Mar-a-Lago Search Judge Says He Believes FBI Claims, May Keep Affidavit Secret

Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said the Justice Department has made a strong case for keeping the document justifying the search at Trump’s home sealed.

The federal judge who signed off on the search of Donald Trump’s Florida home said Monday that the facts presented to him by the FBI are “reliable” and that he may in the end decide to keep the affidavit justifying the search warrant completely under wraps.

“Having carefully reviewed the affidavit before signing the warrant, I was — and am — satisfied that the facts sworn by the affiant are reliable,” Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart wrote in a 13-page order based on a hearing in his courtroom last week.

Reinhart said during the hearing that he was leaning toward publicly releasing a redacted version of the affidavit — with names of FBI agents, witnesses and investigative details blacked out. He ordered prosecutors to provide him such redactions by Thursday, and said he would then decide whether to release that version or propose his own.

On Monday, Reinhart said he may decide prosecutors were correct when they argued that the necessary redactions would make what was left lacking in both content and context.

“I cannot say at this point that partial redactions will be so extensive that they will result in a meaningless disclosure, but I may ultimately reach that conclusion after hearing further from the government,” Reinhart wrote.

Releasing the entire affidavit, the judge said, would hurt the ongoing criminal investigation by revealing names of witnesses and investigative techniques, which could lead to “obstruction of justice and witness intimidation or retaliation” in the first instance and damage prosecutors’ ability to continue gathering information in the second.

Both of those arguments were laid out by Department of Justice lawyers in their written filing and during last week’s hearing. Reinhart added one new argument of his own: that releasing the affidavit would make public details about the physical layout of Mar-a-Lago, which would make the Secret Service’s job of protecting the former president more difficult.

“This factor weighs in favor of sealing,” he wrote.

Reinhart, neither during the hearing nor in his order Monday, indicated precisely how long after DOJ submits its proposed redactions he intends to rule.

Trump, under criminal investigation for possible violations of the Espionage Act and for obstruction of justice regarding top secret and classified documents he took with him after leaving the White House, has not taken a position in court on releasing the affidavit, which likely includes facts that will portray him in a negative light.

Rather, the effort to release the document is coming from news organizations and the pro-Trump nonprofit Judicial Watch, which argue that the public has a right to see the probable cause affidavit, which is typically a synopsis of evidence already collected that explains why prosecutors believe a search warrant is justified.

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 lost in 2020. 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 House Jan. 6 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.

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