Judge orders DOJ to redact Trump FBI search affidavit for probable release

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart told the Justice Department on Thursday that he is “inclined” to unseal at least part of the affidavit central to the FBI’s Aug. 8 search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago complex. The Justice Department has opposed releasing any of the affidavit, arguing it would “cause significant and irreparable damage to this ongoing criminal investigation,” which is still in the “early stages.” The request to unseal the document was filed by a group of news media companies.

“I’m not prepared to find that the affidavit should be fully sealed,” said Reinhart, who signed the FBI’s now-public search warrant and has faced threats from Trump supporters because of that. He gave the Justice Department until next Thursday to submit proposed redactions to the affidavit, and if he disapproves he will make his own decisions on which parts to keep secret. But Reinhart said he would not unseal the redacted affidavit while the DOJ appeals his decision.  

The affidavit lays out in detail the government’s rationale for searching Trump’s residence and why prosecutors believe he probably violated federal laws by retaining highly classified government documents, even after being asked then ordered to return them. It would also provide clues to which witnesses gave testimony to prosecutors and the grand jury examining the case. Affidavits are almost alway kept under seal until charges are filed, and “privately,” The New York Times reports, Justice Department “officials said they were surprised by the decision.”

Trump on Tuesday called for the full affidavit to be released, but his lawyers have not supported that call in court and “Trump’s advisers had not reached a consensus on whether its disclosure would be in his best interest,” The Washington Post reports. “People who have conferred with Trump in recent days said the former president believes that any information made public about the investigation into his handling of classified material will rile his supporters, ultimately benefiting him politically. But others in Trump’s orbit fear that such a move could backfire because they do not know exactly what it contains.”