Judge Skeptical Of Requests To Muzzle Trump Attacks On FBI

Judge Skeptical of Muzzling Trump

Judge Aileen Cannon reacted skeptically to prosecutors’ request to bar former President Donald Trump from making statements that could endanger law enforcement agents working on his classified-documents case.

During a hearing in federal court in Florida, Judge Cannon pressed prosecutors for evidence linking Trump’s false claims—that the FBI had been authorized to assassinate him—to violent threats against agents involved in the case.

“There still needs to be a connection between alleged dangerous statements and the risk of physical harm by Trump’s supporters,” Cannon emphasized. Trump has falsely claimed on social media and in fundraising messages 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 of illegally retaining sensitive national security papers after leaving office in 2021 and obstructing government efforts to retrieve them.

This criminal case is one of four Trump faces as he seeks to unseat Democratic President Joe Biden in the November 5 election. Judges in two of these cases have imposed partial gag orders on Trump to curb his verbal attacks on prosecutors, witnesses, and other participants. Prosecutors from Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office argue that similar limits should apply in this case. “These types of statements are nowhere close to the line,” prosecutor David Harbach asserted to Cannon.

However, Cannon seemed reluctant to agree, reprimanding Harbach when he objected to her frequent interruptions. She had previously denied the request on procedural grounds. Trump’s criticism of the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago club intensified after the FBI’s use-of-force policy, along with other related records, was made public. The policy stipulated that the FBI could not use lethal force unless an agent or another person was at serious risk of death or serious injury. Trump was not present at the club during the search.

Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, argued that Trump was criticizing the Biden administration, not the individual agents who conducted the search. “President Trump is extremely frustrated that the Biden administration raided his Mar-a-Lago home, and he has a right to be,” Blanche said.

Judge Cannon has previously ruled in favor of the Republican presidential candidate on various requests, allowing his legal team to slow the case’s progress. It is unlikely that the case will reach a jury before Trump and Biden face voters in the November 5 election. Earlier that day, Trump’s lawyer Emil Bove argued for the case’s dismissal, claiming that Special Counsel Smith’s office is unlawfully funded through a 1970s-era law designed for politically sensitive prosecutions. U.S. prosecutor James Pearce countered, stating that previous court cases had upheld the funding mechanism for special prosecutors, including David Weiss, who recently secured a criminal conviction of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

On Friday, Trump’s legal team argued for dismissal on grounds that Smith has too much independence, despite Trump’s repeated assertions that Smith is a puppet of Biden. It remains unclear when Judge Cannon will rule on these arguments, which have been rejected in other courts. Special counsels have been appointed in both Democratic- and Republican-led administrations to ensure independent investigations and prosecutions without political influence.