Lawyers for former President Donald Trump are asking a federal judge appointed by President Bill Clinton to step aside from a suit Trump filed last month claiming that Hillary Clinton and her political allies engaged in a racketeering conspiracy to falsely accuse Trump of colluding with Russia to gain support in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Court records show U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks was assigned to the suit on March 24, the same day Trump’s attorneys filed the case in the Southern District of Florida, where Trump currently resides.
Trump lawyers Alina Habba and Peter Ticktin contend that Middlebrooks could be seen as biased because Bill Clinton chose him for the federal court bench in 1997.
“There is no question that Judge’s [sic] Middlebrooks’ impartiality would be questioned by a disinterested observer, fully informed of the facts, due to Judge’s relationship with the Defendant, either, individually, or by the very nature of his appointment to the Federal Bench, by the Defendant’s husband,” Habba and Ticktin wrote in a motion filed on Monday. “The most important issue is not simply that justice must be done, but also that justice must appear to be done. This could not be more important in a case like the above styled cause, where wrongs in regard to a presidential election are to be redressed.”
Motions to recuse based on the identity or party of the president who appointed a judge are rarely granted. In a largely two-party system, federal judges are virtually certain to have been appointed by the political rivals of a president or his political allies. The motion filed on Monday does not indicate whether Trump would seek recusal of a Trump-appointed judge from the case.
However, recusals sometimes occur when a judge worked on a political campaign or has a more personal connection to a candidate. The filing does seem to try to draw out such information.
“Moreover, the Plaintiff is unaware of the exact extent of the relationship between Judge Middlebrooks and the Defendant, HILLARY CLINTON, herself, who acted as First Lady of the United States, during the time of the Judge’s nomination to Federal Court Judge,” the Trump lawyers wrote. “The Plaintiff is also unaware if the Judge has current [sic] relationship with either the Defendant, HILLARY CLINTON, or her husband, and how far back the relationship has existed.”
Trump’s epic, 108-page suit alleges that Hillary Clinton conspired with dozens of other actors, including former FBI Director James Comey, former Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Clinton 2016 presidential campaign chair John Podesta, to spread falsehoods about Trump’s ties to Russia and induce an unwarranted FBI investigation into the issue. None of the defendants have filed formal responses to the suit yet, but several have ridiculed the claims.