A federal judge directed the U.S. Justice Department late Thursday to unseal its redacted version of an affidavit it used to obtain a recent search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
U.S. magistrate judge Bruce Reinhart issued the order hours after the Justice Department proposed redactions to the document that prosecutors had said would be needed to guard sensitive details of their investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents.
The affidavit is being sought by several U.S. news organizations and other groups amid intense public interest in the FBI’s unprecedented August 8 search of a former American president’s home.
During the search, FBI agents removed 11 sets of classified documents labeled confidential, secret or top secret, according to a property receipt given to Trump’s lawyer.
The search warrant was unsealed four days later, showing that the former president was under investigation for potential violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses.
Trump and his allies have denounced the action, accusing the Biden administration of “weaponizing” law enforcement against him. He has said he wants the affidavit unsealed.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, who authorized the Justice Department to seek the search warrant, has dismissed the accusation.
In his order, Reinhart wrote that he had reviewed the redacted affidavit as well as an accompanying legal memo, and found that “the Government has met its burden of showing a compelling reason/good cause to seal portions of the Affidavit because disclosure would reveal (1) the identities of witnesses, law enforcement agents, and uncharged parties, (2) the investigation’s strategy, direction, scope, sources, and methods, and (3) grand jury information protected by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure.”
The Justice Department had opposed making the document public, saying it contains critical details about the ongoing investigations, including information about the government’s investigative techniques and witnesses interviewed by the FBI.
Reinhart gave the Justice Department until noon Friday to submit “a version of the affidavit containing the redactions” it proposed earlier on Thursday.
Just how much of the document will be unsealed and what details about the investigation it will reveal remains to be seen.
In opposing the unsealing of the affidavit, Justice Department prosecutors last week argued in court that they expected their redactions to the document to be so extensive as to render the document meaningless.
Citing the “historical significance” of the Mar-a-Lago search, media outlets pressing for the unsealing of the affidavit filed a new motion on Thursday asking that portions of the Justice Department’s memo justifying the redactions be unsealed.
“Like the search warrant affidavit itself, the Brief is a judicial record to which a presumption of public access applies,” they wrote.
The FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago came seven months after Trump turned over to the National Archives 15 boxes of government records that he’d taken to Mar-a-Lago after leaving the White House in January 2021.
Under the Presidential Records Act, all presidential records are the property of the U.S. government and must be turned over to the National Archives by outgoing presidents.
In a May 10 letter to a Trump lawyer, acting U.S. archivist Debra Wall wrote that the boxes included more than 100 classified documents consisting of more than 700 pages. The National Archives released the letter this week.
The FBI investigation of Trump’s handling of classified records represents the latest legal headache for him as he mulls another presidential run in 2024.
In the 21 months since he lost his re-election bid in November 2020, Trump has been under investigation by congressional investigators and prosecutors for his efforts to overturn the results of the vote.