Court hears arguments to unseal records in FBI raid on Trump’s home

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Aug 18 (Reuters) – Sealed files containing evidence the U.S. Justice Department presented seeking court permission to search Donald Trump’s Florida home have been at the heart of a hearing Thursday, in which news outlets are trying to persuade a federal judge that the public deserves to see the details.

The Justice Department objected to the release of the affidavit containing the evidence, giving investigators probable cause to believe that crimes took place at Trump’s Palm Beach home.

Jay Bratt, head of the department’s counterintelligence and export control section, appeared in court on Thursday to defend the government’s position.

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The search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort was part of a federal investigation into whether Trump unlawfully deleted documents when he left office in January 2021 after losing the presidential election to the Democrat Joe Biden.

The Department of Justice is investigating violations of three laws, including a provision in the Espionage Act that prohibits the possession of national defense information and another law that makes it a crime to knowingly destroy, conceal or falsifying records with intent to obstruct an investigation.

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Lawyers for several media outlets, including the New York Times, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, ABC News and NBC News, are asking U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday to unseal the affidavit and other related documents filed with the court, asserting that the public has a right to know and the historical significance of the search outweigh any arguments in favor of closing the files.

“The probable cause affidavit should be made public, with only such redactions as are necessary to protect a compelling expressed government interest,” the media company’s attorneys wrote in a court filing.

In statements on social media, Trump called on the court to unseal the unredacted version of the affidavit “in the interest of transparency.”

But none of his attorneys filed a motion asking the federal court in West Palm Beach to do so. His lawyer Christina Bobb was however present in the courtroom on Thursday to observe the proceedings.

Trump says the research was politically motivated. He also stated, without providing evidence, that he had a standing order to declassify the documents in question.

However, none of the three statutes cited by the Justice Department in the search warrant require showing that the documents were in fact classified.

Threats directed at FBI agents have increased since the raid.

In Ohio last week, police shot and killed a gunman after trying to break into an FBI building. A second man in Pennsylvania, meanwhile, has since been charged with uttering threats against FBI agents.

Trump’s rhetoric against the FBI has caught on with Republican voters, 54% of whom say federal law enforcement officials behaved irresponsibly in the matter, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll this week. Read more

The search for Mar-a-Lago marked a significant escalation in one of the many federal and state investigations Trump has faced since his tenure and in private matters. The Republican former president suggested he could run for the White House again in 2024, but made no commitment.

Last week, US Attorney General Merrick Garland took the highly unusual step of publicly lifting the search warrant, two attachments and a redacted version of the receipt showing the items seized by the FBI during its search on August 8.

Records showed the FBI seized boxes containing 11 sets of classified documents, some of which were labeled “top secret” – the highest level of classification reserved for the most closely held US national security information. Read more

These documents are usually kept in special government facilities because their disclosure could cause serious damage to national security.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department said it was willing to release certain additional documents redacted from the warrant, such as cover sheets, the government’s motion to seal and the court’s sealing order.

The media involved in the case also demanded that these files be unsealed as well.

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Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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