‘Problematic’ political donations by judge in Trump case present ‘troubling optics’ says fmr. prosecutor

Former Southern California US Attorney Carol Lam candidly addressed the political donations made by Judge Juan Merchan to progressive groups and Democrats, calling them “problematic” and labeling them as “troubling optics” for a sitting judge ruling on former President Trump’s case.

(Video Credit: MSNBC)

Lam made her comments on MSNBC Friday concerning Merchan who is the judge presiding over Trump’s hush money case. Though the donations were exceedingly small, it still does not look good for a judge of Merchan’s stature to take a political stance one way or another, especially given the publicity surrounding the case and accusations of bias.

In 2020, Federal Election Commission reports show that the judge contributed to the Biden for President campaign committee, the Progressive Turnout Project, and its subsidiary political action committee called Stop Republicans which describes itself as “a grassroots-funded effort dedicated to resisting the Republican Party and Donald Trump’s radical right-wing legacy.” He gave $15 or less to each of those entities in July 2020 through ActBlue, the Democratic Party’s preferred online fundraising platform.

Lam warned that Merchan’s previous political donations could stoke further claims of bias and harm public perception of the trial.

“We’ve also learned, during an FEC filing report, that Judge Juan Merchan, who presided over Trump’s New York arraignment, made a campaign donation to President Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, it was for $15,” MSNBC host Lindsey Reiser stated during the segment, addressing the issue in a short clip that almost appeared to be an afterthought instead of due diligence because the amount was so small.

Reiser asked Lam, “Are the optics problematic here?”

“I think the optics are a bit problematic,” Lam admitted, noting that the donations could be perceived as an ethical issue.

“To be clear, the donations were made in 2020, before Judge Merchan had either the Trump organization case assigned to him or, obviously, this case, but it is troubling optics, I think, for any judge to have made a political contribution, and then to have a party who is either the beneficiary or not the beneficiary of that political contribution before that judge in court,” she continued.

Regardless of the amount, any donation to one party or another by a ruling judge could raise doubts in the case and open the door for an appeal, according to Lam.

“Now, it was a trivial amount of money and this is a trial-level judge. The judge, in this case, is not the ultimate trier of fact, the jury is, but the judge does call some balls and some strikes during the course of the trial, and if there’s a conviction, the judge is responsible for sentencing,” she commented.

“That is all subject to review on appeal. However, it is probably not the best course of action for a judge to have made political contributions while a sitting judge, with the possibility that such cases can arise before him,” Lam asserted.

“While the amounts here are minimal, it’s surprising that a sitting judge would make political donations of any size to a partisan candidate or cause,” Elie Honig, a senior CNN legal analyst, and former federal prosecutor, also pointed out, according to CNN.

Stephen Gillers, who is a legal ethics professor at New York University, said that New York has adopted language from the American Bar Association Model Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits judges from “soliciting funds for, paying an assessment to, or making a contribution to a political organization or candidate.”

“The contribution to Biden and possibly the one to ‘Stop Republicans’ would be forbidden unless there is some other explanation that would allow them,” Gillers said, according to CNN.

(Video Credit: CNN)

Trump appeared for his arraignment in front of Merchan on Tuesday. The former president has called the judge and his family “Trump haters” on social media. The judge’s daughter worked directly for Kamala Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign and with her consulting firm on the Biden-Harris 2020 campaign. She has also worked for a number of high-level Democrats including Adam Schiff and Gavin Newsom among others.

“The Judge ‘assigned’ to my Witch Hunt Case, a ‘Case’ that has NEVER BEEN CHARGED BEFORE, HATES ME. His name is Juan Manuel Marchan, was hand picked by Bragg & the Prosecutors, & is the same person who ‘railroaded’ my 75 year old former CFO, Allen Weisselberg, to take a ‘plea’ deal (Plead GUILTY, even if you are not, 90 DAYS, fight us in Court, 10 years (life!) in jail. He strong armed Allen, which a judge is not allowed to do, & treated my companies, which didn’t ‘plead,’ VICIOUSLY. APPEALING!” the former president railed on Truth Social.

“I have a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family whose daughter worked for Kamala Harris and now receives money from the Biden Harris campaign — and a lot of it,” Trump claimed in a speech at Mar-a-Lago following his arraignment.

(Video Credit: CNN)

Despite the left playing down the donations as “trivial” because they are so small, it does raise questions as to the impartiality of Merchan in the Trump case and whether it could cause the case to be tossed on appeal. And they certainly could be grounds for an ethics investigation.



We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, profanity, vulgarity, doxing, or discourteous behavior. If a comment is spam, instead of replying to it please click the ∨ icon below and to the right of that comment. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain fruitful conversation.

Latest Articles