The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s lawsuit against Clinton was filed in court with judge he appointed

Former president Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

When Donald Trump filed a lawsuit against Hillary Clinton accusing her of spreading false information about his 2016 campaign and Russia, the former president tried to get the case heard by a judge that he himself had appointed to the bench.

That news was first revealed in April and got renewed attention Thursday when a different judge dismissed Trump’s lawsuit in a scathing decision, saying that his claims “are not only unsupported by any legal authority but plainly foreclosed by binding precedent.”

“I note that Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in the Fort Pierce division of this District, where only one federal judge sits: Judge Aileen Cannon, who Plaintiff appointed in 2020,” Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks of the Southern District of Florida wrote in a footnote on a separate motion.

“Despite the odds, this case landed with me instead,” Middlebrooks wrote.

Cannon is the Trump-nominated judge who this week intervened in the Justice Department investigation into Trump’s possible mishandling of classified information, agreeing to grant his request for an independent review of the material that FBI agents have seized.

Trump had sought the appointment of what’s known as a special master to assess whether the government took anything from his Florida residence that may be protected by attorney-client privilege or his status as a former president.

A telephone and text message left for a Trump spokesperson was not immediately returned.

Trump’s lawsuit was filed in March; the following month his team filed a motion to dismiss Middlebrooks, who was appointed to the bench in 1997 by President Bill Clinton.

In releasing his ruling on Trump’s lawsuit, Middlebrooks also released his order denying that he be removed from the case. “The law is well-settled,” Middlebrooks wrote, “that appointment to the bench by a litigant, without more,” is not enough of a reason for a recusal. He added:

I have never met or spoken with Bill or Hillary Clinton. Other than my appointment by Bill Clinton, I do not now have nor have I ever had any relationship with the Clintons.
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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.

In the footnote highlighting Trump’s effort to get the lawsuit in front of a judge he himself appointed to the bench, Middlebrooks added: “when Plaintiff is a litigant before a judge that he himself appointed, he does not tend to advance these same sorts of bias concerns.”

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