A federal judge ordered the government to submit proposed redactions and said he is inclined to unseal at least some of the probable cause affidavit used to secure a search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate. After a hearing where a top government lawyer contended the document’s release could jeopardize an investigation that is still in its “early stages,” Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said: “On my initial careful review… there are portions of it that can be unsealed.”
“I find that on the present record the Government has not met its burden of showing that the entire affidavit should remain sealed,” Reinhart said in a written ruling after the hearing.
He would “give the government a full and fair opportunity,” the judge said, to make redactions to the document, and ordered them to turn in the redacted version, along with a legal memo justifying the proposed redactions. He would then review the document, he said, and either order its release if he agrees with the redaction or hold a closed-door hearing with the government if he disagrees. If they can’t agree, “obviously I’d win” that argument, the judge added, but he’d allow the government time to appeal his ruling.
A top counterintelligence and national security official at DOJ, Jay Bratt, argued during a hearing that lasted just over an hour, that the “very detailed and lengthy” document needed to be kept completely under wraps because it contains “substantial grand jury” information in a “unique” case with “national security overtones.” He said also that in the case whose identities could become compromised if the affidavit is unsealed, the government is “very concerned about the safety of the witnesses.”
Noting that FBI agents involved in the search have been doxxed online, he said: “That is a real significant concern.” While also noting the nail gun attack at a Cincinnati FBI building by a Trump supporter who was outraged by the search. “This is a volatile situation with respect to this particular search, across the political spectrum, but certainly on one side in particular,” said Bratt, said NBC News.
“Another factor is … the threat of possible obstruction and interference in the investigation. In many cases, that’s purely theoretical. In this case, the court has found probable cause that there was a violation of one of the obstruction statutes, and that evidence of obstruction could be found in a redacted version of the affidavit,” Bratt added.
One of the lawyers for the media organizations arguing for the document to be unsealed, Charles Tobin said a search warrant being executed at a former president’s home is a matter of tremendous public interest and the affidavit should be unsealed. “One of the most significant law enforcement events in the nation’s history,” is what Tobin called it. “The time for everybody to get it right is now,” said Tobin.
A lawyer for the conservative group Judicial Watch, James Moon said the government could black out portions of the document, adding: “I don’t think anybody is asking the floodgates be opened.”