A Florida magistrate judge Thursday heard personal arguments over a request by a coalition of media to release the affidavit in support of the search warrant executed last week at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
The Justice Department had urged judge Bruce Reinhart to hide the affidavit, arguing that if made public it could cause “significant and irreparable harm” to an ongoing criminal investigation involving highly confidential material related to national security was involved.
Jay Bratt, the head of the agency’s counterintelligence and export control division, acknowledged on Thursday, on behalf of the Justice Department, the increased public interest in the case, but argued that there is another public interest, namely the government’s stance on the underlying to keep affidavit sealed. because it would provide a roadmap and “suggest the next research steps we are about to take.”
Bratt said the investigation is at an “early stage” and there are fears for the safety of witnesses and potential witnesses and the threat of “potential obstruction and interference”.
“This investigation is open. It is in the early stages,” Bratt said.
Bratt argued that redactions of the affidavit would not be enough because the information in it could identify witnesses based on the descriptions of events that only certain people would have knowledge of.
After hearing the government’s arguments, Judge Reinhart said, “I am not prepared to believe that the affidavit should be completely sealed.”
The judge said he believes there are parts that could presumably be unsealed — whether they make sense is for someone else to decide, he said. The government may disagree with him on some points, he said, giving DOJ until next Thursday to submit the proposed redactions.
ABC News and a number of other media organizations have called for the release of the affidavit, citing the historic significance of the unprecedented police search of a former president’s residence and the “immediate and intense public interest, as well as a vociferous response of Mr. Trump and his allies.”
However, officials said in their filing Monday that they believed the redactions needed to protect the investigation “would be so extensive that the remaining unsealed text would be devoid of meaningful content.”
DOJ would likely immediately appeal any ruling from Judge Reinhart that would reveal further substantive details underlying their investigation.
However, the government said it had no objection to the unsealing of other materials filed in connection with the warrant, such as cover sheets for the application, the government’s request to keep the warrant sealed, and Judge Reinhart’s original sealing warrant — none of them. the one that will likely reveal much more than the materials already revealed.
The redacted copy of the search warrant released last Friday sent shockwaves through Washington as it revealed that the Justice Department was investigating possible violations of at least three separate criminal laws in its search for Mar a Lago, including obstruction of justice and obstruction of justice. one crime under the Espionage Act.
A title deed accompanying the warrant shows that agents seized 11 boxes of documents of various classifications, including one set referring to “classified/TS/SCI documents” (the acronym stands for top secret/sensitive compartmentalized information that not everyone with even top secret permission) and four other sets of top secret documents.
The documents were discovered by authorities after a Trump attorney signed a statement to the FBI in June confirming that all classified documents on the property had been turned over to investigators, sources confirmed to ABC News.
Trump’s team has yet to take legal action, despite publicly trying to pressure the Justice Department to release the full affidavit.
Christina Bobb, who is on Trump’s legal team, said she had no plans to file or speak publicly, but told reporters she was coming to watch the hearing.
Trump has in recent days called for the “immediate release” of the affidavit as he smoothed out several attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department, while also demanding through his social media website that the documents be returned to him. But Trump’s legal team has yet to take legal action on both fronts in response to the search.
Former Trump White House attorney Pat Cipollone and former White House deputy attorney Pat Philbin are some other witnesses interviewed by the FBI as part of its investigation, ABC News confirmed Tuesday, with sources saying both were meeting with investigators sometime in the spring. . But there is no indication that the Justice Department’s file referring to officials’ hopes of protecting witnesses who testified in the investigation was a direct reference to Cipollone or Philbin.
John Santucci of ABC News contributed to this report.