Trump seeks unredacted affidavit for Mar-a-Lago 'ransacking'

Erik Larson, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

Former President Donald Trump asked a federal judge to order the U.S. Justice Department to hand over an unredacted version of the August affidavit used to secure a search warrant for his Mar-a-Lago estate, arguing it must be checked for accuracy or “misleading omissions.”

Trump made the request in a filing Tuesday in federal court in Florida before the same judge who appointed a “special master” to review thousands of missing White House records retrieved by the FBI from his home during the unprecedented search.

The former president argued that the affidavit may be inaccurate if it doesn’t properly highlight his purported cooperation with the National Archives in late 2021 and early 2022, when Trump voluntarily returned 15 boxes of material. Trump also renewed his argument — which the government disputes — that he was permitted to declassify any White House records he wanted under federal law and take them with him.

“The affiant should have fully disclosed and discussed the total authority of a President to declassify materials and determine that materials are personal records under the Presidential Records Act, as well as the fact that presidents are accorded great deference when they have designated materials as either a Presidential record or a personal record,” according to the filing.

The renewed fight over the search warrant affidavit comes days after Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to oversee the documents investigation and explore any crimes linked to Trump’s efforts to undermine the 2020 election results. Trump has denied wrongdoing in both matters.

The search uncovered about 100 documents with classified markings, including some that were top secret. The criminal probe — one of the biggest legal threats to Trump as he begins his third run for the White House in 2024 — also revealed that one of his lawyers falsely claimed in a statement months before the search that all documents with classified markings had been returned.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the motion.

Trump’s Tuesday filing disregarded the government’s previously stated concern that making the entire affidavit public would reveal the identities of numerous witnesses, including presumably anyone who tipped off the FBI that Trump still possessed documents with classified markings. Trump argued that an existing protective order would “substantially mitigate those concerns” because the public “would not gain access to witness information.”


The former president also argued in the filing that a government inventory of the seized material — and his lawyers’ own review of those items over the last several weeks — is evidence that the warrant was too broad, giving the government access to material that could be used for “unrelated pursuits.”

“The fact the Government took a huge volume of personal and family photographs, newspapers, thank-you notes, campaign materials, books, and golf shirts demonstrates that this search and seizure was nothing more than a general ransacking,” Trump’s lawyers argued. “This raises serious questions about how the affiant characterized his or her assertion of probable cause and the justification for seizing thousands of personal and private items.”

The Justice Department has pointed out in previous court filings that there is nothing unusual about the seizure of personal items during searches in criminal investigations, and that items found in or near boxes containing relevant documents can illuminate a probe.

The partial unsealing of the affidavit in the weeks after the search was a watershed moment in the lawsuit Trump filed, shedding light on the developments that happened behind the scenes as investigators built a case for searching Trump’s home.

Former federal prosecutor Kevin O’Brien said the request will likely be denied because the accuracy or completeness of such an affidavit doesn’t become relevant until charges are filed.

“This request is a desperate act,” he said.

The case is Trump v. USA, 9:22-cv-81294, US District Court for the Southern District of Florida (West Palm Beach).

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