Contrary to the Justice Department’s strong objections, a Florida federal judge told reporters he was “inclined to unseal at least some of the probable cause affidavit.” He instructed the DOJ to submit proposed redactions by noon Aug. 25, 2022.
Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart believes unsealing portions of the document would not jeopardize the government’s investigation that led to last week’s FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s private residence at his millionaires-only resort Mar-a-Lago. During the hearing, the DOJ, represented by Jay Bratt, argued the criminal investigation was still in its early stages.
Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence section, stressed that releasing any part of the affidavit would reveal the future direction of the investigation and disclose powerful grand jury testimony. In addition, the DOJ is concerned unsealing the document might dissuade other witnesses from coming forward. There is significant concern about witness safety.
He pointed out examples of the significant concern: Anyone with computer skills would be able to find their identities, like the FBI agents involved in the search at Mar-a-Lago who were doxxed online. Bratt also noted the attack at the Cincinnati FBI office; the suspect fired a nail gun into the building before being killed. He expressed anger over the so-called raid on Trump’s home.
Moreover, Bratt reminded the judge that he signed off on the warrant after finding probable cause, including at least one obstruction of justice statute at the former president’s residence. Unsealing the affidavit could risk future obstruction.
Bratt opposed releasing a redacted affidavit. He argued the redactions would be extensive since the document contained a considerable amount of grand jury information and the DOJ’s investigative methods. As a result, “it would show ‘nothing of substance,'” The Guardian reported.
However, the government agreed to unseal supporting documents that would not threaten the investigation. The search warrant’s application cover sheet and the court’s order offered more details. “Notably, the cover sheet showed the department’s descriptions of potential crimes at Mar-a-Lago: Willfull retention of national defense information, concealment or removal of government records, and obstruction of a federal investigation.”
The U.S. National Archives confirmed that officials discovered 15 cartons of classified materials Trump improperly took from the White House, which violates the 1978 Presidential Records Act. The agency recovered the boxes and reported their discovery to the justice department.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
The Washington Post: Judge signals he’s willing to unseal some of Mar-a-Lago affidavit; by Josh Dawsey and Perry Stein
NBC News: Judge says he’s inclined to unseal parts of Mar-a-Lago search affidavit, orders government to submit redactions; by Marc Caputo, Dareh Gregorian, and Rebecca Shabad
The Guardian: Judge orders DoJ to prepare redacted Trump search affidavit for possible release; by Hugo Lowell and Richard Luscombe