For Americans on both sides of the aisle, seeing the details within the search affidavit is vitally important.
A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Justice Department to unseal at least some of the probable cause affidavit used to secure a search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate.
“On my initial careful review … there are portions of it that can be unsealed,” Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said after a hearing where a top government lawyer contended the document’s release could jeopardize an investigation that is still in its “early stages.”
Reinhart said he would “give the government a full and fair opportunity” to make redactions to the document, and ordered them to turn in the redacted version by next Thursday. He said he would then review the document and either order its release if he agrees with the redaction or hold a closed-door hearing with the government if he disagrees.
During a hearing that lasted just over an hour, Jay Bratt, a top counterintelligence and national security official at DOJ, argued the “detailed and reasonably 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 also said the government is “very concerned about the safety of the witnesses” in the case whose identities could become compromised if the affidavit is unsealed. Bratt pointed to “amateur sleuths on the internet” who could “maybe find personal information.” He noted that FBI agents involved in the search have been doxxed online, and noted last week’s 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,” Bratt said, adding with “one side in particular.”
Charles Tobin, one of the lawyers for the media organizations arguing for the document to be unsealed, said a search warrant being executed at a former president’s home is a matter of a tremendous public interest and the affidavit should be unsealed. He called it “one of the most significant law enforcement events in the nation’s history.”
“The time for everybody to get it right is now,” Tobin said.
James Moon, a lawyer for the conservative group Judicial Watch, said the government could black out portions of the document. “I don’t think anybody is asking the floodgates be opened,” he said.
Trump lawyer Christina Bobb also was in court for the proceedings but did not make any arguments.
Reinhart scheduled the hearing Tuesday after the Department of Justice had informed him that while it didn’t oppose unsealing some innocuous documents related to the warrant, it was vehemently opposed to the affidavit being made public.