Former President Donald Trump filed a recusal motion in a sprawling federal lawsuit against Hillary Clinton, arguing that the presiding judge should be disqualified because Bill Clinton appointed him to the bench some 25 years ago. Trump’s lawyers freely admit they do not know whether the judge’s relationship to the Clintons stretches beyond that, and they claim that is a separate reason he should be pulled from the case.
A little less than two weeks ago, Trump filed a 108-page civil complaint in Florida that reads like a catalogue of his grievances about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Mueller report found that the Russian government engaged in a multifaceted effort to attack U.S. democratic institutions to benefit Trump, whose campaign expected to benefit from the Kremlin’s interference. Mueller successfully prosecuted several of Trump’s associates, but his report ultimately did not allege that Russia and the Trump campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy.
A bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence later affirmed those findings—and added that Trump campaign operatives Paul Manafort and Rick Gates sent internal campaign data to Konstantin Kolimnik, described in the report as a Russian intelligence officer.
Rewriting this history, Trump’s federal lawsuit alleges that a vast, Democratic Party conspiracy created what it labels a “false Trump–Russia collusion narrative.” Accusing these forces of violating federal anti-racketeering law, Trump sued Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, the party’s law firm Perkins Coie, its now-prosecuted former partner Michael Sussmann, and many other of the campaign’s longtime boogeymen.
Less than two weeks after its filing, Trump’s attorneys attacked U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks, based only on how the judge came to the bench in 1997.
“William J. Clinton and the Defendant, Hillary Clinton, are presently husband and wife,” Trump’s lawyer Peter Ticktin wrote in a four-page motion to disqualify the judge on Monday. “Hillary Clinton was married to William J. Clinton, during the time her husband nominated Judge M. Middlebrooks to his current position, as federal court judge, and Hillary Clinton acted as First Lady of the United States, during the time of the judge’s nomination.”
“Due to the fact that the defendant, Hillary Clinton is being sued by her former opponent for the United States Presidency, an election that she lost, regarding serious allegations on her part, as well as her allies, of engaging in fraudulent and unlawful activities against the plaintiff, and because her husband nominated Judge Middlebrooks to the federal bench, there exists a reasonable basis that Judge Middlebrooks’ impartiality will be questioned,” Ticktin claims.
When the case was initially filed, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti tweeted: “This isn’t a serious lawsuit.”
Many observers pointed to the record of Trump’s lead attorney, the author of a book titled “What Makes Trump Tick,” in making that argument.
In 2019, the Florida Supreme Court suspended Ticktin from practicing law, citing “egregious” and “serious violations” when he represented a client who defrauded investors out of $20 million. Ticktin’s license is currently in good standing, and he has not faced discipline in the last 10 years. His co-counsel Alina Habba represents him in various civil litigation in New York, including a lawsuit by rape accuser E. Jean Carroll and New York Attorney General Letitia James’s (D) fraud probe into the Trump Organization.
Both attorneys cited their own ignorance of what relationship Middlebrooks had with the Clintons, if any, outside the nomination as a rationale for his disqualification.
“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 motion states.
“The Plaintiff is also unaware if the Judge has current relationship with either the Defendant, Hillary Clinton, or her husband, and how far back the relationship has existed,” it continues.
Federal appellate attorney Raffi Melkonian, a partner with the Houston-based law firm Wright, Close & Barger LLP, supplied a one-word response to Trump’s motion on Twitter.
“Bananas,” he tweeted.
Trump says that the judge should be disqualified and recuse himself from acting in “any capacity” over the litigation.
Read the motion, below:
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.)
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