Special counsel asks judge for gag order in Trump classified documents case

Special counsel’s office prosecutors on Friday asked a federal judge in Florida to place a gag order on Donald Trump that would limit his ability to comment about law enforcement that searched his Mar-a-Lago resort.

The request – a first in the classified documents mishandling case – comes after the former president has repeatedly and misleadingly criticized the FBI for having a policy in place around the use of deadly force during the search and seizure of government records at his resort in August 2022.

While Trump has told his supporters he could have been in danger because of the policy, the policy is standard protocol for FBI searches and limits how agents may use force in search operations. The same standard FBI policy was used in the searches of President Joe Biden’s homes and offices in a separate classified documents investigation.

Prosecutors for special counsel Jack Smith wrote to Judge Aileen Cannon in a filing Friday night that the conditions that allow Trump not to be in jail awaiting trial should be updated.

The request will force Cannon into the center of an intensely charged and politicized battle, grappling with Trump’s ongoing presidential campaign and the First Amendment at the same time prosecutors are escalating their concerns to her about proceedings she oversees. The judge so far has moved slowly to resolve disputes in Trump’s criminal mishandling and obstruction of justice case before her, and no trial date is set.

The prosecutors say the gag order is needed to protect the integrity of the criminal case and law enforcement officers associated with it. They wrote that the former president’s inflammatory statements could cause his supporters to retaliate against federal authorities, some of whom may be witnesses in the case.

“Trump‘s repeated mischaracterization as an attempt to kill him, his family, and Secret Service agents has endangered law enforcement officers involved in the investigation and prosecution of this case and threatened the integrity of these proceedings,” prosecutors wrote.

His recent comments, they added, “invite the sort of threats and harassment that have occurred when other participants in legal proceedings against Trump have been targeted by his invective.”

The use of deadly force policy is included among several pages of paperwork governing FBI search protocol and policies when they went to Mar-a-Lago, which was made public in Trump’s case in federal court this week. The paperwork also lays out that agents would wear unmarked, business casual attire, and specifies that if Trump were to arrive at Mar-a-Lago during the search, leadership on site would speak to him and his Secret Service detail.

Pushback from Trump’s team

Prosecutors say Trump’s lawyers told them they are against a restriction on his ability to comment about law enforcement who worked on the investigation, and they opposed the special counsel’s office responding to Trump’s recent remarks to the court late Friday of Memorial Day weekend.

“They do not believe that there is any imminent danger, and asked to meet and confer next Monday,” prosecutors added in the filing.

Trump’s legal team is preparing to respond in court over the weekend, a person familiar with Trump’s approach told CNN.

Prosecutors noted that Trump has been amplifying accusations about the FBI in the search on his Truth Social account Friday.

Trump’s campaign sent a fundraising email on Tuesday that claimed FBI agents were “locked and loaded” and that he “nearly escaped death” at Mar-a-Lago.

Steven Cheung, Trump’s campaign spokesman, in response to the prosecutors’ request Friday night said Biden administration “Hacks and Thugs are obsessed with trying to deprive President Trump and all American voters of their First Amendment rights. Repeated attempts to silence President Trump during the presidential campaign are blatant attempts to interfere in the election.”

Escalating responses to Trump’s attacks

The Justice Department request to the court on Friday specifically asks Cannon to restrict Trump’s ability to comment on law enforcement by changing his conditions of pre-trial release from jail.

That is a different approach from what the special counsel’s office took in pursuing limitations on what Trump could say about his 2020 election case in Washington, DC’s federal court.

It potentially could carry greater consequence and be monitored by court probation authorities in addition to the Justice Department, according to sources familiar with the case.

In a notably direct pushback to Trump, Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday addressed the claims that Trump has made about the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago. “That allegation is false, and it is extremely dangerous. The document that is being referred to in the allegation is the Justice Department’s standard policy, limiting the use of force,” Garland said.

“As the FBI advises, it is part of the standard operations plan for searches,” Garland said. “And in fact, it was even used in the consensual search of President Biden’s home.”

The FBI reiterated the same in a statement of its own this week, an indication of the concern Trump’s remarks have set off within the federal law enforcement agencies.

Previously, prosecutors on Trump’s classified documents case successfully fought for the judge to keep names of FBI agents who worked on the Mar-a-Lago search blacked out in recent court filings, because of fears of threats and harassment.

The FBI and Justice Department have dealt with a substantial number of threats since the search of Mar-a-Lago nearly two years ago, particularly after times Trump amplified false information about the federal law enforcement approach. For instance, a man who was a prolific poster on Trump’s social media platform tried to attack the FBI’s Cincinnati field office in the wake of the search.

Courts outside of Florida have upheld gag orders that bar Trump from speaking about witnesses, potential jurors and staff working on his cases because of threats and harassment his comments have prompted, among other reasons.

Trump’s ability to comment publicly is still limited in his ongoing New York trial, where he has been held in contempt and fined 10 times for violating that gag order, and in his Washington, DC-based election interference case, where he is awaiting trial in federal court.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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