Judge questions request to limit Trump’s remarks

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — The federal judge overseeing former President Donald Trump’s classified documents case posed tough questions Monday to prosecutors who have asked her to bar him from making inflammatory statements that might endanger any FBI agents involved in the case.

At a contentious hearing in U.S. District Court in Fort Pierce, Florida, Judge Aileen Cannon seemed disinclined to impose new conditions on Trump that would limit what he could say about the FBI.


Prosecutors had asked for the restrictions last month after Trump made blatantly false statements, claiming that federal agents were “locked &loaded ready to take me out” when they carried out a search two years ago at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida.

The court-authorized search was a crucial element of the government’s investigation, leading to the discovery of more than 100 classified documents that Trump kept after leaving office.

The hearing was the latest clash between Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith. It centered on a knotty issue that has now cropped up in several of the former president’s legal cases: how to balance Trump’s right to attack the government — even falsely — against shielding the participants in the cases from threats of violence or harassment inspired by his incendiary remarks.

Cannon put off answering that question for the moment, declining to join the other judges who have put restrictions on Trump’s speech in two of his criminal cases — in Washington and New York — and during his civil fraud trial in New York City.

But she expressed skepticism about the mechanism prosecutors want to use to curb Trump’s remarks in Florida.

They have asked Cannon to change the terms of his bail to bar him from saying anything that might endanger agents working on the case.

The judge, however, questioned whether they could show there was a “reasonable necessity” to impose the measures in order to protect the safety of the agents.

The dispute about Trump’s statements began in May when he falsely claimed on social media and in fundraising appeals that the FBI had authorized its agents to shoot him during the search of Mar-a-Lago.

Prosecutors have asserted that the statements were a “grossly misleading” misinterpretation of an FBI plan that actually set forth strict limitations on the use of deadly force for the agents that descended on the property.

Addressing Cannon, David Harbach, one of Smith’s top deputies, said Trump’s remarks about the FBI were not only false but also dangerous. The danger, he added, was amplified by what he described as the “potent tool” of Trump’s Truth Social account, which the former president has often used to rile up millions of his supporters.

Cannon, however, seemed to have a hard time discerning a direct connection between Trump’s messages and any palpable threats to agents working on the documents case. She also noted that she had already redacted the agents’ names from public filings, a measure she took to protect them against harm.

But when she seemed to question Harbach’s contention that the names of some of the agents had already been made public and that other agents had faced threats in the earlier remarks by Trump, he visibly lost his patience.

Ultimately, Cannon scolded Harbach from the bench — the second time she has done so in the past two months.

“I don’t appreciate your tone,” she told him. “I think we have been here before. I expect decorum in this courtroom. If you’re not able to do that, I’m sure one of your colleagues could take your place.”

Echoing Cannon’s concerns, Todd Blanche, a lawyer for Trump, noted that the government had failed to present evidence that agents in the documents case had faced any threats because of the former president’s statements.

Blanche also argued that restrictions on Trump’s speech would be particularly onerous given that he is scheduled to debate President Joe Biden on Thursday night for the first time in this election cycle.

“It would be extremely chilling to President Trump and what he’s allowed to say,” Blanche said.

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