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Judge refuses to gag Holder in Oregon case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A judge this week refused to bar Attorney General Eric Holder from talking about an alleged plot by a Somali man to bomb a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Oregon.

Defense lawyers for Mohamed Osman Mohamud sought a gag order after Holder spoke about the case. They argued that his remarks could prejudice the pool of potential jurors and that their client was entrapped by law enforcement agents.

U.S. District Judge Garr King ruled on Wednesday against a gag order against Holder, the federal government's chief law enforcement official, but found some of his comments in response to questions from reporters and during a speech to a Muslim group violated Justice Department policy.

"I am concerned, however, about the statements regarding defendant's state of mind and specific activities," King wrote in a 10-page decision, pointing to remarks by Holder denying any entrapment and that the FBI halted a plot to kill many Americans.

While King said that Justice Department policy makes it clear that agency officials are not supposed to give their opinions about the purported facts of the case, "I do not believe that the attorney general made the comments to influence the outcome of the trial."

The Justice Department said it still believed that Holder's comments balanced the need for the public to know about the incident and the defendant's right to a fair trial.

"While the department is disappointed in the court's finding, the attorney general did not make any statements about this case in an attempt to influence the outcome of the trial, and we are pleased the judge recognized that fact," said Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd.

Mohamud was arrested when he tried to detonate what he thought was a car bomb during the crowded ceremony in Portland on November 26, U.S. authorities said. However, the bomb was instead fake explosives provided by undercover agents.

The Somali-born man, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Cynthia Osterman)