Trump calls for judge’s recusal as his lawyer deems effort to overturn election ‘aspirational’
By Luke Broadwater and Maggie Astor
Appearing on five television networks Sunday morning, a lawyer for former President Donald 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 Lauro, came as Trump was blanketing his social media platform, Truth Social, with posts suggesting that his legal team was going to seek the recusal of Tanya 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 Trump for his role in trying to overturn the election, his third criminal case this year, Lauro appeared in interviews on CNN, ABC, Fox, NBC and CBS. He endeavored to defend Trump, including against evidence that, as president, he pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, to reject legitimate votes for Joe Biden in favor of false electors pledged to Trump.
“What President Trump didn’t do is direct Vice President Pence to do anything,” Lauro said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He asked him in an aspirational way.”
Lauro used the same defense on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when asked about Trump’s now-infamous call to Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger. During that call, Trump pressured Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” to win the state and suggested that Raffensperger could face criminal repercussions if he did not.
“That was an aspirational ask,” Lauro said.
His portrayal of Trump’s approach is at odds with two key moments in the indictment.
In one, prosecutors say that on Jan. 5, 2021, Trump met alone with Pence, who refused to do what 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.”
Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, then alerted the head of Pence’s Secret Service detail, prosecutors said.
That same day, after The New York Times reported that Pence had indeed told Trump that he lacked the authority to do what Trump wanted, the president issued a public statement calling the report “fake news.” According to the indictment, Trump also falsely asserted: “The Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.”
As 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 then-President Bill Clinton — 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,” Trump wrote Saturday. A few days earlier, he mocked 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.”
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 Trump against intimidating witnesses and after prosecutors flagged another Truth Social post by Trump as potentially threatening.
On Sunday, Trump also attacked Jack Smith, the special counsel in the Jan. 6 case, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., calling Smith “deranged” and Pelosi “sick” and “demented.”
In one all-caps message, Trump accused Smith of waiting to bring the case until “right in the middle” of his election campaign.
In the other posts, Trump attacked 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!” Trump wrote.
And he channeled his grievances with the court process toward Chutkan and toward the population of Washington, D.C., writing that he would never get a “fair trial.”
For his part, Pence has been criticizing 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 Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” following Lauro’s appearance, and on CBS’ “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,” Pence told 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.”