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Trump’s lawyers argue that a ban on attacks on the FBI would censor “political expression”

Trump’s lawyers argue that a ban on attacks on the FBI would censor “political expression”
Trump’s lawyers argue that a ban on attacks on the FBI would censor “political expression”

Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump on Friday night pushed back in an aggressive — and sometimes misleading — effort to curb his public attacks on the FBI agents working on his classified documents case in Florida.

In a 20-page court document, the lawyers attacked special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecutors for attempting to restrict Trump’s comments about the FBI on the eve of two momentous political events: the first presidential debate scheduled for June 27 and the Republican National Convention scheduled for July 15.

“The motion is a blatant attempt to impose totalitarian censorship of key political speech under threat of prison time. It is a clear attempt to silence President Trump’s arguments to the American people about the egregious nature of this investigation and prosecution,” the lawyers wrote.

The dispute began last month when Smith’s team asked Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who is presiding over the case, to revise Trump’s release conditions and prohibit him from making any public statements that could endanger the agents involved in the case.

The request came days after Mr Trump made a series of blatantly false statements, claiming the FBI was ready to shoot him when agents executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and Florida residence, in August 2022. During that search, agents discovered more than 100 classified documents. Mr Trump now faces charges of illegally retaining classified information and obstructing the government’s attempts to retrieve it.

The distortions resulted from a gross misrepresentation by the former president of a recently unsealed order to search Mar-a-Lago, which contained standard language intended to limit agents’ use of deadly force in executing warrants.

The order instructed the agents, like hundreds of others at the FBI, to use lethal force only in cases of extreme danger. But Trump and some of his allies turned those restrictions on their head, saying the agents were given the green light to kill him when they arrived at Mar-a-Lago.

In their lawsuit filed Friday night, Trump’s lawyers downplayed his falsehoods, saying he had merely criticized the Mar-a-Lago search “in a way that someone in the administration disagreed with and did not like.”

The lawyers also baselessly tried to link prosecutors’ attempt to hold Trump accountable for the false statements to a very different conflict in the case: the allegation they made this week that the FBI failed to properly preserve evidence contained in the 45 boxes of documents agents seized during the Mar-a-Lago search.

Despite the heated language in the filing, Smith and his deputies may have a difficult time convincing Judge Cannon to stop Trump from launching further attacks on the FBI that would jeopardize his freedom.

Although prosecutors have succeeded in imposing a news gag order on Mr. Trump in other cases, this is their first attempt to bar him from free speech in the documents case. And as his lawyers pointed out, prosecutors could not cite a single example of an agent working on the documents case being threatened because of Mr. Trump’s falsehoods.

“President Trump and the defense are also unaware of any hostility, harassment, or endangerment of any agent involved in this case based on President Trump’s statements,” the attorneys told Judge Cannon.

Nevertheless, Mr Trump’s past attacks on the FBI have had real-world consequences.

After Mr Trump condemned the 2022 Mar-a-Lago raid as a personal attack against him, a gunman in Ohio tried to fire gunfire his way into an FBI field office near Cincinnati.

The man, Ricky W. Shiffer, said at the time that “patriots” should go to Florida to defend Mr. Trump and kill FBI agents. Mr. Shiffer was eventually killed in a shootout with local police.

In a separate incident, a Texas man was arrested Thursday and accused of threatening to “slaughter” one of the FBI agents working on the case that led to the conviction of Hunter Biden, the president’s son, on charges related to a gun purchase.

Hours after the guilty verdict was announced, the man, whom authorities identified as Timothy Muller, called the agent on his cellphone and told him in a voicemail message that he had not gone far enough in prosecuting Mr. Biden. The man vowed to “hunt down” the agent and kill him and his family.