Judge May Unveil Affidavit 08/19 06:43
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- A federal judge on Thursday ordered the
Justice Department to put forward proposed redactions as he committed to making
public at least part of the affidavit supporting the search warrant for former
President Donald Trump's estate in Florida.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said that under the law, it is the
government's burden to show why a redacted version should not be released and
prosecutors' arguments Thursday failed to persuade him. He gave them a week to
submit a copy of the affidavit proposing the information it wants to keep
secret after the FBI seized classified and top-secret information during a
search at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate last week.
The hearing was convened after several news organizations, including The
Associated Press, sought to unseal additional records tied to last week's
search, including the affidavit. It is likely to contain key details about the
Justice Department's investigation examining whether Trump retained and
mishandled classified and sensitive government records.
The Justice Department has adamantly opposed making any portion of the
affidavit public, arguing that doing so would compromise its ongoing
investigation, would expose the identities of witnesses and could prevent
others from coming forward and cooperating with the government.
The attorneys for the news organizations, however, argued that the
unprecedented nature of the Justice Department's investigation warrants public
"You can't trust what you can't see," said Chuck Tobin, a lawyer
representing the AP and several other news outlets.
In addition to ordering the redactions, the judge agreed to make public
other documents, including the warrant's cover sheet, the Justice Department's
motion to seal the documents and the judge's order requiring them to be sealed.
Those documents showed the FBI was specifically investigating the "willful
retention of national defense information," the concealment or removal of
government records and obstruction of a federal investigation.
Jay Bratt, a top Justice Department national security prosecutor, had argued
that the affidavit should remain hidden from the public. Unsealing it, he said,
would provide a "road map" of the investigation -- which is in its "early
stages" -- and expose the next steps to be taken by federal agents and
He argued it was in the public interest for the investigation, including
interviews of witnesses, to go forward unhindered.
As the hearing kicked off, a small caravan of vehicles with Trump flags
drove past the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida. An attorney for
Trump, Christina Bobb, was in the courthouse Thursday but said she was only
there to observe the court proceeding.
Bratt argued in court that even a redacted version of the document could
reveal investigative steps or create the ability for sleuths or those being
eyed in the investigation to identify witnesses in the case. He also contended
that the Justice Department had already gone to rare lengths to bring
transparency, including making a request for the court to unseal the warrant
and property receipt, which were made public last week.
"There is heightened interest," he conceded. "This is likely an
Trump, in a Truth Social post last week, called for the release of the
unredacted affidavit in the interest of transparency.
Reinhart gave the government until next Thursday to submit its version with
the proposed redactions along with written arguments for each, going line by
line. He said he would then review the proposal and make his own proposed
redactions and then may meet with government lawyers to give them a final
argument for why specific information should be withheld.
Justice Department attorneys have argued in court filings that the
investigation into Trump's handling of "highly classified material" is ongoing
and that the document contains sensitive information about witnesses.
A recent filing by Bratt and Juan Antonio Gonzalez, the U.S. attorney in
Miami, says making the affidavit public would "cause significant and
irreparable damage to this ongoing criminal investigation."
"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," they wrote.
FBI agents searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on Aug. 8, removing 11 sets of
classified documents, with some not only marked top secret but also "sensitive
compartmented information," according to a receipt of what was taken that was
released Friday. That is a special category meant to protect the nation's most
important secrets that if revealed publicly could cause "exceptionally grave"
damage to U.S. interests. The court records did not provide specific details
about information the documents might contain.