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Prosecutor in classified documents case clashes with judge over request to restrict Trump’s speech

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FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) — A federal prosecutor in the classified documents case of Donald Trump clashed with the judge Monday as the judge was questioning a request to bar the former president from threatening comments about law enforcement agents involved in the investigation.

Special counsel Jack Smith’s team is seeking to make as a condition of Trump’s freedom pending trial a prohibition on remarks that could endanger agents participating in the case. Prosecutors say those restrictions are necessary after Trump claimed last month that the FBI was prepared to kill him when it searched his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, for classified documents two years ago.

But prosecutor David Harbach, a member of Smith’s team, encountered immediate pushback from U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee.

The judge questioned Harbach about how she could fashion an order that did not run afoul of Trump’s First Amendment rights and whether prosecutors could prove a direct link between Trump’s comments and actions that might then follow.

“There still needs to be a correlation between the alleged, dangerous comments and the risk” to public safety, she said.

At one point, as Harbach tried despite frequent interruptions from Cannon to rattle off the multiple rationales that he said existed for speech restrictions on Trump, the visibly exasperated prosecutor noted acidly that “I’ve got one reason out so far.”

The comment drew a rebuke from Cannon, who said, “Mr. Harbach, I don’t appreciate your tone.” She said that if he could not behave in a more professional manner, one of his colleagues could take over.

Harbach completed his arguments and later apologized to the judge, saying he hadn’t meant to be unprofessional.

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche disputed the idea that Trump’s comments posed an imminent threat to anyone in law enforcement and said prosecutors’ request would have a “chilling” effect. Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and is set to debate President Joe Biden on Thursday.

Trump was not required to be present for the hearing and was not in attendance.

It was not immediately clear when Cannon might rule. The arguments were part of a three-day hearing that began Friday to deal with several of the many unresolved legal issues that have piled up in a case that had been set for trial last month but has been snarled by delays and a plodding pace. Cannon indefinitely postponed the trial, and it’s all but guaranteed that it will not take place before the November presidential election.

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