U.S. judge tells Justice Dept. to release redacted Trump search affidavit

·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of former U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A federal judge in Florida on Thursday ordered the U.S. Justice Department to make public a redacted version of an affidavit underpinning the Aug. 8 FBI search of former President Donald Trump's Florida home, possibly providing fresh insights on the investigation and evidence earlier obtained by the government.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart ordered the redacted document to be released by noon (1600 GMT) on Friday. His order came just hours after a Justice Department spokesman confirmed that prosecutors had submitted a sealed copy of the affidavit with proposed redactions to the judge.

Reinhart approved the Justice Department's warrant that preceded the FBI search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach. The affidavit is a sworn statement outlining the evidence that gave the department probable cause to seek a search warrant.

Just how much the redacted affidavit will reveal remains to be seen. In his order on Thursday, Reinhart said the Justice Department had valid reasons to keep some of the document secret including the need to protect the identities of witnesses and federal agents as well as the government's investigation and strategy and grand jury material.

"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," Reinhart wrote.

The FBI in its court-approved search at Mar-a-Lago carried away more than 20 boxes containing 11 sets of classified government records, some of which were labeled "top secret." The search was part of a federal investigation into whether Trump illegally removed and kept documents from the White House when he left office in January 2021 and whether he tried to obstruct the government's investigation.

After Trump accused the FBI of political retribution against him, Attorney General Merrick Garland made the unusual decision to confirm the existence of the department's investigation and asked a court to unseal large portions of the search warrant and property receipt listing the seized items.

The department declined to release the affidavit, prompting media companies to file a legal challenge to get it unsealed.

At a hearing last week, prosecutors asked Reinhart not to release the document, saying it could harm their ongoing investigation and chill witness cooperation as well as create security risks for FBI agents already facing heightened threats.

Reinhart first signaled last week that he did not believe the entire document needed to be kept under wraps, and he asked the Justice Department to provide him a copy with proposed redactions for his review.

Trump on social media called for the document to be unsealed, though his lawyers had not weighed in on the matter.

He has filed a separate civil case asking another judge to halt the FBI's review of the seized records pending the appointment of a special master to independently review them for materials that could be protected under executive privilege, a legal principle that lets a president shield some information.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon has asked Trump's legal team to file a more targeted request by Friday that better explains what relief the former president is seeking and why his request should not be sent instead to Reinhart.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)