WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Florida said Thursday he is likely to order the release of a key court document behind the search of former President Donald Trump’s home, despite warnings from the Justice Department that its disclosure could “irreparably harm” an ongoing criminal investigation.
The legal fight is over an affidavit, which establishes probable cause in a criminal case, names witnesses to a potential crime and lays out a likely path toward criminal prosecution. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart ordered the Justice Department to prepare redactions to the affidavit that led to the Aug. 8 search of the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate by noon Eastern time next Thursday.
While Reinhart said he had not been convinced yet to keep the entire document under seal, the government would have another chance to argue its case on Aug. 25.
“I’m inclined not to seal the entire affidavit,” the judge said.
The Justice Department had asked the court Monday to keep the affidavit under seal in its entirety, warning that its disclosure could cause “significant and irreparable damage” to its criminal probe.
“If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a road map 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,” the government argued. “This investigation implicates highly classified materials.”
Also Monday, Trump said on his Truth Social network that Reinhart should release the entire, unredacted affidavit.
At the hearing, U.S. Counterintelligence Chief Jay Bratt, representing the federal government, noted that the investigation remains open and in its early stages.
“The government is concerned for the safety of the witnesses,” Bratt said, noting the increase in threats to federal law enforcement since the FBI search took place. “This is a volatile situation.”
Reinhart said he planned to have an ex parte hearing with the government to review its proposed redactions, unless he is convinced otherwise. If he disagrees with the government’s proposals, he said he may choose what to redact on his own. The government will have an opportunity to appeal.