Judge suggests parts of Trump’s research affidavit could ‘presumably be unsealed’

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The federal magistrate judge who authorized the FBI’s search warrant of former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence said he may release portions of the underlying affidavit to the public, pending redactions proposed by federal prosecutors.

Judge Bruce Reinhart said Thursday he was “not prepared to find that the affidavit should be fully sealed,” during a hearing between members of the media and the Justice Department.

“There are parts of it that could, at least, be presumptively unsealed.”

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Florida Judge Bruce Reinhart, August 18, 2022.

Sketch by William Hennessy Jr.


Media organizations, including The New York Times, CBS News and others asked the court to unseal the affidavit, arguing that releasing the affidavit would help the public determine whether the Justice Department had legitimate reasons for the search. Trump also requested the release of the unredacted affidavit, although his attorneys were not listed as interested parties in the legal proceedings.

The judge gave prosecutors a week to file their proposals for drafting the affidavit — which likely contains a more detailed account of the reasons for the search of Mar-a-Lago last week — and said he would take a decision after that.

Prosecutors for the Justice Department’s National Security Division said they objected to releasing the affidavit “to protect the integrity of an ongoing police investigation that involves national security.”

This survey examines Trump’s handling of presidential records after the National Archives and Records Administration said in January that it had recovered 15 boxes of presidential documents, some of which contained classified national security material, from Mar-a-Lago, and asked the Justice Department to consider the matter.

The Department of Justice, with the approval of Attorney General Merrick Garland, asked for the search warrant which culminated in the August 6 law enforcement action at Trump’s resort town. Reinhart, who saw the affidavit and reviewed all of the investigators’ evidence, authorized the search warrant on August 5. He told the court on Thursday that in approving the government’s warrant, “all of the information the court relied on is in the affidavit.”

Recently unsealed court documents revealed more about the exact laws that investigators believe may have been broken: “18 USC § 793 Deliberate Withholding of National Defense Information; 18 USC § 2071 Concealing or Deleting Government Records; and 18 USC § 1519 Obstruction of Federal Investigation.”

Last week, the court unsealed the warrant itself with the consent of Trump’s attorneys and federal prosecutors, an unusual move spurred by the former president’s public acknowledgment of the FBI’s search.

The media argued that the affidavit and all other documents related to the investigation should be unsealed, due to the intense public interest in the case.

In court on Thursday, Jay Bratt, the senior Justice Department official leading the investigation, responded: “There is another public interest at stake: that criminal investigations can move forward.”

Release of the affidavit, he argued, would interfere with the investigation, which Bratt said is “in its very early stages.”

But the media argued that at least a redacted version should be released because it could satisfy both the public interest in the case and the investigators’ intention to continue the investigation unhindered.

“We the people are the ultimate stakeholders,” Chuck Tobin said on behalf of the media organizations. “Transparency serves the public interest in understanding the results. You can’t trust what you can’t see.”

“You represent the public. You are the gatekeeper,” Tobin told the judge, who has since received threats from far-right internet trolls after finding “probable cause” to authorize the Trump warrant.

“I’m inclined to say that I’m not going to seal the entire document,” Reinhart revealed in court Thursday.

He issued an order saying, “I conclude that, in the present case, the government has failed in its obligation to show that the affidavit in its entirety should remain sealed.”

Reinhart ordered the Justice Department to propose redactions of the affidavit by next Thursday, after which “I will make a judgment accordingly,” Reinhart said.

“I can agree with the government and we can be done. I may not agree.”

Federal investigators are looking into allegations that Trump mishandled classified information after he improperly brought White House documents to the Florida estate.

The former president also claimed to have declassified the documents at issue before leaving office, and he denies any wrongdoing. On Thursday, Trump circulated on social media a January 2021 order, shortly before leaving office, in which he declassified federal documents related to the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. It is not clear whether these documents were among the documents found during the August 8 search at Mar-a-Lago.

A federal grand jury issued a subpoena related to the investigation in the spring, according to people familiar with the matter, and Trump’s attorneys met at Mar-a-Lago with Justice Department officials later in June. Online media outlet Just the News first reported the existence of the subpoena.

A lawyer for Trump then signed a document certifying that all classified documents had been removed from Mar-a-Lago, CBS News has learned, but the inventory of search warrants created following the search last week indicated that the signed document was incorrect – 11 more sets of classified documents have been recovered.

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