Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump kept hammering the federal judge presiding over the civil fraud lawsuit against the much-maligned Trump University, claiming his Mexican heritage constitutes a conflict of interest.
Trump says his hawkish stance on immigration inhibits U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel from reaching a fair and impartial verdict. Curiel was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants.
“I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
It is not the first time Trump has taken issue with Curiel’s ethnicity. “I think it has to do with perhaps the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border,” Trump said in a Fox News interview in February. “Now, he is Hispanic, I believe. He is a very hostile judge to me.”
He has elsewhere called Curiel, an Obama appointee, “biased” and “a hater.”
Curiel’s past association with the plaintiff’s attorney requires him to step aside, Trump argues. Curiel and the attorney, Jason Forge, served together in the U.S. attorney’s office in southern California in the 1990s. “Neither Judge Curiel’s ethnicity nor the fact we crossed paths as prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s office well over a decade ago is to blame,” Forge told The Journal. Curiel assumed prominence for his vigorous prosecution of drug traffickers in the San Diego area. He was reportedly the target of a cartel assassination during his tenure.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson falsely asserted Curiel is a member of an Hispanic activist group, the National Council of La Raza, staging anti-Trump protests around California. He is in fact a member of the San Diego chapter of La Raza Lawyers Association, an organization supporting Hispanic lawyers. (VIDEO: Judge Presiding Over Trump University Case Is Member Of La Raza Lawyers Group)
The criticism prompted Curiel to unseal some documents related to the case. “Defendant became the front-runner for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential race, and has placed the integrity of these proceedings at issue,” his order read.
Trump has promised to hold Curiel accountable if elected. “I’m telling you, this court system, judges in this court system, they ought to look into Judge Curiel. Because was Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace, OK? But we’ll come back in November. Wouldn’t that be wild if I’m president and I come back to do a civil case?”
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