A Florida federal magistrate judge on Thursday ordered the Justice Department to propose redactions in preparation for the potential release of the justification for searching former President Donald Trump’s private club, Mar-a-Lago, for classified documents earlier this month.
Following a hearing with media organizations seeking the information’s release, Judge Bruce Reinhart gave the Justice Department until Aug. 25 to propose redactions on the affidavit that justified the search. Last week, Reinhart’s court released documents showing the Justice Department is investigating Trump for potential violations of espionage, mishandling of classified information and destruction of government records.
“As I ruled from the bench at the conclusion of the hearing, I find that on the present record the government has not met its burden of showing that the entire affidavit should remain sealed,” Reinhart wrote in a brief order posted Thursday.
Several media outlets, including ABC, The Associated Press, CNN, Gannett and The New York Times, argued for the judge to order that the affidavit that justified the search be unsealed. That affidavit contains the sworn statements from investigators that Reinhart signed off on earlier this month to kick off the search.
The companies argued that in such a high-profile case, the public should have the ability to learn the justification for the search.
“The affidavit of probable cause should be released to the public, with only those redactions that are necessary to protect a compelling interest articulated by the government,” the media companies wrote.
As part of Thursday’s order, Reinhart also unsealed several other documents from the case, including the government’s initial motion to seal the warrant application. The government had argued in favor of keeping the warrant sealed “because the integrity of the ongoing investigation might be compromised, and evidence might be destroyed.”
After Trump himself publicized the search, the Justice Department moved to unseal a redacted version of the warrant and property receipt last week.
In its briefs ahead of Thursday’s hearing, the government argued against releasing the affidavit behind the warrant at all. Legal experts said the affidavit may have specific information about witnesses and how the government obtained evidence that Trump had classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
“Disclosure at this juncture of the affidavit supporting probable cause would, by contrast, cause significant and irreparable damage to this ongoing criminal investigation,” the government wrote in its brief.
The search warrant documents unsealed last week indicate that FBI agents were seeking evidence of violations of three statutes relating to espionage; “concealment, removal or mutilation” of government records; and destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.
Violations of the Espionage Act come with up to 10 years in prison per violation, and the destruction statute contemplates up 20 years of prison time.
Documents from the search released last week showed that FBI agents seized 11 sets of documents marked with some form of classification, including four marked as “Top Secret.”