentencing hearings of Robert Palmer and Christine Priola, Chutkan said something about those who planned the riot. Between the two hearings — the first in December 2021 and the second in October 2022 — Trump’s lawyers claim they show that Chutkan has already formed an opinion about Trump’s guilt, even while they acknowledge that Chutkan’s language addresses claims of incitement with which Trump has not been charged.

These are cherry picks. From Palmer’s for example, Trump’s lawyers found a line in which Chutkan said she had opinions about whether those who planned the riot should be charged, even while she said her opinions are not relevant.

He went to the Capitol because, despite election results which were clear-cut, despite the fact that multiple court challenges all over the country had rejected every single one of the challenges to the election, Mr. Palmer didn’t like the result. He didn’t like the result, and he didn’t want the transition of power to take place because his guy lost. And it is true, Mr. Palmer — you have made a very good point, one that has been made before — that the people who exhorted you and encouraged you and rallied you to go and take action and to fight have not been charged. That is not this court’s position. I don’t charge anybody. I don’t negotiate plea offers. I don’t make charging decisions. I sentence people who have pleaded guilty or have been convicted. The issue of who has or has not been charged is not before me. I don’t have any influence on that. I have my opinions, but they are not relevant.

***

So you have a point, that the people who may be the people who planned this and funded it and encouraged it haven’t been charged, but that’s not a reason for you to get a lower sentence.

This is a colloquy that goes on in many January 6 sentencing hearings, because many defendants — up to and including Enrique Tarrio and Joe Biggs — like to blame Trump for their woes. After that happens, whatever judge is presiding, whether appointed by a Republican or Democrat, notes that people are still responsible for their own actions.

This is, in fact, a pretty mild version, even among some Republican appointees.

But Trump’s team ignored Judge Chutkan’s more general commentary about how everyone should treat others with more humanity.

I feel certain that if people would expose themselves to a variety of opinions and sources of information, we might not have had January 6th. But people get very siloed and listen to an echo chamber of information and opinion, and you get a very warped view of what’s really going on in the world; and that may be part of it, but in doing so, you fail to see other people as human beings. And that is one of the things I see here as a judge, is there is a failure to acknowledge other people’s humanity.

From the Priola sentencing, Trump’s lawyers focused on Chutkan’s observation that the person to whom rioters were loyal remained free.

[T]he 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.

This is remarkably thin gruel on which to hang a claim that Chutkan is biased against Trump but not Trump appointed Judges Dabney Friedrich or Tim Kelly, who’ve engaged in similar colloquies.

And it seems tactical. It was coming at some point, but Trump’s team has, after remaining silent for 42 days after this case was assigned to Chutkan, suddenly asked her to assess her own biases in expedited fashion, before ruling on the pending motion about Trump’s own threats against Judge Chutkan and others.

Additionally, given the overriding public interest in ensuring the appearance of fairness in this proceeding, President Trump requests the Court consider this Motion on an expedited basis and, pending resolution, withhold rulings on any other pending motion.

This is a tactical and cynical motion. And Todd Blanche’s participation in it makes it crystal clear that Trump doesn’t give a flying rat’s ass about the bias of Cannon or any appearance of bias they can wring out of Chutkan’s prior comments.

Rather, they’re doing this to claim that her future attempts to preserve the integrity of this proceeding — including to minimize death threats from Trump’s own supporters — instead itself evinces bias on her part.

Update: Here’s the full Priola sentencing transcript.