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Tanya Chutkan: Who is the judge overseeing Trump’s 2020 election probe case?

Former president Donald Trump was hit with his third criminal indictment on 1 August, this one charging him over his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and the subsequent January 6 attack on the US Capitol Building.

Following an investigation by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith, a grand jury in Washington, DC, has charged Mr Trump on four counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, conspiracy against rights and obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding.

This is the second federal indictment filed against the Republican and the third he has received in total this year.

The DC district judge assigned to oversee the case is Tanya Chutkan, a court docket revealed prior to Mr Trump’s arraignment on Thursday 3 August, at which he entered a not guilty plea to all charges.

Judge Chutkan is an appointee of former president Barack Obama and was first appointed to the US District Court for the District of Columbia in June 2014.

Here’s everything you need to know about the judge assigned to Mr Trump’s case.

Who is Judge Tanya Chutkan?

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Judge Chutkan received her BA in Economics from George Washington University and her Juris Doctor (JD) from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was an associate editor of its Law Review and a legal writing fellow, according to her DC District Court biography.

Judge Chutkan has been assigned to the election fraud case against former President Donald Trump (AP)
Judge Chutkan has been assigned to the election fraud case against former President Donald Trump (AP)

After law school, Judge Chutkan worked in private practice for three years, before joining the District of Columbia Public Defender Service (PDS), where she worked as a trial attorney and supervisor.

According to her biography, during Judge Chutkan’s time working at the PDS, she argued “several appellate cases and tried over 30 cases, including numerous serious felony matters”.

Eleven years later, Judge Chutkan left the PDS and joined the private law firm Boies, Schiller, & Flexner LLP, where she worked for 12 years and specialised in white collar criminal defence.

As a district judge, she has become known as one of the toughest judges in the prosecution of the Capitol rioters.

One case thar caught everyone’s attention was that of an Ohio couple, Brandon and Stephanie Miller, who climbed through a broken window of the US Capitol and live-streamed a video of themselves inside the building.

At the time, the prosecutor asked the Department of Justice (DoJ) to sentence them to home confinement as a part of a 36-month probationary period.

Judge Chutkan disagreed with the prosecution’s request and instead sentenced Mr Miller to 20 days in jail and Ms Miller to 14 days in December 2021.

At the time, Judge Chutkan said: “They didn’t just walk through a door. They climbed through a broken window… they knew full well of the violence that had preceded their entry.

“The fact is that they were part of a mob… that was intent on stopping the lawful transfer of power.”

Rioters loyal to Donald Trump rally at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on 6 January 2021 (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
Rioters loyal to Donald Trump rally at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on 6 January 2021 (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

In total, she has already sentenced at least 38 people convicted of Capitol riot-related crimes – and has handed down harsh punishments in these cases.

Matt Mazzocco – a Texas mortgage broker who posed for a selfie in front of rioters breaching the building – was sentenced to 45 days in jail by Judge Chutkan with an additional 60 hours of community service in October 2021.

Prosecutors had initially recommended three months under home confinement and probation but Judge Chutkan described the recommended sentence as too lenient.

“If Mr Mazzocco walks away with probation and a slap on the wrist, that’s not going to deter anyone trying what he did again. It does not, in this court’s opinion, indicate the severity – the gravity of the offences that he committed on January 6,” she said.

Judge Chutkan vs Trump

Judge Chutkan has also had previous dealings with Mr Trump.

In November 2021, Mr Trump filed a lawsuit in the hopes of blocking the National Archives from handing over documents related to the failed insurrection to the House select committee investigating the events of that day.

Judge Chutkan rejected Mr Trump’s request and said: “While broad, these requests, and each of the other requests made by the committee, do not exceed the committee’s legislative powers.”

She said that Mr Trump had not acknowledged “the deference owed to” President Joe Biden’s determination that the committee could access the materials.

Donald Trump gives his fateful speech on 6 January 2021 (AP)
Donald Trump gives his fateful speech on 6 January 2021 (AP)

“[Mr Trump’s] position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power ‘exists in perpetuity,’” Judge Chutkan said.

“But presidents are not kings, and the plaintiff is not president.”

An Associated Press analysis of court records shows Judge Chutkan has sentenced at least 38 people convicted of Capitol riot-related crimes so far.

She is one of two dozen judges in DC who have collectively sentenced almost 600 defendants so far for their roles in the assault on democracy.

Additonal reporting from agencies.