Trump draws judge who gave harshest Jan. 6 sentences and warned him "presidents are not kings"

Judge Tanya Chutkan previously lamented that no one who orchestrated the Jan. 6 riot was held accountable

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published August 2, 2023 10:45AM (EDT)

Tanya Chutkan, Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (United States District Court for the District of Columbia)
Tanya Chutkan, Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (United States District Court for the District of Columbia)

Former President Donald Trump's federal criminal indictment over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election was randomly assigned to U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who happens to have expressed her dismay for his behavior before.

The Washington Post reported that Chutkan, an Obama appointee, was one of the first federal judges in Washington D.C. to heavily scrutinize Trump's attempts to invoke executive privilege to refuse to turn over White House communications to members of the House select committee investigating the deadly Capitol attacks. 

In November 2021, Chutkan wrote in a ruling that Congressional interest in seizing illuminating presidential correspondence on Jan. 6 evidence was strong. She also acknowledged that President Joe Biden had waived executive privilege. 

"Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President," Chutkan wrote in her ruling. "At bottom, this is a dispute between a former and incumbent President. And the Supreme Court has already made clear that in such circumstances, the incumbent's view is accorded greater weight," she concluded.

The House committee, Chutkan concluded, was within its right to request White House communications as they pertained to a matter of "unsurpassed public importance because such information relates to our core democratic institutions and the public's confidence in them." Obtaining such records, she wrote, could "prevent such events from ever occurring again."

Chutkan, who was appointed to the U.S. bench in 2015 by former President Barack Obama, has doled out the harshest Jan. 6 sentences on the D.C. federal court, per the Washington Post's database. The Post reported that through the middle of June, the judge sentenced all 31 defendants she saw to some amount of prison or jail time. Additionally, Chutkan has exceeded prosecutorial sentencing recommendations nine times and granted them fourteen times. 

Chutkan has repeatedly expressed her disgust and horror over the Jan. 6 attack, noting that no one accused of orchestrating the attack has been held responsible, Politico reported. 

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"You have made a very good point," she told Jan. 6 rioter Robert Palmer at his December 2021 sentencing, "that the people who exhorted you and encouraged you and rallied you to go and take action and to fight have not been charged."

"The issue of who has or has not been charged is not before me. I don't have any influence on that," she said. "I have my opinions, but they are not relevant."

But the judge said that was not a reason to go easy on the convicted rioters.

"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," she said. "I have to make it clear that the actions you engaged in cannot happen again. Every day we're hearing about reports of antidemocratic factions of people plotting violence, the potential threat of violence, in 2024."

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In another sentencing of defendant Carl Mazzocoo, Chutkan said he "went to the Capitol in support of one man, not in support of our country."

Chutkan was also outspoken in rejecting comparisons between the Jan. 6 attack and violence that took place at some Black Lives Matter protests after the police killing of George Floyd.

"People gathered all over the country last year to protest the violent murder by the police of an unarmed man. Some of those protesters became violent," Chutkan said at a sentencing hearing. "But to compare the actions of people protesting, mostly peacefully, for civil rights, to those of a violent mob seeking to overthrow the lawfully elected government is a false equivalency and ignores a very real danger that the January 6 riot posed to the foundation of our democracy."

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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Aggregate Donald Trump Jack Smith January 6 Politics Tanya Chutkan