Judge creates path for releasing redacted affidavit from Mar-a-Lago search

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (NPR) — A federal magistrate judge has given the Department of Justice one week to provide a redacted copy of the affidavit used to justify the unprecedented FBI search of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, saying that he believes the affidavit should be partially released.

Former US President Donald Trump's residence in Mar-A-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida
Former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida. [Giorgio Viera | AFP via Getty Images]
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart ruled the DOJ must turn over the redacted version by next Thursday at noon. The affidavit will remain sealed during any appeals, he said.

Reinhart also unsealed more minor documents containing general information at the hearing.

The Justice Department argued during a hearing on Thursday afternoon that redacting the affidavit would leave no information of substance to release, and noted that the search itself and release of the warrant last week had created a volatile situation leading to death threats against FBI agents.

Government lawyers also said the investigation is in an early stage.

While the Justice Department asked the court to unseal the warrant, citing intense public interest, it has argued strongly against releasing the affidavit, saying doing so could compromise its investigation, other probes, the possibility of future witness cooperation and the safety of agents and individuals named in the affidavit.

Multiple media organizations had asked the judge to unseal all documents related to the search, notably the affidavit laying out the reasoning and research. At Thursday’s hearing, the organizations said they do not want to release any information that would have a chilling effect on current or future witnesses, endanger people involved in the probe or compromise the investigation.

The warrant, released last week, shows that FBI agents retrieved documents labeled classified, secret, top secret and confidential as well potential presidential records. It also reveals that the Justice Department is investigating Trump for violating the Espionage Act and obstructing justice.

The genesis of the investigation comes from an unlikely source: the National Archives. The agency, in charge of cataloging and storing important government documents, earlier retrieved 15 boxes of key presidential records that it said Trump was improperly — and possibly illegally — keeping at home.

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