The affidavit used to justify the raid on President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence will be unsealed, at least in part.
A federal judge ordered the Justice Department on Thursday to unseal at least a portion of the probable cause document that was used to obtain a search warrant on the former president’s home in Palm Beach, Florida.
However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said after a hearing that he would give the government “a full and fair opportunity” to propose redactions to the document, which could limit how much of the affidavit would become public.
Justice Department lawyers have until Aug. 25 to submit their redaction request, Judge Reinhart said in a West Palm Beach courtroom.
He said he would review the proposed redactions and, if he approves them, order the document’s release. If not, he will hold a closed-door hearing with the government on the matter.
“I find on the present record the government has not met its burden of showing that the entire affidavit should remain sealed,” he wrote in an order following the hearing.
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Judge Reinhart did order the immediate release of some documents related to last week’s FBI raid, including the application to obtain the warrant, the motion to keep it sealed, and the cover sheet.
However, those documents are unlikely to shed as much light on why investigators thought there was evidence of a crime at Mar-a-Lago compared to the affidavit.
The affidavit would lay out details about the investigation of Mr. Trump, including why prosecutors thought a prompt search of the facility was necessary and how what was seized during the raid ties into the overall FBI probe.
Jay Bratt, a Justice Department prosecutor, argued Thursday that the affidavit should remain sealed.
He said the country was in a “volatile” state and releasing the affidavit could jeopardize “several witnesses,” whose accounts of Mr. Trump’s actions were specific enough that they could be easily identified.
“This is not a precedent we want to set,” Mr. Bratt said. “The government is very concerned about the safety of witnesses in the case.”
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Lawyers for media organizations and a conservative advocacy group who have requested unsealing the affidavit said public interest justifies its release.
Charles Tobin, one of the lawyers for the media outlets, called the search of Mr. Trump’s residence, “one of the most significant law enforcement events in the nation’s history.”
“The time for everyone to get it right is now,” he said.
James Moon, who represented Judicial Watch, a conservative advocacy group, said he was open to releasing the affidavit with redactions.
“I don’t think the floodgates should be open,” he said.
During the roughly hour-long hearing, Mr. Bratt also disclosed that the Justice Department probe into Mr. Trump is in “the early stages,” suggesting many more twists and turns as the explosive investigation plays out.
“This investigation is open,” he said in court.
In a statement, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich accused the Justice Department of trying to hide its corruption by keeping the affidavit under seal.
“Today, magistrate Judge Reinhart rejected the DOJ’s cynical attempt to hide the whole affidavit from Americans. No redactions should be necessary and the whole affidavit should be released, given the Democrats’ penchant for using redactions to hide government corruption, just like they did with the Russia hoax,” the statement said.
The hearing Thursday caps off a chaotic 10 days since FBI agents searched Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on August 8, removing 11 sets of classified documents.
Some of the documents were marked top secret and “sensitive compartmented information” — the nation’s two most sensitive categories for classified materials, according to a receipt of what was taken from the property. Sensitive compartmented information means that the secrets could cause “exceptionally grave” damage to U.S. intelligence if publicly revealed.
The court documents did not provide details about the types of information contained in the documents. The Washington Post reported last week that the materials related to nuclear weapons, but there is nothing in the materials unsealed so far that confirms their reporting.
Since the raid, Republicans have ramped up their criticism of the FBI and Attorney General Merrick Garland who sought to defend himself in a hastily convened press statement last week.
Democrats meanwhile have cheered and defended the raid, saying Mr. Trump is being held accountable for his actions.
Mr. Trump has escalated his attacks against the FBI, even though he has also offered to help tone down the temperature in the country.
The FBI has warned of violent threats to employees while protesters have gathered outside of field offices across the country. An armed man was shot and killed by police in Ohio after he attempted to breach the FBI’s Cincinnati field office. A Pennsylvania man this week is facing federal criminal charges after threatening to kill FBI agents.
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.