- The magistrate must rule whether public interest in the reasons for the search outweigh the government’s interest in keeping them secret for now.
- Prosecutors contend releasing the affidavit could compromise their investigation.
- Media companies seek to learn more about what justified the unprecedented search.
The Justice Department on Thursday filed its proposed redactions to its affidavit that explains the reasons for the unprecedented search of Donald Trump’s Florida estate, but it’s unclear when or if parts of the affidavit will be made public.
“The United States has filed a submission under seal per the Court’s order,” Justice spokesman Anthony Coley said, declining further comment as U.S. Magistrate Bruce Reinhart “considers the matter.”
The redactions were filed under seal for Reinhart to review so nothing about the affidavit is public yet. Reinhart ordered the department a week earlier to draft proposed redactions before he potentially unseals part of the document. The affidavit was used to justify the Aug. 8 search warrant for Mar-a-Lago, which Reinhart authorized.
Affidavits typically remain under seal until charges are filed, according to legal experts. Federal prosecutors oppose unsealing the Trump search affidavit because the document could compromise the investigation and discourage witnesses from cooperating. Redactions would be so extensive as to render the document useless, prosecutors argued.
Reinhart is still weighing whether to keep the entire affidavit under seal or to release part of it.
“I must still consider whether there is a less onerous alternative to sealing the entire document,” Reinhart said Monday in his written order. “I cannot say at this point that partial redactions will be so extensive that they will result in a meaningless disclosure, but I may ultimately reach that conclusion after hearing further from the Government.”
He set no deadline for deciding how much of the affidavit to unseal.
Media companies including The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Network, argued for release of the affidavit to learn more about what provoked the unprecedented search of a former president’s home.
The government filed its arguments for keeping the affidavit sealed under seal, too. The media consortium argued in a filing Thursday that the government’s arguments should be made public because they could provide more details about the investigation, even if portions dealing with what is in the affidavit remain sealed.
“At a minimum, any portions of the Brief that recite those facts about the investigation, without revealing additional ones not yet publicly available – in addition to any other portions that pose no threat to the investigation – should be unsealed,” the media companies argued. “Furthermore, any legal arguments in the government’s filings should be made public, even if some of the facts the government recounts remain under seal.”
Trump isn’t part of the lawsuit, but he called for the release of the entire affidavit in a post on social media. In a separate case, he asked a federal court to order the return of the documents.
FBI agents seized 11 sets of classified documents. But prosecutors released no details about what the documents contained. The affidavit could shed light on what FBI agents were looking for and why.
Jay Bratt, a top Justice Department National Security Division official, told Reinhart the document would require such extensive redactions that it would not “edify the public in any meaningful way.”
Reinhart told lawyers the process for reviewing the document and its possible release would be considerate and careful. Besides concerns about intimidating witnesses, Reinhart said revealing details about Mar-a-Lago could hurt the Secret Service’s ability to protect the former president.