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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Tensions flare at gag order hearing in Trump’s classified documents case

“I don’t appreciate your tone,” Judge Aileen Cannon told a prosecutor at one point during Monday’s proceedings.

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (CN) — A federal judge on Monday sparred with the prosecutors in Donald Trump’s classified documents case, who were seeking to restrict Trump from making statements that pose a “significant, imminent and foreseeable danger” to law enforcement agents involved with the case.

Arguing before U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, prosecutor David Harbach said there is a “longstanding and well-documented relationship” between Trump’s public comments and the actions from his supporters.

It was after Trump falsely claimed the FBI was prepared to kill him during their raid of Mar-a-Lago in 2022, Harbach said, that prosecutors were prompted to seek the judge's intervention.

“BIDEN’S DOJ WAS AUTHORIZED TO SHOOT ME!” Trump wrote in a fundraising email last month. “It’s just been revealed that Biden’s DOJ was authorized to use DEADLY FORCE for their DESPICABLE raid in Mar-a-Lago. You know they’re just itching to do the unthinkable.”

Trump also claimed President Joe Biden was “locked & loaded” and “ready to take me out & put my family in danger.”

“Saying something like this is beyond irresponsible,” Harbach argued on Monday. “It is dangerous.”

But throughout the roughly 90-minute hearing, Cannon — a Trump-appointed judge — seemed skeptical to grant prosecutors’ request on these grounds. She peppered Harbach with questions early and often, apparently preventing him from hitting his list of arguments.

Harbach seemed to grow annoyed as he pleaded with the judge to let him get back on track. He complained that, several minutes into his argument, he’d only been able to get out a single point.

“Mr. Harbach, I don’t appreciate your tone,” Cannon bellowed. “I expect decorum in this courtroom at all times. If you cannot do that, I’m sure one of your colleagues can take up this motion.”

Harbach later apologized to the judge for being “unprofessional.”

Still, Cannon’s skepticism was palpable throughout the rest of the hearing. She raised First Amendment concerns, pressed Harbach to present evidence that any of Trump’s comments about this case directly led to violence and rejected the notion that she should have to look to past cases to come to such a conclusion.

Harbach contended that Trump’s words, like those in the campaign email, weren't protected under the First Amendment anyway, and an order limiting them shouldn’t interfere with his right to campaign for the 2024 presidency.

Calling the communications “utterly misleading,” Harbach argued that some of Trump’s statements “unnecessarily implicate witnesses" in the case and weren't even remotely related to his campaign.

That’s the kind of speech prosecutors look to limit with a narrowly tailored gag order, Harbach argued.

But Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche didn’t find the request narrow at all. He chided the government’s request to limit Trump’s speech by altering his bail agreement.

“There’s a big difference between a traditional gag order and what the government is trying to do here,” he said. “We concede that people listen to President Trump. That shouldn’t be used against him. He’s running for president of the United States.”

Blanche called it flippant and frustrating that prosecutors would leverage potential harm to investigators to punish Trump. “Of course Mr. Trump has no intent for anything bad to happen to law enforcement,” he said.

Cannon didn’t immediately rule on the request following Monday’s hearing. She gave both parties until Wednesday to file supplemental materials to the court to bolster their arguments. 

It was the second hearing of the day at the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida. Earlier on Monday, Trump’s attorneys tried to get the case dismissed by claiming special counsel Jack Smith, who brought the indictment against Trump in 2023, was being funded unlawfully. Cannon didn’t immediately rule after that hearing, either.

Trump is accused of stashing classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence after losing the 2020 presidency and bucking federal efforts to recollect them. He’s charged with 40 counts in total: 32 counts of wilful retention of national defense information under the Espionage Act, seven obstruction counts and one count for making false statements.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all counts. He was not in attendance for Monday’s hearing.

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Categories / Criminal, National, Politics

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