(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department on Thursday is expected to file a heavily redacted version of the affidavit used to support a search warrant of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this month, as a magistrate judge weighs whether to make portions of it public.
Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart gave department officials a noon deadline to submit proposed redactions under seal as well as a legal memorandum explaining their justifications for the information that they believe should be kept hidden from public view. Reinhart said he was not inclined to keep the full affidavit sealed, saying he believes there are portions of it that could presumably be unsealed.
The government argued in court last week that the redactions they believe would be necessary to protect the integrity of their ongoing criminal investigation would essentially render the document “meaningless.”
A coalition of media organizations, including ABC News, has urged for release of the affidavit even with redactions — citing the need to further inform the public in light of the historic nature of the search of a former president’s residence.
Jay Bratt, the head of DOJ’s counterintelligence division, said “there would be nothing of substance” adding that the government is “very concerned about the safety of the witnesses” and the impact releasing the affidavit could have on other witnesses.
“It doesn’t serve the media’s interest to give them something that is meaningless,” Bratt said.
Bratt argued there is information in the document that could easily identify witnesses based on the descriptions of events that only certain people would have knowledge about.
Reinhart said in a Monday filing that he may ultimately side with the government.
“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 said.
Judge Reinhart says that he believes the government has met “its burden of showing good cause/a compelling interest that overrides any public interest in unsealing the full contents of the Affidavit.”
The Justice Department would likely seek to immediately appeal any decision that would release portions of the affidavit they are not comfortable releasing.
While former President Trump and his allies have publicly called for the release of the full affidavit, his legal team has made no such efforts in court since the Aug. 8 search, including as part of their motion filed Monday before a separate federal judge calling for the appointment of a special master to review materials seized by the FBI.
Instead, Trump’s lawyers requested federal Judge Aileen Cannon to issue an order directing investigators to halt their review of the materials taken from Mar-a-Lago pending appointment of a special master, return any personal materials swept up in the search, and provide a more detailed receipt of items that were seized.
The filing, which was riddled with falsehoods, misrepresentations and blatant references to a possible announcement of Trump’s plans to again run for the presidency in 2024, appeared to be met with confusion by Judge Cannon.
On Tuesday, Judge Cannon, a Trump appointee, issued an order requesting Trump’s team enter a supplemental filing by Friday with a line-item list of basic information not included in their original motion.
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