Court Battles

Judge says he may unseal parts of Mar-a-Lago affidavit

A federal magistrate judge on Thursday said he may be willing to unseal portions of an affidavit used to apply for the search warrant on former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, ordering Justice Department officials to suggest redactions to the document.

Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said he believes the Justice Department has not sufficiently shown that the document should remain entirely secret.

“I find that on the present record the Government has not met its burden of showing that the entire affidavit should remain sealed,” Reinhart said in a brief order.

The judge issued his ruling during a hearing in West Palm Beach, Fla., where several news outlets had argued that the significant public interest in the filing justifies disclosing at least part of it.

According to The New York Times, Reinhart said there were parts of the affidavit that “could be presumptively unsealed,” and that it was not for him to decide whether “those portions would be meaningful for the public or the media.”

The affidavit, which was used to convince Reinhart that there was enough evidence to support the probable cause needed to obtain a search warrant, contains information about the federal law enforcement investigation into Trump’s handling of material marked classified following his departure from the White House.

Reinhart told the Department of Justice (DOJ) to send him proposed redactions of the affidavit by next Thursday and said he would review whether they were appropriate.

“This is going to be a considered, careful process,” the judge said, according to the Times.

Questions about the DOJ’s investigation have been mounting since news of the search first broke last week. The public pressure led to the department taking the rare step of agreeing to publicly release a copy of the warrant and a list of the materials it seized.

The warrant released on Friday showed that investigators suspected Trump of violating federal laws around his handling of sensitive material, including the Espionage Act.

But the affidavit, which would likely provide damning details about the investigation thus far, has remained under seal. Last week, several major news outlets filed motions in federal court to release it.

Charles Tobin, an attorney representing media outlets who have asked for the document’s release, said during Thursday’s hearing that the significant public interest in the matter weighs in favor of disclosing information about the search.

“Transparency serves the public interest in understanding and accepting the results. That’s good for the government and for the court,” Tobin said, according to The Washington Post. “You can’t trust what you cannot see.” 

The department had argued that the affidavit should remain under seal in its entirety, saying the information it contained laid out a “roadmap” to its ongoing investigation.

“There remain compelling reasons, including to protect the integrity of an ongoing law enforcement investigation that implicates national security, that support keeping the affidavit sealed,” DOJ lawyers said in a court filing earlier this week.

—Updated at 4:03 p.m.

Tags affidavit Donald Trump Mar-a-Lago search Trump

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