When former President Donald Trump‘s legal team filed a motion asking Judge Tanya Chutkan to recuse herself in the federal election subversion case brought against him by Special Counsel Jack Smith, many legal commentators questioned the wisdom of the move. Trump’s recusal motion claims that Judge Chutkan had demonstrated an anti-Trump bias in comments she made while sitting on earlier January 6 insurrection cases. The New York Times described the motion as a “risky gambit by Mr. Trump’s legal team given that the judge…will have the initial say about whether or not to grant it.”
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti sees Trump’s fingerprints all over the maneuver, which he characterized as “unlikely to succeed,” saying the Trump team showed “poor judgment to make this motion.”
Mariotti asserts that Trump’s attorneys would not have filed the motion without being pushed into it by their client. “It strongly suggests that Trump is dictating strategy,” Mariotti says, “Foolish tactical move.”
Trump’s motion for Judge Chutkan’s recusal is very unlikely to succeed. Among other things, the initial decision will be made by Judge Chutkan herself.— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) September 11, 2023
It was poor judgment to make this motion — it strongly suggests that Trump is dictating strategy. Foolish tactical move. https://t.co/fBgw2uZOAm
[NOTE: Mariotti’s assessment is appended to comments by Zoe Tillman showing Trump’s argument that Judge Chutkan’s earlier utterances from the bench “unavoidably taint” the case. “The bar is high,” Tillman writes, “for parties to win recusal motions.”]
Mariotti brings a legal expertise that operates within the bailiwick of the courtroom — he knows the law, and from the law’s perspective, the motion may indeed be “foolish.” But there is also (and always) the extralegal considerations in cases involving Trump. Here that is the indisputable fact that Trump is hoping to try his case(s) — as much as possible — outside the real courtroom and in the court of public opinion.
That’s a larger, far less rigorous court with little protocol and lower standards, and it’s where moves that are foolish in strict judicial terms might nevertheless have a positive impact on Trump’s pubic plea– that’s always part of Trump’s wagers. The former president wants to decry the judge as unfair and say that the case is “rigged” against him — now, having filed the motion, when he says it he can mention that he said so in the legal context.
All Trump’s legal moves, whether or not they are courtroom prudent or likely to succeed, play a dual role in positioning him with his public — and no lawyer he can hire will have the expertise Trump has in the very specialized job of selling Trump.