US: Judge appears willing to unveil some of Trump's estate search affidavit

The Justice Department has vehemently opposed this



Photos: AP
Photos: AP

By AP

Published: Fri 19 Aug 2022, 8:02 AM

On Thursday, a federal judge 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.

US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said that by law, it was the government's burden to show why a redacted version should not be released, and prosecutors' arguments on Thursday failed to persuade him. He gave them a week to submit a copy of the affidavit proposing the information it wants to keep secret, after the FBI seized classified and top secret information during a search at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate last week.

The hearing was convened 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 Trump retained (and mishandled) classified and sensitive government records.

The Justice Department has vehemently opposed making any portion of the affidavit public, arguing that doing so would compromise its ongoing investigation, 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 that the FBI was specifically investigating the “willful retention of national defence information", the concealment/removal of government records, and the 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 Thursday, but said she was only there to observe the court proceedings.

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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.”

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

Reinhart gave the government until next Thursday to submit its version with the proposed redactions, along with written arguments for each, going line by line. He said he would then review the proposal and make his own proposed redactions, and then may meet with government lawyers to give them a final argument as to why specific information should be withheld.

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

FBI agents searched Trump'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 Friday. This is a special category meant to protect the nation’s most important secrets, that if revealed publicly could cause “exceptionally grave” damage to US interests. The court records did not provide specific details about information the documents might contain.


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