Exclusive—Matthew Whitaker: Conflicts of Interest Abound in Judge Merchan’s Handling of the Trump Sham Trial

Juan Merchan
Jane Rosenberg/Pool Photo via AP

One of America’s foundational principles is “equal justice under the law,” or the principle that no matter who you are or what you stand for, you are entitled to a fair chance to make your case in a court of law. That’s why the Lady Justice statue outside the Supreme Court wears a blindfold and holds a scale—the blindfold to symbolize her impartiality and immunity from outside influences, and the scale to signify her objective weighing of the evidence in front of her.

Unfortunately, this bedrock principle of American self-government has been put in jeopardy by the trial of President Donald Trump currently underway in New York. Though most Americans expect our judges to be neutral arbiters of the law, Judge Juan Merchan, the judge overseeing this trial against President Trump, is anything but.

Judge Juan M. Merchan poses in his chambers in New York on March 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

As it turns out, two major Democrat clients of Judge Merchan’s daughter have raised over $93 million in campaign donations through her firm, several times using the very case Judge Merchan is overseeing in their fundraising pitches. Ms. Merchan, who previously worked for Vice President Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign, currently works as the president of Authentic Campaigns, a left-wing political consulting firm based out of Chicago. Two of Authentic’s top clients include Senate candidate and congressman, Adam Schiff, the radical California Democrat who became famous for his outright lies in pushing the Russian collusion hoax, and the Senate Majority PAC, a major fundraiser for Democrat Senate campaigns.

According to campaign finance records, Schiff’s campaign has raised over $20 million since he began fundraising off President Trump’s indictment last April and Senate Majority PAC has raised a whopping $73 million. A deeper dive into the campaign finance reports show that Authentic Campaigns received more than $10 million from the Schiff campaign over the past year and over $15 million from Senate Majority PAC since 2019.

The fact that Democratic campaigns and their affiliated consultants are profiting handsomely from the political persecution of President Trump should come as no surprise to anyone who follows money in politics, but the fact that an immediate family member of the judge overseeing this case is too presents an atrocious conflict of interest.

Former President Donald Trump attends his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on April 18, 2024. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

When one considers the additional fact that Judge Merchan went out of his way to personally contribute to President Biden’s campaign in 2020, any reasonable observer of this matter will conclude that allowing Judge Merchan to continue to participate in this case is untenable and will be a glaring outrage to all Americans who believe in equal justice under the law, while greatly undermining the credibility of the case.

In an order refusing to recuse himself last Summer, Judge Merchan said that he “examined his conscience” and was confident in his ability to rule fairly and impartially. But who could believe him?

If Judge Merchan’s own daughter is profiting from the case he is presiding over—substantially—how can he be trusted to be fair and impartial in his rulings? If tens of millions of dollars is not enough to spur a recusal based on a conflict of interest—or, at least, the appearance of a conflict of interest—what is?

Of course, this isn’t the only case pending against President Trump that is mired by conflicts of interest and ethical violations. Recent proceedings in Georgia demonstrate that prosecutor Fani Willis hired her lover, Nathan Wade, to manage the Trump prosecution even though he had little prosecutorial experience. Over the last few years, Fani Willis has paid him over half a million dollars of taxpayer money through the Fulton County District Attorney’s office—money which Wade then used to take her on luxurious vacations around the globe.

In the federal cases brought by Department of Justice (DOJ) Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, President Biden’s Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed and empowered Smith to use the full force and resources of the federal government to investigate and charge his top political opponent, with an emphasis on forcing trial dates to directly conflict with the general election.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (left) and Special Counsel Jack Smith at press conferences in August 2023 announcing their separate indictments of former President Donald Trump. (Photos: Joshua Lott, Alex Wong/Getty Images)

These political witch hunts are the sort of thing that we expect to see in corrupt foreign authoritarian regimes—not here at home in our constitutional republic. As Americans continue to watch these consequences of these sham indictments unfold, our public officials are doing incalculable damage to the integrity of our justice system and the concept of the rule of law.

As John Adams once said, our constitutional system constructs a “government of laws and not of men.” When political operatives and radical partisans weaponize the justice system to crush their political opponents to maintain power, our entire system of democratic republicanism is thrown into jeopardy.

The sham charges President Trump faces should be dropped immediately—but at the very least, politically biased, activist judges whose families personally benefit from the case have no place overseeing a trial of this magnitude. Judge Merchan should have stepped back from this case so we can put the blindfold back on Lady Justice.

Matt Whitaker is a senior fellow at the American Cornerstone Institute and the former Acting U.S. Attorney General.


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