Judge orders DOJ to redact Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit for possible release: recap

A federal magistrate Thursday set up the possible release of a heavily-edited version of the Justice Department affidavit authorizing the search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, ordering government lawyers to provide a redacted copy of the document for his consideration by next week.

U.S. Magistrate Bruce Reinhart said he would decide on release after reviewing the redacted copy of the detailed document that the government used as the basis for its unprecedented law enforcement action.

"This is going to be a considerate, careful process," Reinhart told attorneys at the close of a hearing where a consortium of media companies pushed for the document's public release.

Justice has opposed the affidavit’s release, arguing that it would provide a “roadmap,” to the ongoing investigation, putting the inquiry and witnesses in possible jeopardy.

Jay Bratt, a top Justice National Security Division official, told the magistrate that the document would require such extensive redactions that it would not "edify the public in any meaningful way.”

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The Justice Department could appeal any decision to release the affidavit, even in partial form. But the judge's decision Thursday also applies new pressure on the Justice Department to make a public case for the search in the face of mounting calls for transparency in an investigation that has ensnared a former president and raised serious questions about possible breaches of national security.

Lawmakers have also sought more information about the search. Democrats leading two House committees have asked for a briefing about national security risks from the documents. And Republicans have questioned what justified searching a former president’s home.

Former Sen. Lieberman: Presidential records belong to the American people, not former presidents

Trump spokesman responds

Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich also renewed the former president's calls for the document's release, saying the judge had "rejected the DOJ’s cynical attempt to hide the whole affidavit from Americans."

Short of unsealing the affidavit, Reinhart on Thursday did make public other supporting documents including the government motion to seal the warrant.

"The United States submits that there is good cause (to seal the warrant), because the integrity of the ongoing investigation might be compromised, and evidence might be destroyed," Justice lawyers argued in a Aug. 5 filing.

– Kevin Johnson

Top Trump administration officials said there was no order to declassify documents: report

Former President Donald Trump and his allies have claimed Trump had a “standing order” to declassify documents he took from the Oval Office, but 18 former top Trump officials said there was no such order, CNN reported.

Former Chief of Staff John Kelly and his successor Mick Mulvaney, as well as former national security and intelligence officials, White House lawyers and Justice Department officials all said that Trump never gave an order to declassify documents.

"Nothing approaching an order that foolish was ever given," Kelly told CNN.

– Katherine Swartz

Opinion: Attorney General Garland's stature shrinks as he doggedly pursues Trump

Here are the latest developments over the Trump search:

Judge: Some portions of Mar-a-Lago search affidavit could be unsealed

A federal judge magistrate said Thursday he is not prepared to find that the affidavit into the search of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home should be fully sealed.

There are portions of it that at least presumptively could be unsealed, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said at a hearing in West Palm Beach. Whether those unsealed portions will be relevant to the media will be for someone else to decide, he said.

“I’m going to move forward in that way," Reinhart told attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice and various media agencies, including The Palm Beach Post.

At noon Aug. 25, the federal government will file proposed redactions to the warrant for the Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago.

The judge said if he agrees the federal government has met its burden, he will issue an order "accordingly." If the judge finds the government has not met its burden, he and federal attorneys will discuss the issue.

If there's disagreement then between the government and the court, "obviously I win," Reinhart said.

"This is going to be a considerate, careful process," he told attorneys at the close of the proceeding.

– Hannah Phillips and Stephany Matat, Palm Beach Post

Jan. 6 grand jury subpoenaed White House documents: report

Federal prosecutors investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack issued a grand jury subpoena to the National Archives in May for all the documents the agency gave to the separate House committee inquiry, the New York Times reported.

The subpoena, which was obtained by the New York Times and has not been reviewed by USA TODAY, reportedly demanded “all materials, in whatever form” the archives gave the Jan. 6 committee investigating the Capitol attack, including records from Trump’s top aides, his daily schedule and phone logs, and a draft text of the former president’s speech preceding the riot.

Thomas P. Windom, the federal prosecutor leading the Justice Department’s inquiry, signed the subpoena, the New York Times reported. It’s unrelated to the Justice Department’s investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents taken from the White House that led to a search of his Mar-a-Lago estate, according to the Times.

– Ella Lee

Media companies cite 'powerful interest' in releasing affidavit

The consortium of media companies including the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Network, argued the affidavit should be unsealed because of the “clear and powerful interest” in Trump’s handling of classified documents.

The Justice Department has argued that redactions necessary to protect the integrity of its investigation would be so extensive that no release should be granted. But the media companies argued portions of the document could be kept under seal while providing the public with more information about the reasons for the unprecedented search.

“The affidavit of probable cause should be released to the public, with only those redactions that are necessary to protect a compelling interest articulated by the government,” the media companies argued in a filing Wednesday.

Although Trump is not a party to the case, he called Aug. 15 for the "immediate release of the completely Unredacted Affidavit," in a post on Truth Social.

What we don't know: New Trump Mar-a-Lago details emerge: What we know (and don't) about these classified docs

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A person walks between security fencing outside the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Washington, D.C. on August 15, 2022.
A person walks between security fencing outside the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Washington, D.C. on August 15, 2022.

Justice Department argues release could hurt investigation

The Justice Department said in a court filing the affidavit contains "highly sensitive information about witnesses, including witnesses interviewed by the government; specific investigative techniques; and information required by law to be kept under seal."

Releasing it is "highly likely to compromise future investigative steps" and could "chill future cooperation by witnesses" in this investigation and others in the future, the department argued.

Opinion: Attorney General Garland's stature shrinks as he doggedly pursues Trump

Former Sen. Lieberman: Presidential records belong to the American people, not former presidents

The filing came after Reinhart unsealed the search warrant Aug. 12. The search on Aug. 8 recovered 11 sets of classified documents. The FBI obtained the warrant with probable cause of finding evidence of potential violations for handling defense documents, obstruction of justice and the Espionage Act.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Judge orders DOJ to redact Mar-a-Lago search affidavit: recap