A Florida magistrate judge said on Thursday that he might try to unseal parts of the affidavit that backed the search warrant used to raid former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last week, despite objections from the Justice Department.
The judge indicated that he might decide to unseal at least some of the affidavit with government redactions after hearing oral arguments on a request from a coalition of media outlets to make the affidavit public.
The Justice Department had requested that Judge Bruce Reinhart keep the affidavit completely under seal, citing the potential for “significant and irreparable damage” to an ongoing criminal investigation involving highly classified materials related to national security should the affidavit be made public.
Jay Bratt, head of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence and export control section, argued on Thursday that the government’s position to keep the underlying affidavit sealed is in the public interest because it would provide a roadmap and “suggest next investigative steps that we would be about to take.”
Bratt stated that they are still in the “early stages” of the investigation and that they are concerned for the safety of witnesses and potential witnesses as well as the possibility of “obstacles and interference.”
“This probe is currently active. It’s still in its infancy, “To quote Bratt:
Bratt argued that redacting the affidavit would not be enough because it contains information that could identify witnesses based on descriptions of events that only certain people would know about.
After hearing the government’s side of the argument, however, Judge Reinhart stated, “I am not prepared to find that the affidavit should be fully sealed.”
The judge has stated that he thinks there are parts of it that could be unsealed on a presumptive basis; whether or not they would be meaningful is up to another person to decide. He acknowledged that the government might disagree with him on some points and gave DOJ until Thursday to submit its proposed redactions.
Since this is the first time law enforcement has ever searched the home of a former president, and since there has been “immediate and intense public interest as well as a vociferous reaction from Mr. Trump and his allies,” ABC News and other media outlets have called for the release of the affidavit.
However, in a filing made on Monday, officials stated their belief that the redactions required to protect the investigation “would be so extensive as to render the remaining unsealed text devoid of meaningful content.”
If Judge Reinhart were to rule in favor of the Department of Justice and reveal new, substantive details about their investigation, the DOJ would likely seek an immediate appeal.
But the government said it wouldn’t object to unsealing the rest of the documents filed in connection with the warrant, including the application cover sheet, the government’s motion to keep the warrant under seal, and the original sealing order from Judge Reinhart.
The court released the remaining redacted documents on Thursday afternoon after receiving no objections from the Justice Department.
The Justice Department is looking into possible violations of at least three different criminal statutes in its search of Mar a Lago, including obstruction of justice and one crime under the Espionage Act, and the release of a redacted copy of the search warrant last Friday sent shockwaves through Washington.
A property receipt accompanying the warrant shows agents seized 11 boxes of documents of various classifications, including one set referring to “classified/TS/SCI documents” (the acronym stands for top secret/sensitive compartmentalized information that not everyone with even top-secret clearance can view) and four other sets of top-secret documents.
Despite publicly trying to pressure the Justice Department into releasing the full affidavit, Trump’s team has yet to take legal action.
Trump attorney Christina Bobb told reporters that she and her colleagues had no plans to file anything or speak publicly but had come to observe the hearing.
Recently, Trump has demanded the “immediate release” of the affidavit while also making numerous attacks on the FBI and the Department of Justice via his social media platforms, and he has also asked for the return of the documents. But Trump’s legal team has yet to take any sort of legal action on either front in response to the search.
Reporter John Santucci from ABC News provided assistance.
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