Judge Bruce Reinhart said during a hearing at the West Palm Beach courthouse that he plans to disclose portions of the affidavit, which several media and other organizations are requesting.
His announcement came after the Justice Department, while arguing against the disclosure of the documents, revealed new, if not extremely vague, details about its investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents.
Reinhart on Thursday initiated the possible public release of a heavily edited version of the affidavit for the Mar-a-Lago search. The judge plans to hear more from the Justice Department next Thursday about the extent to which investigators want to keep confidential the document describing their investigative steps and methods that led to the need for the search.
Reinhart said he was not yet convinced that the entire affidavit should not be made public.
“I’m not prepared to find out that the affidavit needs to be completely sealed,” based on the record he now has, Reinhart said, adding that there are “portions” that can be unsealed.
Prosecutors will have a chance to propose editorials and explain why every bit of information should be hidden from the public, Reinhart said. Those proposals will be submitted on August 25 at noon ET.
Reinhart said he may then have additional confidential discussions with the Justice Department before making his decisions on transparency.
Unsealed Document Sharpens Focus on Trump as Possible Subject of Criminal Investigation
A document unsealed Thursday that details the crimes the Justice Department is investigating, including “deliberate retention of national defense information,” sharpens focus on the former president as a possible subject of the criminal investigation, several legal officials told the court. experts to CNN.
Previously, the search documents only listed the federal statutes, including the broad law known as the Espionage Act. And the documents released so far have made it clear that Trump and others around him face potential legal exposure, including for potential obstruction of justice.
But the specific language about “detention on purpose” could point to the role of the former president, who would have been allowed to possess national defense documents while in office, but not when he went to his private club and residence in Palm Beach, Florida. left.
The recently unsealed document was part of the injunction application and was one of several largely procedural documents the judge unlocked on Thursday.
Affidavit described how evidence of obstruction can be found in Mar-a-Lago, according to DOJ
A Justice Department attorney said at the hearing that the probable cause affidavit was used to get a warrant describing how prosecutors might find “evidence of obstruction” on the Florida property grounds — a possible crime revealed by the search warrant itself was under investigation.
“In this case, the court found probable cause of a violation of one of the obstruction statutes, and that evidence of obstruction would be found in Mar-a-Lago,” said Jay Bratt, head of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence division.
Obstruction of justice was one of three statutes listed on the Mar-a-Lago search warrant, which was unsealed last week, and Reinhart said at Thursday’s hearing that he “found there is probable cause” that the statutes were violated.
Bratt made the comments about obstruction under investigation while trying to highlight DOJ’s fears that future witnesses may not be willing to provide information if too much comes out about the investigation to date.
DOJ Says Affidavit Is Long, Detailed And Contains ‘Substantial Grand Jury Information’
Bratt revealed other details about the affidavit, describing it as lengthy and detailed and contained “substantial grand jury information.”
He told the federal judge that having the public read the affidavit would “provide a roadmap for the investigation” and even outline the next steps in the investigation.
Bratt’s comments in court emphasized that this is an active, ongoing criminal investigation, with robust witness hearings and grand jury activity.
Bratt acknowledged there was a public interest in transparency, but said there was “another public interest” in allowing criminal investigations to proceed unimpeded.
Warnings of horrifying witnesses reveal several have been in this probe
As Bratt warned that releasing the affidavit could have a chilling effect on witnesses participating in this and future investigations, he revealed that several witnesses are already part of the documents investigation. Some of those witnesses have very specific pertinent information that, if released, would reveal who they are, Bratt said.
Bratt also expressed concern about the risks the FBI has faced since news broke of the Mar-a-Lago search, including the recent standoff at an FBI field office in Cincinnati and “amateur sleuths” on the Internet.
He told the judge that if any of the other documents are released, the DOJ would even want to get rid of background information about the agents who have worked on the case so far.
Trump lawyers tried not to weigh in on the release of the documents
A Trump attorney attended the hearing, but she did not speak in court, nor was she asked to weigh in during the proceedings. The attorney, Christina Bobb, told reporters before the hearing that she was there to observe.
Trump is not officially part of the dispute over the release of the warrant documents. Earlier, when the DOJ asked the judge to disclose the warrant itself and the receipt of the search, the judge instructed the Department to consult with Trump and then communicate with the court whether Trump opposes the disclosure of the documents.
Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, the judge set a 9 a.m. ET deadline for parties to submit comments in response to DOJ filings in the dispute. It was noteworthy that by then the Trump team did not want to get formally involved in the dispute, especially as Trump and his allies have spoken out of court about their desire to release the warrant documents.
Some of Bobb’s public comments about the search were nevertheless submitted to Reinhart on Thursday. Charles Tobin — who argued for the release of the affidavit on behalf of a number of media outlets, including CNN — pointed out that Bobb had already provided information about an FBI subpoena of Mar-a-Lago surveillance tape and that DOJ officials Mar-a-Lago had visited Lago. -a-Lago in June.
This story has been updated with additional developments.