A U.S. magistrate has begun the process of potentially releasing certain information from the affidavit that the Justice Department used to obtain a search warrant for Florida residence of former President Donald Trump.
Judge Bruce Reinhart said during a hearing at the West Palm Beach courthouse that he plans to unseal portions of the affidavit, which is being requested by various media outlets and other organizations.
His announcement came after the Justice Department, while arguing against releasing the documents, revealed new, if not wildly vague, details about the investigation into Trump’s handling of classified White House documents.
Here are the takeaways from the audience:
Reinhart set in motion on Thursday the possible public release of a heavily redacted version of the Mar-a-Lago search affidavit. The judge plans to hear more from the Justice Department by next Thursday about the extent to which investigators want to keep confidential the document that outlines their investigative steps and methods leading to the need for the search.
Reinhart said he was not yet convinced that the entire affidavit should not be released to the public.
“I’m not prepared to conclude that the affidavit should be fully sealed” based on the record he now has, Reinhart said, adding that there are “parts” that could be unsealed.
Prosecutors will have the opportunity to offer redactions and explain why each piece of information should be withheld from the public, Reinhart said. These proposals will be due at noon ET on August 25.
Reinhart said he could then have additional confidential discussions with the Justice Department before making his decisions on transparency.
A document unsealed on Thursday, which offered details of crimes being investigated by the Justice Department, including the “deliberate withholding of national defense information,” sharpens the focus on the former president as a possible subject of the criminal investigation, several legal experts told CNN.
Previously, search warrant documents only mentioned federal laws, including the general law known as the Espionage Act. And the documents released so far made it clear that Trump and others around him were at risk of legal exposure, including for possible obstruction of justice.
But the specific language about ‘voluntary retention’ could point to the role of the former president, who would have been allowed to possess national defense documents during his tenure, but not once he decamped to his private club and his home. residence in Palm Beach, Florida.
The newly unsealed document was part of the warrant application and was among several largely procedural documents the judge unsealed on Thursday.
A Justice Department lawyer told the hearing that the probable cause affidavit used to obtain a warrant described how prosecutors could find ‘evidence of obstruction’ on the grounds of the Florida property – a felony possible that the search warrant revealed itself was under investigation.
“In this case, the court has found probable cause for a violation of one of the obstruction laws, and that evidence of obstruction would be found at Mar-a-Lago,” said Jay Bratt, who leads the section. Department of Justice Counterintelligence.
Obstruction of justice was one of three statutes listed on Mar-a-Lago’s search warrant, which was unsealed last week, and Reinhart told the hearing on Thursday that he “found that there was probable cause” that the laws had been violated.
Bratt commented on the obstruction being investigated as he tried to underscore the DOJ’s concern that future witnesses may not be willing to provide information if too much comes out of the investigation so far.
Bratt revealed further details about the affidavit, describing it as long, detailed and containing “substantial information about the grand jury.”
He told the federal judge that letting the public read the affidavit would “provide a roadmap for the investigation” and even indicate the next steps for the investigation.
Bratt’s comments in court underscored that this is an active and ongoing criminal investigation, with solid witness interview work and grand jury activity.
While acknowledging that there is a public interest in transparency, Bratt said there is “another public interest” that criminal investigations can move forward unhindered.
As Bratt warned that the release of the affidavit could have a chilling effect on witnesses participating in this investigation and future investigations, he revealed that several witnesses were already part of the investigation into the documents. Some of these witnesses have very specific relevant information that, if released, would reveal who they are, Bratt said.
Bratt also raised concerns about the risks the FBI has faced since news of the Mar-a-Lago search broke, including the recent standoff at an FBI field office in Cincinnati and “amateur sleuths ” on the Internet.
He told the judge that if any of the other documents were released, the DOJ would want to redact even basic information about the officers who have worked on the case so far.
A lawyer for Trump was present at the hearing, but she did not speak in front of the judge nor was she asked to weigh in during the proceedings. The attorney, Christina Bobb, told reporters ahead of the hearing that she was there to observe.
Trump is not officially part of the dispute over the release of the mandate documents. Previously, when the DOJ asked the judge to unseal the warrant itself and the search receipt, the judge instructed the Department to confer with Trump and then communicate to the court if Trump objects to the disclosure of the documents. .
Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, the judge set a 9 a.m. ET deadline for parties to file submissions in response to DOJ filings in the dispute. It should be noted that the Trump team did not seek at this time to become formally involved in the dispute, in particular because Trump and his allies expressed outside the court their desire to see the documents of the mandate. be published.
Some of Bobb’s public remarks on the research were nonetheless presented to Reinhart on Thursday. Charles Tobin — who was advocating for the release of the affidavit on behalf of an assortment of media outlets, including CNN — pointed out that Bobb had previously provided information about an FBI subpoena relating to the surveillance tape of Mar-a- Lago and that DOJ officials had visited Mar-a -Lago in June.
This story has been updated with additional developments.