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Trump lawyers take aim at funding of classified documents prosecution

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By Andrew Goudsward

FORT PIERCE, Florida (Reuters) -Donald Trump’s lawyer told a federal judge on Monday that the criminal prosecution against the former president on charges he mishandled classified documents is unlawfully funded, as they made another attempt to get the charges thrown out of court.

Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon that the funding mechanism for their office has been upheld in past cases, as they sought to work through a thicket of legal challenges that have delayed trial indefinitely.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges he illegally held onto sensitive national security papers after leaving office in 2021 as well as obstructing government efforts to retrieve them. The criminal case is one of four Trump faces as he seeks to unseat Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.

Cannon, a Trump appointee, set hearings on Friday and Monday in her Florida courtroom for Trump’s lawyers to argue several motions making claims similar to those that have been rejected in other cases. On Friday, Trump attorneys urged her to find U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith has too much independence — even though Trump has repeatedly blasted him as a puppet of Biden.

On Monday, Trump lawyer Emil Bove said the U.S. Justice Department should not be allowed to use a fund Congress set aside in the 1970s for independent politically sensitive investigations to pay for the documents probe.

“More oversight from Congress is required for the extraordinary things that are going on in these prosecutions,” Bove said. Some Republicans in the House of Representatives have called for defunding Smith’s office.

Special counsels have been appointed in Democratic- and Republican-led administrations alike to ensure an attorney can independently investigate and, if warranted, prosecute a case without any appearance of political influence.

U.S. prosecutor James Pearce told Cannon that the funding had been upheld in previous court cases that challenged other special prosecutors — including David Weiss, who recently won a criminal conviction of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

Pearce said the Justice Department would fund Smith’s office out of its regular budget if Cannon ruled that it cannot rely on the 1970s law.

Cannon has ruled in favor of the Republican presidential candidate on previous requests and has allowed a flurry of motions by his legal team to slow the case to a crawl. It is unlikely the case will reach a jury before Trump and Biden face voters in the Nov. 5 election.

GAG ORDER REQUEST

Smith’s team is due to ask Cannon later on Monday to bar Trump from making statements that pose a threat to law enforcement while he awaits trial.

Trump falsely claimed that a routine FBI use-of-force policy in effect during a 2022 search of his Florida resort authorized agents to attempt an assassination.

Prosecutors called the claim “deceptive and inflammatory” in a court filing and said it subjected agents to “unjustified and unacceptable risks.”

Trump’s lawyers say that would violate Trump’s free speech rights in the heat of the presidential campaign. They also argued that prosecutors had not presented evidence of threats against the FBI.

Cannon previously denied the request on procedural grounds after she found that prosecutors had not adequately consulted with Trump’s lawyers before filing it.

Trump faces gag orders limiting his public statements in another federal case, also overseen by Smith, accusing him of attempting to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election, and a case in New York that led to his conviction in May for falsifying business records.

Trump has verbally attacked prosecutors, judges and witnesses in legal cases against him, contending that the U.S. justice system is being used to undermine his campaign.

Trump’s criticism over the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago social club intensified last month after the FBI’s use-of-force policy was made public as part of a tranche of records related to the FBI operation.

The policy stipulated that the FBI could not use lethal force unless an agent or other person was at serious risk of death or serious injury. Trump was not present at the club at the time of the search.

Trump’s baseless claim about an attempted assassination was included in campaign fundraising emails and was echoed by his allies in Congress.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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