Trump Lawyers Argue Barring Attacks on F.B.I. Would Censor ‘Political Speech’

Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump pushed back on Friday night in an aggressive — and at times misleading — way against an effort to curb his public attacks on the F.B.I. agents working on his classified documents case in Florida.

In a 20-page court filing, the lawyers assailed prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, for seeking to limit Mr. Trump’s remarks about the F.B.I. on the eve of two consequential political events: the first presidential debate, scheduled for June 27, and the Republican National Convention, set to start on July 15.

“The motion is a naked effort to impose totalitarian censorship of core political speech, under threat of incarceration, in a clear attempt to silence President Trump’s arguments to the American people about the outrageous nature of this investigation and prosecution,” the lawyers wrote.

The dispute began last month when Mr. Smith’s team asked Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who is overseeing the case, to revise Mr. Trump’s conditions of release to bar him from making any public remarks that might endanger agents involved in the proceeding.

The request came days after Mr. Trump made a series of blatantly false statements, claiming that the F.B.I. had been prepared to shoot him when agents executed a search warrant in August 2022 at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida. In that search, the agents discovered more than 100 classified documents. Mr. Trump is now charged with illegally retaining classified information and obstructing the government’s attempts to retrieve it.

The distortions arose from a gross mischaracterization by the former president of a recently unsealed order for the Mar-a-Lago search that included boilerplate language intended to limit the use of deadly force when agents execute warrants.

The order, like hundreds of others issued by the F.B.I., instructed agents to use lethal force only in cases of extreme danger. But Mr. Trump and some of his allies flipped those limitations on their head, suggesting that agents had been given the green light to kill him when they descended on Mar-a-Lago.

In their filing on Friday night, Mr. Trump’s lawyers soft-pedaled his falsehoods, saying that he had merely “criticized” the Mar-a-Lago search “in a manner that someone in the government disagreed with and does not like.”

The lawyers also baselessly sought to connect the attempt by prosecutors to seek accountability for Mr. Trump’s false statements to a wholly separate conflict in the case: an accusation they made this week that the F.B.I. failed to properly preserve evidence contained in the 45 boxes of documents that agents seized during the search of Mar-a-Lago.

The overheated language of the filing notwithstanding, Mr. Smith and his deputies may have an uphill climb in persuading Judge Cannon to keep Mr. Trump from further attacking the F.B.I. by putting liberty on the line.

Although prosecutors have succeeded in placing gag orders on Mr. Trump in other cases, this is their first attempt to bar his speech in the documents trial. And as his lawyers pointed out, prosecutors failed to point to a single example of an agent working on the documents case who has faced threats because of Mr. Trump’s falsehoods.

“President Trump and the defense are similarly unaware of any hostility, harassment or risk of harm directed at any agent involved in this case based on President Trump’s statements,” the lawyers told Judge Cannon.

Still, Mr. Trump’s attacks on the F.B.I. have had consequences in the real world in the past.

After Mr. Trump denounced the Mar-a-Lago search as a personal attack against him in 2022, an armed man in Ohio tried to shoot his way into an F.B.I. field office near Cincinnati.

The man, Ricky W. Shiffer, said at the time that “patriots” should head to Florida to defend Mr. Trump and kill F.B.I. agents. Mr. Shiffer was ultimately killed in a shootout with the local police.

In a separate incident, a Texas man was arrested on Thursday and accused of threatening to “slaughter” one of the F.B.I. agents who worked on the case that resulted in the conviction of Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son, on charges related to a gun purchase.

Hours after the guilty verdict was returned, the man, whom the authorities identified as Timothy Muller, called the agent on his cellphone and told him in a voice mail message that he had not gone far enough in prosecuting Mr. Biden. The man vowed to “hunt” the agent down and kill him and his family.

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