While we all have very strong constitutional protections for free speech, it is not limitless, and a Democratic consultant out of Union County crossed the line when he called for the "hunt" of Republicans on social media last week, according to a former New Jersey prosecutor.

The controversial Twitter and Facebook remarks from James Devine came hours after U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and others were attacked by a gunman at a GOP baseball practice in Virginia.

Bob Bianchi, a former prosecutor for Morris County who now works as a trial lawyer, said he has no doubt there's a "file open" in the federal government on this matter, and he wouldn't be surprised if Devine receives "a knock on the door."

"I would be calling the FBI. I would be calling the Secret Service," Bianchi said. "I would be alerting them, as the county prosecutor, that this has occurred because that really is ultimately their jurisdiction."

Neither the FBI nor Union County Prosecutor's Office would comment on the existence of an investigation into the online remarks that could be construed as threats against the Republican Party. Devine told New Jersey 101.5 he is not aware of an investigation.

Responding to Bianchi's comments, Devine said nothing he posted advocates violence or condones dangerous behavior.

"Neither the FBI, the Secret Service nor Union County Prosecutor’s Office would consider my online remarks as threats against the Republican Party, because they deal with reality every day, and there are far more worthy things to defend against in this world," he said in an email. "Any supervisor, jury or judge would consider resources spent 'investigating' a Twitter hashtag a fruitless search for a problem that simply does not exist."

Devine appeared on Fox News Channel's "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on Monday and again defended his comments, pointing out instances when conservatives or Republicans have used violent imagery against opponents.

"A guy just went and tried to assassinate Republican members of Congress," Carlson said. "You're an unbalanced person."

According to Bianchi, charges on the state level could be minor, including a disorderly persons offense of harassment.

"But on the federal law side, if you're doing it to intimidate, influence or impede the actions of federal employees, it's a mandatory prison sentence," he said. "We cannot have our elected officials — even those that you hate — in fear."

Bianchi said if notified, the feds could decide to investigate on their own, send the matter back to the county, or launch a joint investigation.

"I have very little doubt it's already being investigated," he said. "The federal authorities — because they're uber-concerned right now with the safety of elected officials — you can see them decide this is going to be the case we're going to make a point."

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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