Justice Department files redacted affidavit used to search Trump's Mar-a-Lago
Bloomberg News August 25, 2022
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The Justice Department filed a sealed version of its proposed redactions to the FBI affidavit used to get a search warrant for former President Donald Trump's Florida estate, moving closer to a possible public release of parts of the highly sensitive document.
The filing Thursday in West Palm Beach, Florida, was made after U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart last week said the government can propose shielding witnesses or investigatory methods but that "historical interest" justifies the unusual move to make some of the affidavit public.
"The United States has filed a submission under seal per the Court's order of Aug. 22," Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said, adding that DOJ would have no further comment.
Reinhart said at an Aug. 18 hearing that he'll review the DOJ's proposed redactions and, if he disagrees with any, make his own suggestions. The judge must ultimately sign off on any version before it's made public. It's unclear how long that process might take.
The judge hasn't given the department any timeline for his next steps in the case, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked for anonymity to discuss information not public.
The affidavit has become a focal point of the controversy surrounding the search of the former president's Mar-a-Lago estate on Aug. 8, when FBI agents investigating missing White House records retrieved 11 sets of classified documents in about 20 boxes. The search of a former president's home has fueled political divisions ahead of midterm elections in November and Trump's possible entrance into the 2024 race for the White House.
Trump had returned 15 boxes containing 700 pages of classified documents in January after months of negotiations, but authorities believed he still had more sensitive records even after a Trump lawyer signed a statement two months ago saying that all classified material had already been returned.
The affidavit could shed light on how the FBI was able to determine that many more classified documents were still on the premises, as well as what kind of witnesses or informants might have been working with the government. Such affidavits are seen as road maps to an investigation and aren't usually unsealed until after someone has been charged.
Trump argues the search was politically motivated and unnecessary, saying the government only needed to ask him and he would have returned the records. The former president has also given a variety of reasons for why the documents were rightfully in his possession, including that he had a "standing order" to declassify material he wanted. He also suggested without evidence that some documents might have been planted.
Trump took to social media before the DOJ's noon deadline to weigh in again on the search of his estate, including one post proclaiming that he is "innocent as a person can be."
The Justice Department had argued that the affidavit should remain completely sealed. But Reinhart ruled that the ability to redact the document meant that the public should be able to see at least some details.
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor, said the Justice Department likely proposed many redactions and that the public is unlikely to see anything Thursday.
"Much is at stake for DOJ and its criminal investigative processes, which will be important long after Trump is gone," he said.
The judge rejected the argument that the process of proposing redactions would be too time-consuming and burdensome — a standard argument made in such cases. The Justice Department and Trump previously agreed to release the search warrant and other documents which described the items seized during the search as well as the laws that may have been violated.
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