Politics

Judge says some of DOJ's affidavit used to obtain Mar-a-Lago search warrant can be unsealed

Key Points
  • A federal judge said parts of the affidavit used to obtain a search warrant for former President Donald Trump's home Mar-a-Lago can be unsealed.
  • The Justice Department had asked Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart not to unseal the affidavit, arguing that it could compromise the national security probe.
  • The government's investigation into the records seized from Trump's Florida residence is still in its "early stages," argued Jay Bratt, head of a DOJ counterintelligence team.
Judge 'inclined' to unseal parts of Mar-A-Lago search affidavit
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Judge 'inclined' to unseal parts of Mar-A-Lago search affidavit

A federal judge said that parts of the affidavit used to obtain a search warrant for former President Donald Trump's resort home Mar-a-Lago can be unsealed, NBC News reported Thursday.

The decision from U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart came after the Department of Justice asked him not to unseal the highly sensitive document, which details the government's view that it had probable cause to believe the search of Mar-a-Lago would turn up evidence of illegality.

The government's investigation into the records seized from Trump's Palm Beach, Florida, residence is still in its "early stages," argued Jay Bratt, head of a DOJ counterintelligence team, NBC reported.

The affidavit contains "substantial grand jury" information in a case with "national security overtones," Bratt reportedly said in the hearing.

Reinhart disagreed, saying he believed "there are portions of it that can be unsealed."

An aerial view of former U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home after Trump said that FBI agents raided it, in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. August 15, 2022.
Marco Bello | Reuters

In a written order later Thursday, Reinhart wrote, "As I ruled from the bench at the conclusion of the hearing, I find that on the present record the Government has not met its burden of showing that the entire affidavit should remain sealed."

The judge gave the government a week to file proposed redactions to the affidavit.

The prosecutors had previously urged the court to reject calls from media outlets and other entities to disclose the affidavit, which supported the search warrant used by FBI agents in the Aug. 8 raid on Mar-a-Lago.

Trump has publicly called for the affidavit to be released without redactions, though his lawyers have not yet filed a motion asking the judge to do so.

The former president "has made his view clear that the American people should be permitted to see the unredacted affidavit related to the raid and break-in of his home," his spokesman Taylor Budowich said on Twitter after the hearing. His tweets praised Reinhart for rejecting "the DOJ's cynical attempt to hide the whole affidavit from Americans," but insisted that "no redactions should be necessary."

The search warrant itself had been publicly released with the DOJ's approval last week. That document and attachments indicated that the agents were looking for materials related to three criminal statutes, one of which was part of the Espionage Act.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, who said he personally approved the warrant, supported its disclosure in light of the "substantial public interest in this matter."

But the affidavit "presents a very different set of considerations," federal prosecutors wrote in a court filing Monday.

The still-sealed document contains "critically important and detailed investigative facts" about witnesses and other "highly sensitive information" related to the ongoing criminal probe, which "implicates national security," the prosecutors wrote.

If disclosed, the affidavit would be "highly likely to compromise future investigative steps," said the filing, which was signed by Bratt, the head of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the DOJ's National Security Division.

The current criminal investigation stems from a probe of government records that were transferred to Mar-a-Lago instead of the National Archives after Trump left office in 2021.

FBI agents sought all records and other evidence "illegally possessed" in violation of three criminal statutes, according to the search warrant and property receipt released last week. The agents seized 20 boxes of items and other materials, including multiple sets of documents marked top secret and classified, the property receipt showed.

None of the three statutes — Title 18 of the United States Code, Sections 7931519 and 2071 — hinge on whether the documents in question were classified.