Find us @

Feature

DOJ says releasing the Mar-a-Lago affidavit would harm the ongoing investigation

A federal judge limited what information to be released from an FBI warrant. The judge is now worried that more people are being targeted

Published

on

Additional documents related to the FBI search of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate will be unsealed, but the Justice Department is asking a federal court to keep the affidavit describing the search’s basis under seal.

Given the threats made against federal agents in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search, the DOJ is particularly concerned that the release of details from the affidavit might harm ongoing efforts to interview witnesses.

U.S. Attorney Juan Gonzalez and Justice Department counterintelligence chief Jay Bratt said in a filing urging the continued secrecy of the affidavit, “If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap 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 potential for harm if information is disclosed prematurely or improperly is exacerbated by the fact that “this investigation implicates highly classified materials,” according to the DOJ officials’ letter.

Instead, the Department of Justice has asked the court to unseal a redacted document that contains additional filings related to the search warrant, such as a cover sheet, the Department of Justice’s motion to seal the warrant on August 5, and the judge’s sealing order issued the same day.

Advertisement

If the underlying information were made public, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is concerned that witnesses might stop cooperating, especially “given the high-profile nature of this matter.”

According to Gonzalez and Bratt, “disclosure of the government’s affidavit at this stage would also likely chill future cooperation by witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high-profile investigations.” They add, “This is not merely a hypothetical concern, given the widely reported threats made against law enforcement personnel in the wake of the August 8 search.”

The filing refers to recent news coverage of a rise in threats against FBI agents and an armed man’s attack on an FBI building in Cincinnati.

Bruce Reinhart, the magistrate judge presiding over the case, is not required to comply with the Department of Justice’s request to keep the affidavit secret, but doing so would be unprecedented even in cases with less national significance. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has stated that Reinhart has the final say on whether or not the affidavit will be made public, and that if he decides to do so, extensive redactions will be proposed “so extensive as to render the remaining unsealed text devoid of meaningful content.”

Gonzalez and Bratt argued that releasing a version with redactions would not benefit the public.

Advertisement

Both Democratic and Republican members of Congress have called for more information about the search of Trump’s home, which was part of an effort to retrieve classified materials and other records of the presidency that Trump had stashed there.

Collaborators include Nicholas Wu and Josh Gerstein.