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Judge skeptical of requests to muzzle Trump attacks on FBI

REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID/FILE PHOTO
                                Former President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during his campaign event, in Racine, Wis., on June 18. The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s classified documents case reacted skeptically today to a request from prosecutors to bar the former president from making statements that could endanger law enforcement agents who have worked on the case.
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REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID/FILE PHOTO

Former President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during his campaign event, in Racine, Wis., on June 18. The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s classified documents case reacted skeptically today to a request from prosecutors to bar the former president from making statements that could endanger law enforcement agents who have worked on the case.

FORT PIERCE >> The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s classified documents case reacted skeptically today to a request from prosecutors to bar the former president from making statements that could endanger law enforcement agents who have worked on the case.

At a hearing in federal court in Florida, Judge Aileen Cannon pressed prosecutors for evidence that Trump’s false claims that the FBI had been authorized to assassinate him has led to violent threats against agents working on the case.

“There still needs to be a connection between alleged dangerous statements” and the risk of physical harm by Trump’s supporters, she said.

On social media and in fundraising messages, Trump has falsely claimed that a routine FBI use-of-force policy authorized agents to attempt an assassination when they raided his Mar-a-Lago estate in 2022 and seized boxes of documents he had taken from the White House.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges he illegally held onto sensitive national security papers after leaving office in 2021 as well as obstructing government efforts to retrieve them.

The criminal case is one of four Trump faces as he seeks to unseat Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.

Judges overseeing two of these cases have imposed partial gag orders on Trump to try to rein in his verbal attacks on prosecutors, witnesses and other participants.

Prosecutors from Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office say he should face limits in this case as well. “These types of statements are nowhere close to the line,” prosecutor David Harbach told Cannon.

Cannon did not seem inclined to agree, reprimanding Harbach when he objected to her frequent interruptions. She has previously denied the request on procedural grounds.

Trump’s criticism over the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago social club intensified last month after the FBI’s use-of-force policy was made public along with other records related to the operation.

The policy stipulated that the FBI could not use lethal force unless an agent or other person was at serious risk of death or serious injury. Trump was not present at the club at the time of the search.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche said Trump was criticizing the administration of President Joe Biden, not individual agents who carried out the search.

“President Trump is extremely frustrated that the Biden administration raided his Mar-a-Lago home, and he has a right to be,” he said.

A FLURRY OF LEGAL MOTIONS

Cannon has ruled in favor of the Republican presidential candidate on previous requests and has allowed a flurry of motions by his legal team to slow the case to a crawl. It is unlikely the case will reach a jury before Trump and Biden face voters in the Nov. 5 election.

Earlier in the day, another Trump lawyer, Emil Bove, argued that the case should be dismissed because Smith’s office is unlawfully funded through a 1970s-era law set up for politically sensitive prosecutions.

U.S. prosecutor James Pearce told Cannon that the funding had been upheld in previous court cases that challenged other special prosecutors — including David Weiss, who recently won a criminal conviction of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

On Friday, Trump’s legal team argued that it should be dismissed because Smith has too much independence — even though Trump has repeatedly blasted him as a puppet of Biden.

It is not clear when Cannon will rule on those arguments, which have been rejected in other courts.

Special counsels have been appointed in Democratic- and Republican-led administrations alike to ensure an attorney can independently investigate and, if warranted, prosecute a case without any appearance of political influence.

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