A federal judge in Florida said he is likely to order the release of a key court document behind the search of former US President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, despite warnings from the Department of Justice (DoJ) that its disclosure could “irreparably harm” an ongoing criminal investigation.
The legal fight is over an affidavit, which establishes probable cause in a criminal case, names witnesses to a potential crime and lays out a likely path toward criminal prosecution.
On Thursday, Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart ordered the DOJ to prepare redactions to the affidavit that led to the August 8 search by August 25.
While Reinhart said he had not been convinced yet to keep the entire document under seal, the government would have another chance to argue its case on August 25.
“I'm inclined not to seal the entire affidavit,” the judge said.
The DOJ had on Monday asked the court to keep the affidavit under seal in its entirety, warning that its disclosure could cause “significant and irreparable damage” to its criminal probe.
“If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a road map 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 government argued. “This investigation implicates highly classified materials.”
Also Monday, Trump said on his Truth Social network that Reinhart should release the entire, unredacted affidavit.
At the hearing, US Counterintelligence Chief Jay Bratt, representing the federal government, noted that the investigation remains open and in its early stages.
“The government is concerned for the safety of the witnesses,” Bratt said, noting the increase in threats to federal law enforcement since the FBI search took place. “This is a volatile situation.”
Reinhart said he planned to have an ex parte hearing with the government to review its proposed redactions, unless he is convinced otherwise. If he disagrees with the government's proposals, he said he may choose what to redact on his own. The government will have an opportunity to appeal.
Last week, the DOJ moved to unseal its search warrant of Trump's Palm Beach home, revealing that 11 sets of classified material were being stored at the former President's estate.
That included at least one set of national security documents that are among the most sensitive in the US government.
The warrant also revealed that the search was part of an investigation into potential violations of the Espionage Act, destruction of government records and obstruction of justice.
A spokesman for Trump responded to Thursday's court hearing on Twitter, writing that the former President “has made his view clear that the American people should be permitted to see the unredacted affidavit related to the raid and break-in of his home”.
Trump's attorneys were present, but did not weigh in, at the court.