Despite the Justice Department’s concerns, a federal judge in Florida decided on Thursday that some of the affidavits supporting the FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home would likely be made public. At the conclusion of the 77-minute hearing, West Palm Beach Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who authorized the search of the 45th president’s house, stated,
“I believe — at least on my initial attentive perusal of the affidavit — that there are portions that may be presumptively disclosed,” Reinhart informed federal prosecutors that a partially blacked-out version will probably be made public at some time in the future and given them until noon on August 25 to submit a list of requested redactions. The judge stated that if the government disagrees with his suggested redactions, it would be given a chance to appeal.
A senior Justice Department official had earlier argued that the affidavit should not be made public because doing so would enable “amateur sleuths on the internet” to identify important witnesses and “give a roadmap to the inquiry.” The head of DOJ counterintelligence Jay Bratt acknowledged that the government’s reasoning for the raid on August 8 had garnered a lot of interest.
However, he continued, the country’s political climate is currently too tense for the affidavit to be made public. Bratt told the judge, “This is a dangerous environment with regard to this search across the political spectrum—but on one side in particular. The safety of the witnesses in these cases and the effect of all the emphasis on these witnesses on other witnesses are major concerns for the government.
The release of the paper, according to The Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and CNN, would enable the public to assess if the FBI’s raid had a valid justification. The raid, according to Trump and his associates, was a part of a vendetta by the Biden administration against the outgoing president, and Trump has demanded the “prompt release” of the affidavit.
Charles Tobin, a lawyer for many media sites, told the judge that the public’s interest in the transparency of the case could not be higher. “What you cannot see, you cannot trust.” The Mar-a-Lago raid, according to Tobin, was “one of the most momentous law enforcement actions in the nation’s history” and “maximum transparency” was required in this case.
The media outlets requested that just portions of the affidavit be made public. However, Bratt had claimed earlier that “there would be little of substance that would remain” because so much of the document’s contents would need to be kept secret. Near the end of the hearing, Reinhart seemed to concur, saying that what is left after the redactions are finished would not be particularly interesting.
The cover papers for the initial application for a search warrant, the government’s move to seal the warrant, and Reinhart’s own sealing order were all cleared for release by the judge. According to an inventory report made public by Reinhart on August 12, federal authorities seized 27 boxes from Trump’s opulent home, including 11 sets of classified information marked as top secret, secret, or confidential.
As part of a federal investigation into whether Trump improperly brought sensitive information to Mar-a-Lago after he departed the White House, Reinhart gave her approval for the search warrant. In violation of three federal laws, including the Espionage Act of 1917, the search order allowed the FBI to collect “any physical documents and records comprising evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other material illegally acquired.”
Before departing the White House, Trump allegedly used his authority to declassify the now-seized materials, according to both his lawyers and himself. Christina Bobb, a member of the 45th president’s legal team who was present when federal agents carried out the search order, attended court on Thursday but stayed out of the oral arguments.