AUGUST 25, 2022
- A federal judge ordered the release of a redacted FBI affidavit underpinning the Mar-a-Lago search warrant.
- It’s extraordinarily unusual for an affidavit to be released before charges have been filed in an investigation.
A federal magistrate judge on Thursday ordered the release of a redacted version of the FBI affidavit that formed the basis for the warrant to search former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and private residence. Judge Bruce Reinhart gave the Justice Department until noon Friday to file the redacted affidavit to the public docket.
In his order Thursday, Reinhart agreed to keep under seal parts of the affidavit that could reveal:
- The identities of witnesses, law enforcement personnel, and uncharged parties
- The strategy, direction, and scope of the department’s investigation into Trump’s handling of government documents
- Sources and methods
- Grand jury information
Reinhart’s order sets the stage for the extraordinary release of more details about the Justice Department’s justification for searching the former president’s South Florida home.
Thursday’s ruling came after Reinhart said last week that he was inclined to unseal parts of the affidavit, which lays out the Justice Department’s rationale for taking the unprecedented step of executing a search warrant against Trump.
Jay Bratt, a counterintelligence official at the DOJ, argued last week that the affidavit should stay under wraps because the investigation is still in its “early stages,” and unsealing the document could undermine the inquiry. He also said there was a “real concern” for the safety of witnesses involved in the investigation, adding that the document’s release could “chill other witnesses who may come forward and cooperate” with prosecutors.
The judge’s decision to publicize the redacted affidavit is highly unusual, experts said, given that the DOJ’s investigation into Trump’s handling of government documents is still in its preliminary stages and no charges have been filed yet.
“For many of the reasons outlined by DOJ” in court, “releasing this type of information during an active investigation rarely happens,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of Florida.
However, the high profile nature of the case and heightened public interest in the Mar-a-Lago search and its continued fallout likely weighed in favor of a partial release of the affidavit.
The FBI recovered 26 boxes of official government documents and 11 sets of classified records — some of which were marked top-secret — after searching Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.
The unsealed warrant and inventory of items seized from Mar-a-Lago revealed that the Justice Department is investigating whether Trump violated three federal laws, including the Espionage Act, when he moved records from the White House to Mar-a-Lago upon leaving office.
Reinhart convened a hearing regarding the affidavit after multiple media outlets and transparency organizations asked for all documents and records connected to the Mar-a-Lago raid to be released to the public.
“Transparency serves the public interest in understanding and accepting the results. That’s good for the government and for the court,” Charles Tobin, a lawyer representing the media organizations, said. “You can’t trust what you cannot see.”
This story is developing.