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Judge willing to release part of affidavit in raid on Donald Trump’s home

Documents related to the search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., are photographed on August 18.

Documents related to the search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., are photographed on August 18. | Photo Credit: AP

A federal judge on August 18 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 gave prosecutors a week to submit a copy of the affidavit with proposed redactions for the information it wants to keep secret after the FBI seized classified and top secret information during a search at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last week.

The hearing was convened on August 18 after several news organisations, 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 Mr. Trump retained and mishandled classified and sensitive government records.

The Justice Department has adamantly opposed making 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 organisations, however, argued that the unprecedented nature of the Justice Department’s investigation warrants public disclosure.

“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 prosecutors.

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 on August 18 but said she was only there to observe the court proceeding.

Mr. 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 unprecedented situation.”

Mr. Trump, in a Truth Social post last week, called for the release of the unredacted affidavit in the interest of transparency.

Judge Reinhart gave the government until next Thursday to submit its version with the proposed redactions. He said he would then review it and may meet lawyers for the government and give them a chance to make an argument for why specific information should be withheld.

Justice Department attorneys have argued in a court filings that the investigation into Mr. Trump’s handling of “highly classified material” is ongoing and that the document contains sensitive information about witnesses.

A recent filing by Mr. 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 the former U.S. president’s Mar-a-Lago estate on August 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 on August 12.

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.


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Printable version | Sep 3, 2022 12:17:08 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/judge-willing-to-release-part-of-affidavit-in-raid-on-donald-trumps-home/article65785214.ece