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Judge Orders DOJ to Redact Affidavit as He Considers Its Unsealing

August 18, 2022 by Dan McCue
Judge Orders DOJ to Redact Affidavit as He Considers Its Unsealing
A vehicle with flags in support of Donald Trump drives outside of the Paul G. Rogers Federal Courthouse, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A federal judge Thursday ordered the Justice Department to propose redactions to the affidavit used to justify a search warrant the FBI used last week to search former President Donald Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago.

Federal Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart ruled from the bench after hearing oral arguments from the department and attorneys for media outlets — including the Associated Press, The Washington Post and The New York Times — that are seeking to have the documents unsealed.

He gave the Justice Department until noon next Thursday to produce the redactions for his consideration.

Reinhart, who is the same judge who signed off on the search warrant, told those gathered in the courtroom that he believes at least some portions of the affidavit “could be presumptively unsealed.”

Charles Tobin, a lawyer who spoke on behalf of the collective newsorganizations, told the judge that ” the people are the ultimate stakeholders” in the case and argued that in acase as unprecedented as this one,, “”you can’t trust what you cannot see.”

But Jay Bratt, of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, cautioned Reinhart  that so much of the affidavit will need to be redacted that only gibberish will remain.

“It really serves no purpose,” Bratt, who is chief of the DOJ’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section said. “It does not edify the public in any meaningful way.”

Reinhart conceded Bratt’s point that oftentimes, redactions reduce the documents they are rendered upon “gibberish.”

But, he said, “wwhether those portions would be meaningful for the public or the media,” was beyond the scope of his decision.

Reinhart unsealed the actual search warrant and property receipt turned over to Trump’s attorneys last week. 

They revealed the former President had several boxes of documents marked secret and top secret in his Palm Beach, Florida, home as well as other materials that should have been returned to the National Archives.

If that is indeed what was taken from Mar-a-Lago, it could suggest the former President violated the Espionage Act.

Though Trump has commented at length on the raid — it was he, in fact, that announced it occurred — he has yet to explain why he had the documents in his possession.

On Monday, as scrutiny of the raid intensified, the Justice Department asked Reinhart to keep the sworn affidavit sealed after media outlets filed their requests to see it.

In its 13-page response to those requests, the department said it would support the unsealing of the “cover sheets” and other superficial papers associated with the search warrant, but argued strenuously that to release more would “irreparably harm the government’s ongoing criminal investigation.”

“If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government’s ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course, in a manner that is highly likely to compromise future investigative steps,” it continues. “In addition, information about witnesses is particularly sensitive given the high-profile nature of this matter and the risk that the revelation of witness identities would impact their willingness to cooperate with the investigation. 

“Disclosure of the government’s affidavit at this stage would also likely chill future cooperation by witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high-profile investigations,” the department continued.

Despite his order that the DOJ send him the proposed redactions, under seal, in just a week, Reinhart gave no indication that a ruling on the affidavit release would be imminent thereafter.

“This is going to be a considered, careful process,” he said.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and @DanMcCue

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