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

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

News

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

2024-06-25 06:53 Last Updated At:07:00

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) — A federal prosecutor in the classified documents case of Donald Trump clashed with the judge Monday as he faced skeptical questioning over a request to bar the former president from making 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 FBI agents participating in the case. Prosecutors say those restrictions are necessary after Trump falsely 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 whose handling of the case has generated intense scrutiny and has contributed to delays that make a trial before the November presidential election a virtual impossibility.

The judge questioned Harbach about how she could fashion an order that did not run afoul of Trump’s free speech rights, whether FBI agents were sufficiently protected if their names were withheld from court documents and how prosecutors could prove a direct link between Trump’s comments and any resulting harm to the public.

“I'm trying to make sure that whatever condition is contemplated is consistent with the First Amendment,” she said, later adding that there needs to be a connection “between the alleged dangerous comments and the risk” to public safety.

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 instead.

Harbach went on to complete 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 contended that 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.

Trump's often-incendiary rhetoric has carried legal consequences in other cases.

The New York judge presiding over Trump's hush money trial, in which he was convicted of 34 felony counts last month, fined him a total of $10,000 for violating a gag order that barred him from verbal attacks on witnesses and jurors. And a federal judge in Washington handling his election subversion case imposed a gag order last year that an appeals court later largely upheld but also narrowed.

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 has been snarled by delays and a plodding pace. Cannon indefinitely postponed the trial last month and no new date has been set.

Trump faces dozens of felony charges accusing him of illegally hoarding top-secret records at Mar-a-Lago and obstructing the FBI's efforts to get them back. Given the breadth of evidence that prosecutors have put forward, many legal experts have regarded the case as the most straightforward of the four prosecutions against Trump, who has pleaded not guilty. But Cannon has been slow to rule on numerous motions and has proved willing to entertain defense requests that prosecutors say are meritless.

Smith's team objected last month after Trump publicly claimed that the FBI was prepared to kill him while executing a court-authorized search warrant of Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8, 2022. Trump was referencing boilerplate language from FBI policy that prohibits the use of deadly force during the execution of search warrants except when the officer conducting the search has a reasonable belief that the “subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.”

Trump falsely claimed in a fundraising email that the Biden administration was “locked & loaded ready to take me out & put my family in danger.”

Prosecutors argued that such comments are part of a pattern of Trump speech that animates his base against law enforcement, citing as examples an attempted attack on an FBI office in Ohio three days after the Mar-a-Lago search and the more recent arrest of a Trump supporter accused of threatening an FBI agent who investigated Biden's son, Hunter.

“In our view, they are significant, they are dangerous,” Harbach said of the comments. “They present an imminent and foreseeable risk to the FBI agents in the case.”

But Trump's lawyers say prosecutors failed to show that his comments have endangered any FBI official who participated in the Mar-a-Lago search. They said Trump was commenting more generally on his belief that he is the victim of political persecution rather than about any one individual.

“It's an attack on the decision made by his political rival to authorize a search by agents authorized to carry guns,” said Blanche, one of Trump's attorneys.

The Justice Department has said Biden has had no involvement in the investigation.

FILE - Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to the media about an indictment of former President Donald Trump, Aug. 1, 2023, in Washington. The federal judge presiding over Trump's classified documents prosecution is hearing arguments Monday, June 24, 2024, on whether to bar the former president from public comments that prosecutors say could endanger the lives of FBI agents working on the case. Smith's team says the restrictions are necessary in light of Trump's false comments that the FBI agents who searched his Mar-a-Lago estate were out to kill him and his family. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

FILE - Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to the media about an indictment of former President Donald Trump, Aug. 1, 2023, in Washington. The federal judge presiding over Trump's classified documents prosecution is hearing arguments Monday, June 24, 2024, on whether to bar the former president from public comments that prosecutors say could endanger the lives of FBI agents working on the case. Smith's team says the restrictions are necessary in light of Trump's false comments that the FBI agents who searched his Mar-a-Lago estate were out to kill him and his family. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In this image from video provided by the U.S. Senate, Aileen M. Cannon speaks remotely during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight nomination hearing on July 29, 2020, in Washington. Cannon, the federal judge presiding over the classified documents prosecution of Donald Trump, is hearing arguments Monday, June 24, 2024, on whether to bar the former president from public comments that prosecutors say could endanger the lives of FBI agents working on the case. (U.S. Senate via AP)

In this image from video provided by the U.S. Senate, Aileen M. Cannon speaks remotely during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight nomination hearing on July 29, 2020, in Washington. Cannon, the federal judge presiding over the classified documents prosecution of Donald Trump, is hearing arguments Monday, June 24, 2024, on whether to bar the former president from public comments that prosecutors say could endanger the lives of FBI agents working on the case. (U.S. Senate via AP)

FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, June 22, 2024, at Temple University in Philadelphia. The federal judge presiding over Trump's classified documents prosecution is hearing arguments Monday, June 24, on whether to bar him from public comments that prosecutors say could endanger the lives of FBI agents working on the case. Special counsel Jack Smith's team says the restrictions are necessary in light of Trump's false comments that the FBI agents who searched his Mar-a-Lago estate for classified documents were out to kill him and his family. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola, File)

FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, June 22, 2024, at Temple University in Philadelphia. The federal judge presiding over Trump's classified documents prosecution is hearing arguments Monday, June 24, on whether to bar him from public comments that prosecutors say could endanger the lives of FBI agents working on the case. Special counsel Jack Smith's team says the restrictions are necessary in light of Trump's false comments that the FBI agents who searched his Mar-a-Lago estate for classified documents were out to kill him and his family. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris moved swiftly Monday to lock up Democratic delegates behind her campaign for the White House after President Joe Biden stepped aside amid concerns from within their party that he would be unable to defeat Republican Donald Trump.

Biden's exit Sunday, prompted by Democratic worries over his fitness for office, was a seismic shift to the presidential contest that upended both major political parties' carefully honed plans for the 2024 race.

Aiming to put weeks of intraparty drama over Biden's candidacy behind them, prominent Democratic elected officials, party leaders and political organizations quickly lined up behind Harris in the hours after Biden announced he was dropping his reelection campaign.

Biden's departure frees his delegates to vote for whomever they choose. Harris, whom Biden backed after ending his candidacy, is thus far the only declared candidate and was working to quickly secure endorsements from a majority of delegates.

Additional endorsements Monday, including Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, left a dwindling list of potential rivals to Harris.

Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, who had been one of the notable holdouts to Harris, initially encouraging a primary to strengthen the eventual nominee, endorsed Harris Monday. Pelosi said she was lending her “enthusiastic support” to Harris' effort to lead the party.

More than 700 pledged delegates have told AP or announced that they plan to support Harris at the convention, which is over one-third of the pledged delegates she needs in order to clinch the nomination. Democratic National Committee rules most recently set 1,976 pledged delegates as the benchmark to win the nomination.

Winning the nomination is only the first item on a staggering political to-do list for her after Biden's decision to exit the race, which she learned about on a Sunday morning call with the president. If she's successful at locking up the nomination, she must also pick a running mate and pivot a massive political operation to boost her candidacy instead of Biden's with just over 100 days until Election Day.

On Sunday afternoon, Biden’s campaign formally changed its name to Harris for President, reflecting that she is inheriting his political operation of more than 1,000 staffers and a war chest that stood at nearly $96 million at the end of June. It got bigger by Monday morning: Campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt said Harris had raised $49.6 million in donations in the first 15 hours after Biden’s endorsement.

Harris spent much of Sunday surrounded by family and staff, making more than 100 calls to Democratic officials to line up their support for her candidacy, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the effort. It comes as she tries to move her party past the painful, public wrangling that had defined the weeks since the Biden's disastrous June 27 debate with Trump.

Speaking to party leaders, Harris expressed gratitude for Biden's endorsement but insisted she was looking to earn the nomination in her own right, the person said.

In a sign that the Democratic Party was moving to coalesce behind her, Harris quickly won endorsements from the leadership of several influential caucuses and political organizations, including the AAPI Victory Fund, which focuses on Asian American and Pacific Islander voters, The Collective PAC, focused on building Black political power, and the Latino Victory Fund, as well as the chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the entire Congressional Black Caucus. Harris, if elected, would be the first woman and first person of South Asian descent to be president.

Notably, a handful of men who had already been discussed as potential running mates for Harris — Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly — also swiftly issued statements endorsing her. Aides to Shapiro and Cooper confirmed that Harris spoke with them Sunday afternoon. In her brief call with Cooper, the North Carolina governor told Harris he was backing her to be the Democratic nominee, according to Cooper spokeswoman Sadie Weiner.

But former President Barack Obama held off on an immediate endorsement, as some in the party have expressed worry that the quick shift to Harris would appear to be a coronation, instead pledging his support behind the eventual party nominee.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who left the party earlier this year but considered re-registering as a Democrat to vie for the nomination against the vice president, told CBS News on Monday that he would not be a candidate.

It’s an indication of how she will have to balance her day job and her new role as candidate, Harris made her first public appearance Monday morning at the White House, where she opened her address to National Collegiate Athletic Association championship teams by praising Biden's “unmatched” legacy, saying she was “deeply grateful for his service to our nation.”

Harris was filling in at the event for Biden, who is recovering at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware after contracting COVID-19 last week.

She was later set to travel to Wilmington, where the Biden campaign had been headquartered, to meet with her new campaign staff.

Harris, in a statement, praised Biden’s “selfless and patriotic act” in deciding to leave the race and said she intends to “earn and win” her party’s nomination.

“I will do everything in my power to unite the Democratic Party — and unite our nation — to defeat Donald Trump and his extreme Project 2025 agenda,” she said.

Biden planned to discuss his decision to step aside later this week in an address to the nation. He wrote in a letter posted Sunday to his X account, “I believe it is in the best interest of my party and the country for me to stand down and to focus solely on fulfilling my duties as President for the remainder of my term."

Nearly 30 minutes after he delivered the news that he was folding his campaign, Biden threw his support behind Harris.

“Today I want to offer my full support and endorsement for Kamala to be the nominee of our party this year,” he said in another post on X. “Democrats — it’s time to come together and beat Trump.”

The Democratic National Convention is scheduled to be held Aug. 19-22 in Chicago, but the party had announced it would hold a virtual roll call to formally nominate Biden before in-person proceedings begin. The convention's rules committee is scheduled to meet this week to finalize its nomination process and it is unclear how it will be adjusted to reflect Biden's exit.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairwoman Nanette Barragan, who emphasized that she was “all in” behind the vice president, said she spoke Sunday with Harris, who communicated that she preferred to forego a virtual roll call for the nomination process and instead hold a process that adheres to regular order.

The Democratic National Committee’s chair, Jaime Harrison, said in a statement that the party would “undertake a transparent and orderly process” to select “a candidate who can defeat Donald Trump in November.”

AP writers Leah Askarinam, Maya Sweedler and Chad Day contributed.

Follow the AP's coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024.

Vice President Kamala Harris arrives to speak from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2024, during an event with NCAA college athletes. This is her first public appearance since President Joe Biden endorsed her to be the next presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Vice President Kamala Harris arrives to speak from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2024, during an event with NCAA college athletes. This is her first public appearance since President Joe Biden endorsed her to be the next presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2024, during an event with NCAA college athletes. This is her first public appearance since President Joe Biden endorsed her to be the next presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2024, during an event with NCAA college athletes. This is her first public appearance since President Joe Biden endorsed her to be the next presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2024, during an event with NCAA college athletes. This is her first public appearance since President Joe Biden endorsed her to be the next presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2024, during an event with NCAA college athletes. This is her first public appearance since President Joe Biden endorsed her to be the next presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2024, during an event with NCAA college athletes. This is her first public appearance since President Joe Biden endorsed her to be the next presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2024, during an event with NCAA college athletes. This is her first public appearance since President Joe Biden endorsed her to be the next presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2024, during an event with NCAA college athletes. This is her first public appearance since President Joe Biden endorsed her to be the next presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2024, during an event with NCAA college athletes. This is her first public appearance since President Joe Biden endorsed her to be the next presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A campaign sign with President Joe Biden's name cut out stands in Northwood, N.H., Sunday, July 21, 2024. Homeowner Tom Chase, 79, said he removed Biden's name last week and was relieved and delighted that the president withdrew from his 2024 campaign and endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer)

A campaign sign with President Joe Biden's name cut out stands in Northwood, N.H., Sunday, July 21, 2024. Homeowner Tom Chase, 79, said he removed Biden's name last week and was relieved and delighted that the president withdrew from his 2024 campaign and endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer)

FILE - Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and President Joe Biden arrive for an event in the East Room of the White House, May 9, 2024, in Washington. She's already broken barriers, and now Harris could soon become the first Black woman to head a major party's presidential ticket after President Joe Biden's ended his reelection bid. The 59-year-old Harris was endorsed by Biden on Sunday, July 21, after he stepped aside amid widespread concerns about the viability of his candidacy. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

FILE - Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and President Joe Biden arrive for an event in the East Room of the White House, May 9, 2024, in Washington. She's already broken barriers, and now Harris could soon become the first Black woman to head a major party's presidential ticket after President Joe Biden's ended his reelection bid. The 59-year-old Harris was endorsed by Biden on Sunday, July 21, after he stepped aside amid widespread concerns about the viability of his candidacy. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

FILE - Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. is seen on Capitol Hill, Jan. 10, 2017, in Washington. She's already broken barriers, and now Vice President Harris could soon become the first Black woman to head a major party's presidential ticket after President Joe Biden's ended his reelection bid. The 59-year-old Harris was endorsed by Biden on Sunday, July 21, after he stepped aside amid widespread concerns about the viability of his candidacy. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

FILE - Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. is seen on Capitol Hill, Jan. 10, 2017, in Washington. She's already broken barriers, and now Vice President Harris could soon become the first Black woman to head a major party's presidential ticket after President Joe Biden's ended his reelection bid. The 59-year-old Harris was endorsed by Biden on Sunday, July 21, after he stepped aside amid widespread concerns about the viability of his candidacy. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

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