Facts Matter: More than one judge handed down harsh Jan. 6 sentences

Updated 8/5/2023 5:14 PM

With the third indictment of former President Donald Trump, the latest related to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol in Washington D.C., U.S. District Court judge Tanya S. Chutkan was randomly assigned to oversee the case.

Chutkan has previously been assigned to cases with defendants involved in the riot at the Capitol and she has handed down some tough sentences. An incorrect social media post claims she is the only one who has done that.


"The Trump case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, according to the court docket. Chutkan, an Obama appointee, is the only federal judge in Washington, D.C., who has sentenced Jan. 6 defendants to sentences longer than the government had requested," read an Aug. 1 post on X, formerly Twitter.

But that's not accurate, according to PolitiFact.

Chutkan, appointed to the bench in 2014 by President Barack Obama, has handed down sentences in at least 37 cases to defendants involved in the Capitol riot. Of those, nine times she issued a sentence that was more than what prosecutors had recommended. In nine other cases, the sentence was nearly what prosecutors had asked. And sentencing in the other 19 cases was less than what was requested.

But she is not the only judge to give harsher-than-requested sentences to Jan. 6 defendants. At least three other judges have issued sentences that included more prison time than prosecutors had sought. In those cases, the number of days of incarceration the judges handed down was generally double what prosecutors had sought and the fines were often larger.

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In a June 2022 study, The Associated Press reported, in Jan. 6 cases, lighter sentences were issued nearly 75% of the time while the recommendations were exceeded in just 10% of the cases.

Obama not involved in chef's death

Tafari Campbell, a personal chef for former President Barack Obama, drowned on July 23 after he fell off his paddleboard near the Obamas' home on Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts. It's sparked many conspiracy theories.

A recent Instagram post that included a photo of Obama golfing tried to tie the former president to Campbell's death.

"This is the very first picture taken of Barack Hussein Obama just days after his personal chef, Tafari Campbell, mysteriously died in 3 feet of water at Obama's home in Martha's Vineyard. Cuts on his hands. As if he got into a fight. VERY odd," the post read.

But Obama had nothing to do with Campbell drowning and there is nothing odd about the photo, according to The Associated Press. Where it appears Obama is wearing bandages on his fingers, he actually has on golfer's tape, designed to prevent blisters. Photos as far back as 2010 show him wearing similar wraps on his fingers when playing golf.


This has been "standard practice for him for many years," Obama spokesperson Eric Schultz told the AP.

Brad Woodger, owner of the Royal and Ancient Chappaquiddick Links on Martha's Vineyard, told the AP it's typical for golfers to wear the tape to prevent blisters or split calluses.

"The friction and movement of the club can cause blisters in certain contact spots on the hand. Once the blister forms, it makes the swinging motion difficult (even with a bandage on it)," he told the AP.

The Massachusetts State Police and the state medical examiner's office have said there was no evidence that Campbell's death was suspicious.

No assassination attempt on Trump

A July 27 Facebook post included a video that began with a narrator saying, "This is a breaking news alert."

A person who identifies himself as Gary Franchi, with the Next News Network, picks up the coverage in front of a bank of screens, claiming he has "an update on the Donald Trump assassination attempt."

"New details have come to light as the dust has settled, revealing a very, very tense election cycle," he says.

But this is not breaking news, according to PolitiFact. The false claim is based on an incident that happened in 2016.

During a campaign stop on Nov. 5, 2016, in Reno, Nevada, Trump was rushed off the stage when someone in the crowd yelled something about a gun. Trump returned to the stage and finished his speech. No weapon was found at the venue.

NBC News reported at the time that a man at the rally displaying a sign that read "Republicans Against Trump" said people tried to grab his sign, he was tackled and someone yelled "gun."

Trump's campaign, and his son Donald Trump Jr., said the candidate had survived an "assassination attempt."

• Bob Oswald is a veteran Chicago-area journalist and former news editor of the Elgin Courier-News. Contact him at boboswald33@gmail.com.

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