Judge denies special counsel request to impose gag order on Trump over false claim about FBI raid

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Judge denies special counsel request to impose gag order on Trump over false claim about FBI raid

The judge presiding over Donald Trump’s classified documents case chided special counsel Jack Smith on Tuesday, denying a gag order request to block Trump from falsely claiming FBI agents were prepared to kill him during the search of his Mar-a-Lago property for classified documents in 2022.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who is overseeing Trump’s trial in Florida on allegations he mishandled classified documents, cited a “lack of meaningful conferral” with the defense after the special counsel asked her to modify Trump’s conditions of release by ordering Trump to stop publicly lashing out.

Trump has claimed, including in recent fundraising appeals, that President Joe Biden was “locked & loaded ready to take me out” and that agents were authorized to shoot him during the raid at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach; Trump was not in Florida at the time of the raid, and the FBI has said the authorization he has seized on is typical language limiting the use of force.

Trump’s statements, prosecutors said, could pose “a significant, imminent, and foreseeable danger to law enforcement” involved in the case.

Cannon did not dismiss the gag order request on the merits but said the special counsel’s effort to confer with the defense was “wholly lacking in substance and professional courtesy” after it was filed Friday leading up to Memorial Day weekend, the timing of which drew pushback from Trump’s lawyers.

“[M]eaningful conferral is not a perfunctory exercise,” Cannon said Tuesday. “Sufficient time needs to be afforded to permit reasonable evaluation of the requested relief by opposing counsel and to allow for adequate follow-up discussion as necessary about the specific factual and legal basis underlying the motion.” 

Cannon also criticized what she said were prosecutors’ “editorialized footnotes” used to relay the response from Trump’s defense team.

On Monday, Trump’s lawyers asked Cannon to strike the government’s motion from the court record and sanction the prosecutors who prepared it, saying they violated procedure by filing it without consulting the defense. 

Cannon did not impose sanctions on Smith’s office but warned that failure to comply with her requirements going forward could lead her to impose them.

The ruling followed a flurry of back-and-forth filings over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, with prosecutors in Smith’s office urging the court to restrict Trump’s claims about the government’s handling of the raid.

Prosecutors said Trump’s claims posed a threat to law enforcement agents who had acted “in an appropriate and professional manner, subject to the Department of Justice’s standard use-of-force policy.” The FBI said it followed standard protocol during the search. 

“Trump’s repeated mischaracterization of these facts in widely distributed messages 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,” Smith’s office said. “A restriction prohibiting future similar statements should therefore be modified to prohibit similar communications going forward.”

Smith’s team asked Cannon to modify Trump’s conditions of release so he would face higher penalties for statements that the court determined would endanger law enforcement. 

Trump has made the deadly force claims in reference to recently unsealed court filings in the Florida case.

In a Truth Social post, Trump said the Biden administration “AUTHORIZED THE FBI TO USE DEADLY (LETHAL) FORCE” in its search of Mar-a-Lago for classified documents and charged in a fundraising email that Biden was “locked & loaded ready to take me out.” 

Trump’s campaign issued a new fundraising appeal over the weekend with the headline “BREAKING FROM TRUMP: BIDEN’S DOJ WAS AUTHORIZED TO SHOOT ME!”

Trump was in New Jersey when the raid occurred.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has called Trump’s claim “false” and “extremely dangerous” and said the same form outlining the FBI’s use of force policy was included in the preparations for when it searched Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, for classified documents. The FBI has so far declined to release the Biden form. 

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges that he willfully retained national defense information in connection with classified documents that were discovered at Mar-a-Lago after he left office and ordered security video at the property to be deleted. He faces dozens of felony counts, including making false statements and representations, conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document or record and corruptly concealing a document. The case had been scheduled to go to trial in federal court in Florida, but it was indefinitely postponed because of what Cannon said were ongoing legal issues.

Katherine Doyle

Katherine Doyle is a White House reporter for NBC News.

Ken Dilanian

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Daniel Barnes

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