A federal judge on Thursday told prosecutors investigating Donald Trump’s mishandling of classified documents to redact sensitive portions of the affidavit justifying the search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home so that the judge can release it to the public without jeopardizing the ongoing investigation.
Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart had been asked by media organizations to unseal the affidavit in its entirely, which, according to prosecutors, names key witnesses and other information outlining their case against the former president.
Reinhart, in a courtroom in West Palm Beach, Florida — across the Intracoastal Waterway from Trump’s tennis and croquet social club — did agree to release his order to seal the affidavit, prosecutors’ request to seal it, and other related documents.
The Department of Justice had said in a filing that releasing the affidavit would do serious damage to its investigation, but Reinhart said he wanted prosecutors to provide him a redacted version of the affidavit by next week. That would remain under seal until he can review it to decide if he is satisfied with the redactions — which would appear on the document as blacked-out text — or whether he would make his own.
The court Thursday afternoon released the cover page for the search warrant application, which stated that the basis for the search warrant was both “evidence of a crime” as well as “contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed.”
The name of the FBI agent who wrote the supporting affidavit was blacked out.
Prosecutors’ request to seal the warrant and accompanying documents stated “there is good cause because the integrity of the ongoing investigation might be compromised, and evidence might be destroyed.”
That application, the motion to seal and Reinhart’s order granting that request were all dated Aug. 5, a Friday, with the search taking place on Monday, three days later.
News organizations and other groups are asking for the release of the supporting affidavit behind the search warrant that led to the removal of 11 packets of documents from Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8.
Trump, while demanding on social media that the affidavit be released, chose not to make any such request in court, although at least one of his lawyers, former OAN anchor and election theft conspiracy theorist Christina Bobb, was in attendance.
Earlier this week, prosecutors argued in a filing that releasing the affidavit would “cause significant and irreparable damage to this ongoing criminal investigation.”
“As the court is aware from its review of the affidavit, it contains, among other critically important and detailed investigative facts: highly sensitive information about witnesses, including witnesses interviewed by the government; specific investigative techniques; and information required by law to be kept under seal,” the filing stated.
It was signed by Jay Bratt, DOJ’s counterintelligence chief, and Juan Gonzalez, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Bratt and Gonzalez also wrote that revealing the names of witnesses now could hurt prosecutors’ efforts of getting them and others to cooperate. In a footnote, they pointed to the violence that Trump and his allies have already incited: “This is not merely a hypothetical concern, given the widely reported threats made against law enforcement personnel in the wake of the August 8 search.”
They added that the affidavit lays out the direction of their case, which would jeopardize the probe. “If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government’s ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course, in a manner that is highly likely to compromise future investigative steps,” the filing said.
As is normal in criminal cases, the DOJ executed its search warrant at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 without public notice. It was Trump’s complaints about it and attacks by him and his GOP allies on the department and the FBI that led Attorney General Merrick Garland to ask the court to make public the search warrant itself as well as the inventory of what was found, which took place last week.
Monday’s filing was in response to a continuing request by a number of news organizations and others, such as the pro-Trump Judicial Watch, for all the material related to the search, including the probable cause affidavit, which is typically a synopsis of evidence already collected that explains why prosecutors believe a search warrant is justified.
Bratt and Gonzalez wrote that while the department is prepared to redact the affidavit to protect its witnesses and safeguard the investigation, doing so would be counterproductive. “The affidavit cannot responsibly be unsealed in a redacted form absent redactions that would be so extensive as to render the document devoid of content that would meaningfully enhance the public’s understanding of these events beyond the information already now in the public record,” they wrote.
Trump is also under investigation by the DOJ for his attempted coup to remain in power, including the plan to create fraudulent slates of electoral votes from states he had lost. A Georgia prosecutor is separately investigating his and his allies’ attempts to coerce state officials into falsely declaring him the winner in that state.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol — his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― killed five, including one police officer, injured another 140 officers and led to four police suicides.
Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.
In statements on his personal social media platform, Trump has continued to lie about the election and the Jan. 6 House committee’s work, calling it a “hoax” similar to previous investigations into his 2016 campaign’s acceptance of Russian assistance and his attempted extortion of Ukraine into helping his 2020 campaign.