Portions of the FBI affidavit used to secure a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate should be unsealed, a federal judge in Florida said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday said the Justice Department hadn’t “met its burden” for keeping the entire document sealed and asked the government to propose by noon on Aug. 25 what information in the affidavit should be kept secret.
“I’m not prepared to find that the affidavit should be fully sealed,” Reinhart said during a hearing in West Palm Beach on a request from news media organizations and others to publicly release the affidavit.
Reinhart made the remarks moments after Jay Bratt, the Justice Department’s counterintelligence chief, told him that the ongoing investigation would be “severely compromised” if the affidavit is released, adding that a line-by-line redaction of the document was unrealistic.
Bratt said the investigation is in the “very early stages” and that the affidavit is very detailed, “lengthy” and contains “substantial grand jury information.” He said the DOJ is concerned that its release will identify names of agents and identities of witnesses.
The judge said the government is free to propose that everything be redacted but he is unlikely to agree. He said he will propose his own redactions if he disagrees with DOJ’s proposals.
The Justice Department and Trump agreed last week to release the warrant and other documents that described the items seized during the Aug. 8 search as well as the laws that may have been violated. But the government said the more-detailed affidavit contains information, especially about witnesses, that needs to be protected while the investigation is ongoing.
Trump, who claims the search was politically motivated and unnecessary, did not file a motion seeking to unseal the affidavit, despite saying in public statements that the judge should do so. Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich posted on Twitter Thursday “the whole affidavit should be released.”
“I am hopeful that the unsealed portions of the affidavit will provide some much needed clarity as to the motivations underlying this investigation,” Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba said in a statement.
The “highly unusual” release of an affidavit could ultimately hurt Trump rather than the government, former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers said. The judge may allow the DOJ to redact agent and witness names but allow details of alleged crimes committed.