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Judge orders release of redacted affidavit in FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home

The Department of Justice now has until noon Friday to file the redacted affidavit on the public docket

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Thursday 25 August 2022 21:31 BST
Biden says he had no advance warning of FBI's Mar-a-Lago raid
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The federal magistrate judge who approved the 8 August search of former president Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida home has ordered the release of a redacted version of the affidavit FBI agents used to obtain a warrant to search the ex-president’s property.

In a two-page order issued on Thursday, Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said the Department of Justice had met the “compelling reason” or “good cause” legal standard required to keep portions of the sworn statement under seal because disclosing those portions would reveal “identities of witnesses, law enforcement agents, and uncharged parties” as well as the “strategy, direction, scope, sources, and methods” of the ongoing investigation into whether Mr Trump violated US laws against unauthorised retention of national defence information and obstructing investigations.

He added that keeping portions of the affidavit sealed would also protect grand jury information which the government is required to keep secret under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

“Based on my independent review of the Affidavit, I further find that the Government has met its burden of showing that its proposed redactions are narrowly tailored to serve the Government’s legitimate interest in the integrity of the ongoing investigation and are the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire Affidavit,” he wrote.

Judge Reinhart has ordered the government to submit the redacted version of the affidavit into the court’s electronic filing system by noon on Friday, at which point it will be available to the public.

The sworn statement, which FBI agents submitted to the magistrate judge when they applied for a warrant to search the ex-president’s home for classified documents the government had probable cause to believe were stored there, could shed some light on how federal investigators knew Mr Trump had kept a cache of highly classified materials despite having been out of office for nearly 18 months.

A coalition of media organisations and the conservative group Judicial Watch had argued for the release of an unredacted version of the document, citing the extraordinary public interest in the unprecedented search of an ex-president’s home.

Although Mr Trump’s attorneys did not join in moving to have the document unsealed, members of Mr Trump’s legal team have called for its’ release in media appearances.

One of Mr Trump’s lawyers, Alina Habba, said during an appearance on Newsmax last week that Mr Trump’s position was for the unsealing of the entire affidavit, to “uncover everything” including the identities of witnesses, “so we can see what is going on”.

“These witnesses are truly not going to be concealed for very long,” she said.

Mr Trump’s legal team previously leaked an unredacted version of the search warrant for his property to Breitbart News just before Magistrate Judge Reinhart ordered it unsealed days after the search.

The unredacted search warrant contained the names of two FBI agents who’d conducted the search, leading some of Mr Trump’s supporters to post purported personal details of the agents and their family members to social media.

A copy of the receipt for property provided to Mr Trump’s lawyers, which was unsealed at the same time as the warrant itself, showed FBI agents as having recovered 11 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach mansion turned private club where the ex-president maintains his primary residence and post-presidential office.

According to the receipt, agents recovered multiple sets of classified documents, including some marked as containing “sensitive compartmented information” which are only meant to be viewed in special secure facilities.

The search of Mr Trump’s property came following months of discussions between Mr Trump’s attorneys and the National Archives and Records Administration, which under the Presidential Records Act is supposed to take custody of all records and documents created during a president’s term when it comes to an end.

In January, Nara revealed that it had retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago following negotiations with Mr Trump’s representatives.

A 10 May letter from Acting Archivist of the United States Debra Wall to Trump attorney Evan Corcoran which was released by one of Mr Trump’s conservative media allies shows that Nara officials found highly classified records among the boxes, including “items marked as classified national security information, up to the level of Top Secret and including Sensitive Compartmented Information and Special Access Program materials”.

Nara officials had been trying to retrieve yet more classified records which they believed Mr Trump continued to harbour on his property with the assistance of the Justice Department, which had been negotiating with Mr Trump’s attorneys for months before seeking a search warrant.

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