The statement from the US District Court was direct and did not offer any explanation:
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia judge presiding over the criminal case for President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has been recused from handling the case, a court spokeswoman said on Thursday.
According to a court filing, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras, who presided over a Dec. 1 hearing where Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his contacts with Russia, will no longer handle the case.
Court spokeswoman Lisa Klem did not say why Contreras was recused, and added that the case was randomly reassigned.
The use of the term “was recused” is noteworthy as the court spokesperson purposely did not use the terminology “recused himself” with regard to Contreras removal from the case. The terms are not necessarily interchangeable and the “was recused” phrasing suggests that Contreras was told to recuse himself rather than the judge voluntarily stepping away from the case based on his own concern for a conflict of interest.
According to Joe DiGenova, a former US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Contreras was, in fact, removed from the case. DiGenova revealed the claim during an interview earlier this month on WMAL radio in Washington DC:
“I learned over the weekend that he (Contreras) did not recuse himself. He was removed from the case. Now the question for any good reporter at the Washington Post - the alternative universe in DC - is ‘why was Judge Contreras removed from the case by either the Chief Judge or the DC Circuit?’ Have you seen a story written about that? Isn’t it interesting how people in the press are not interested why the one judge who has taken a guilty plea in this case was removed from the case?”
The timing of the recusal is curious, to say the least, especially in light of some of the tidbits that have slipped out recently over the contents of the FISA memo compiled by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee.
Contreras sits on the FISA court. He was assigned to that court in May 2016, months before the FISA warrant was granted to the FBI to spy on members of the Trump campaign and the Trump transition.
It is believed that this surveillance contributed to the evidence that compelled Flynn to enter a plea for making misleading statements to federal investigators. Contreras accepted that plea as the presiding judge of the Mueller/Flynn case on December 2nd. Five days later, Contreras was recused from the case in which he had just accepted a plea.
What changed between December 2nd and December 7th? How could a conflict arise in those five days that had not existed prior to the plea deal?
Was Contreras the presiding judge who granted the FISA warrant that led to the Flynn plea? Was he the judge who accepted the Russian dossier (created by Christopher Steele while in the employ of the Clinton campaign) as objective and credible evidence justifying a FISA surveillance against Flynn and others in Trumpland during a hotly contested presidential campaign?
If so, does this taint the evidence and the circumstances that led Flynn to accept a guilty plea while being squeezed by Special Counsel Mueller’s team?
The court isn’t saying. They announced the recusal with no further statement or explanation. But now that we know what we know regarding the dossier and the FISA warrant, these questions deserve an answer.
You’d think some journalists in this town might want the answer too.