Judge dismisses Trump's request for recusal from Hillary Clinton RICO lawsuit, says the cases cited in Trump's motion 'do not appear to support his arguments'

Judge dismisses Trump's request for recusal from Hillary Clinton RICO lawsuit, says the cases cited in Trump's motion 'do not appear to support his arguments'
Former President Donald Trump.Getty
  • A Bill Clinton-appointed judge rejected Trump's request that he recuse himself from Trump's RICO case against Hillary Clinton.
  • Judge Donald Middlebrooks ruled that to warrant recusal, "more must be involved than solely my appointment to the bench" 25 years ago "by the spouse of a litigant now before me."

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected former President Donald Trump's request that he recuse himself from overseeing Trump's sweeping lawsuit against Hillary Clinton, people linked to her campaign, and former FBI and DOJ officials.

Trump's lawyers said in their motion for recusal that US District Judge Donald Middlebrooks should step aside because he was appointed to the federal bench by then-President Bill Clinton.

"Due to the fact that Judge Middlebrooks has a relationship to the Defendant, HILLARY CLINTON's husband, by way of his nomination as Judge to this Court, this amounts to prejudice so virulent or pervasive as to constitute bias against a party," their filing said.

Middlebrooks in his Wednesday ruling acknowledged that Bill Clinton appointed him to the court. "Although former President Clinton is not a party to this lawsuit, I will give Plaintiff the benefit of the doubt and equate the interests of the Clintons for the sake of analysis here," the filing said.

Even so, the judge found that Trump's argument doesn't hold water, writing that "to warrant recusal, something more must be involved than solely my appointment to the bench twenty-five years ago by the spouse of a litigant now before me."


He also pointed out that the three cases that were cited in Trump's motion for recusal "compel no different conclusion, and indeed do not appear to support his arguments."

In an accompanying footnote, Middlebrooks said that in the first case, Hamm v. Members of Board of Regents of Florida, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals "held that a district court judge did not exhibit bias sufficient to warrant recusal based on certain statements he made at trial."

None of the cases cited "discussed whether judicial appointment by a party, without more, would cause a reasonable person to suspect bias on the part of the presiding judge," Middlebrooks wrote. And the ruling in one of them "emphasized that, to establish bias justifying disqualification, a party must demonstrate 'such pervasive bias and prejudice that it constitutes bias against a party' — a showing that certainly has not been made here."

In all, "the law is well settled" that merely being appointed to the bench by a litigant does not "create in reasonable minds ... a perception that [the judge's] ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity, impartiality, and competence [would be] impaired," Middlebrooks concluded, quoting the judicial code of conduct.

Wednesday's ruling was widely expected given that, as Politico reported, it's exceedingly rare for courts to grant motions seeking the recusal of judges based on the political party of the president who nominated them.


Middlebrooks also made that point, writing, "Every federal judge is appointed by a president who is affiliated with a major political party, and therefore every federal judge could theoretically be viewed as beholden, to some extent or another."

"As judges, we must all transcend politics," he continued. "When I became a federal judge, I took an oath to 'faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all duties ... under the Constitution and laws of the United States' ... I have done so for the last twenty-five years, and this case will be no different."

Trump's sweeping racketeering lawsuit against Clinton and the other defendants accused them of conspiring to fabricate evidence during the 2016 campaign tying him to "a hostile foreign sovereignty."

It dismissed any "contrived Trump-Russia link." It also recycled other claims Trump has made about former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign and the 2016 election.

Specifically, it said Mueller exonerated "Donald Trump and his campaign with his finding that there was no evidence of collusion with Russia." And it said the "Mueller Report demonstrated that, after a two-year long investigation coming on the heels of a year-long FBI investigation, the Special Counsel found no evidence that Donald Trump or his campaign ever colluded with the Russian government to undermine the 2016 election."


Mueller concluded in 2019 that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 US election to damage Clinton and propel Trump to the Oval Office. But his final report specified that investigators evaluated the relevant events from "the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of 'collusion.'"

Prosecutors ultimately determined that there was not "sufficient evidence" to charge anyone on the Trump campaign with conspiring with Moscow. But they noted that the campaign "expected it would benefit electorally" from Russia's efforts.

Hillary Clinton's spokesman Nick Merrill said in an earlier statement to Insider that the lawsuit was "nonsense."

Charles R. Davis contributed reporting.