Trump Calls for Recusal of Judge as His Lawyer Denies Pence’s 2020 Claims

by Pelican Press
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Appearing on five television networks Sunday morning, a lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump argued that his actions in the effort to overturn the 2020 election fell short of crimes and were merely “aspirational.”

The remarks from his lawyer, John F. Lauro, came as Mr. Trump was blanketing his social media platform, Truth Social, with posts suggesting that his legal team was going to seek the recusal of Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, the federal judge overseeing the case, and try to move his trial out of Washington.

With his client facing charges carrying decades in prison after a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Trump for his role in trying to overturn the election, his third criminal case this year, Mr. Lauro appeared in interviews on CNN, ABC, Fox, NBC and CBS. He endeavored to defend Mr. Trump, including against evidence that, as president, he pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, to reject legitimate votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr. in favor of false electors pledged to Mr. Trump.

“What President Trump didn’t do is direct Vice President Pence to do anything,” Mr. Lauro said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He asked him in an aspirational way.”

Mr. Lauro used the same defense on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when asked about Mr. Trump’s now-infamous call to Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger. During that call, President Trump pressured Mr. Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” to win the state and suggested that Mr. Raffensperger could face criminal repercussions if he did not.

“That was an aspirational ask,” Mr. Lauro said.

His portrayal of Mr. Trump’s approach is at odds with two key moments in the indictment.

In one, prosecutors say that on Jan. 5, 2021, Mr. Trump met alone with Mr. Pence, who refused to do what Mr. Trump wanted. When that happened, the indictment says, “the defendant grew frustrated and told the Vice President that the defendant would have to publicly criticize him.”

Mr. Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, then alerted the head of Mr. Pence’s Secret Service detail, prosecutors said.

That same day, after The Times reported that Mr. Pence had indeed told Mr. Trump that he lacked the authority to do what Mr. Trump wanted, the president issued a public statement calling the report “fake news.” According to the indictment, Mr. Trump also falsely asserted: “The Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.”

As Mr. Lauro made the rounds on all five Sunday news shows — what is known as the “full Ginsburg,” from when Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer, William Ginsburg, did the same amid allegations about her affair with President Bill Clinton — Mr. Trump waged his own campaign on Truth Social.

“WOW, it’s finally happened! Liddle’ Mike Pence, a man who was about to be ousted as Governor Indiana until I came along and made him V.P., has gone to the Dark Side,” Mr. Trump wrote on Saturday. A few days earlier, he mocked Mr. Pence, now a 2024 rival, for “attracting no crowds, enthusiasm or loyalty from people who, as a member of the Trump Administration, should be loving him.”

Mr. Trump went on: “I never told a newly emboldened (not based on his 2% poll numbers!) Pence to put me above the Constitution, or that Mike was ‘too honest.’”

His attack came after a judge warned Mr. Trump against intimidating witnesses and after prosecutors flagged another Truth Social post by Mr. Trump as potentially threatening.

On Sunday, Mr. Trump also attacked Jack Smith, the special counsel in the Jan. 6 case, and Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, calling Mr. Smith “deranged” and Ms. Pelosi “sick” and “demented.”

In one all-caps message, Mr. Trump accused Mr. Smith of waiting to bring the case until “right in the middle” of his election campaign.

In the other posts, Mr. Trump attacked Ms. Pelosi, the former House speaker, who recently said that the former president had seemed like “a scared puppy” before his arraignment. “She is a sick & demented psycho who will someday live in HELL!” Mr. Trump wrote.

And he channeled his grievances with the court process toward Judge Chutkan and toward the population of Washington, D.C., writing that he would never get a “fair trial.”

For his part, Mr. Pence has been criticizing Mr. Trump’s actions in carefully calibrated terms. He has repeatedly used the same phrases, arguing that anyone who “puts himself over the Constitution should never be president of the United States.” He repeated similar lines on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” following Mr. Lauro’s appearance, and on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“What I want the American people to know is that President Trump was wrong then and he’s wrong now: that I had no right to overturn the election,” Mr. Pence told the CNN anchor Dana Bash. “I had no right to reject or return votes, and that, by God’s grace, I did my duty under the Constitution of the United States, and I always will.”

Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer contributed reporting.

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