Trump Lawyers Assail Limited Gag Order Request in Documents Case

Former President Donald J. Trump’s lawyers on Monday assailed a request by federal prosecutors to limit what he could say about a new flare-up in a case accusing him of illegally retaining classified documents after leaving office.

In an angry court filing, the lawyers pushed back hard against the request by the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, to revise Mr. Trump’s conditions of release by forbidding him to make any public comments that might endanger federal agents working on the prosecution.

On Friday evening, Mr. Smith’s team requested what amounted to a limited gag order on Mr. Trump, prompted by what it called “grossly misleading” social media posts the former president made last week falsely claiming that the F.B.I. had been authorized to kill him when agents searched Mar-a-Lago, his Florida club and residence, in August 2022.

The former president’s statements were based on a recently unsealed operational order for the search that contained boilerplate language spelling out that the use of deadly force could be used only in case of emergency, a standard provision applied to all searches conducted by the bureau.

In their motion to Judge Aileen M. Cannon in Federal District Court in Fort Pierce, Fla., Mr. Trump’s lawyers said that Mr. Smith’s request was “an extraordinary, unprecedented and unconstitutional censorship application” that “unjustly targets President Trump’s campaign speech while he is the leading candidate for the presidency.”

Mr. Trump’s legal team said that Mr. Smith’s request should be stricken from the docket and that he and his prosecutors should face contempt sanctions for filing it in the first place.

The lawyers accused prosecutors of springing the request on them over a holiday weekend and further claimed that Mr. Smith was “pursuing media coverage rather than justice.” They did not address how their client had started this latest spat in the case by twisting the facts in an explosive social media post that Mr. Trump has since turned into a fund-raising appeal.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers also asked Judge Cannon to hold a hearing to determine Mr. Smith’s “motives and purpose” in making the request to bar the former president from saying anything that could endanger agents working on the case.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers have already succeeded several times in persuading the judge to schedule proceedings on issues that do not necessarily require argument in court as part of their strategy to delay a trial for as long as possible.

As in many high-profile cases, the defense and prosecution in the classified documents case have been waging a tit-for-tat legal battle on several fronts since the indictment against Mr. Trump was first filed last June.

But the wrangling has grown more intense in recent days as Mr. Trump’s lawyers lodged serious accusations of misconduct against Mr. Smith and his deputies last week, and Judge Cannon altered the schedule of the case to all but ensure that it will not go to trial before the election in November.

The language that Mr. Trump’s lawyers used in their motion to Judge Cannon was a reflection of this new hostility.

Referring to Mr. Smith and his team as “the Thought Police,” the lawyers attacked prosecutors for being “biased and reckless” and “driven by political animus against President Trump.”

Mr. Trump’s legal team spent much of its 15-page motion chiding Mr. Smith for a procedural offense: failing to follow a rule requiring the opposing parties in the case to “meet and confer” with each other before sending requests to Judge Cannon.

The lawyers said they intended to oppose Mr. Smith’s move on “substantive grounds” at a later date.

For now, they complained that the special counsel’s office had first informed them of its intention to request a restriction on Mr. Trump’s public comments at 5:30 p.m. on the Friday before Memorial Day. Prosecutors filed their request to Judge Cannon two and a half hours later after several email exchanges, they said.

In an email attached to Mr. Trump’s filing, Todd Blanche, one of the defense lawyers told the prosecutors: “There are rules. You guys violated them.”

Mr. Smith’s filing on Friday night, the defense lawyers said, was part of “a pattern of unprofessional conduct in this case.” The lawyers reminded Judge Cannon of other instances when prosecutors failed to confer with them adequately before filing motions.

They also took note of a dramatic episode on Wednesday in the judge’s courtroom in Fort Pierce when a prosecutor lost his temper, prompting Judge Cannon to instruct him to “calm down.”

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