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Judge unseals Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit, with redactions

Justice Department said airing more information could endanger witnesses and its ongoing investigation

Mar-a-Lago is seen in August, a week after the FBI raided the home of former President Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Fla.
Mar-a-Lago is seen in August, a week after the FBI raided the home of former President Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Fla. (Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A federal magistrate judge released a significantly redacted FBI affidavit Friday that justified a search of former President Donald Trump’s private club, after the Justice Department argued that airing too much of its evidence could endanger witnesses and the ongoing investigation.

The 38-page search warrant affidavit for a Mar-a-Lago raid earlier this month laid out communications and escalating tensions between the Trump team, the National Archives and Records Administration and investigators over the past 18 months.

The affidavit stated the FBI had probable cause to believe Trump still had sensitive information about national defense, signals intelligence and other documents that could harm national security.

But about half of the affidavit is hidden behind thick black lines and boxes that covered some of what would be the most revealing information about the Justice Department’s justification and investigation.

In a filing that proposed nearly 60 redactions, the Justice Department argued that it is protecting its investigation and a “significant number” of civilian witnesses and federal law enforcement has already faced death threats after the search.

Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida agreed to the redactions and made public the affidavit supporting the unprecedented search of the former president’s residence, which found classified documents as part of an espionage investigation into Trump.

“In short, the government has well-founded concerns that steps may be taken to frustrate or otherwise interfere with this investigation if facts in the affidavit were prematurely disclosed,” the Justice Department wrote in its filing to justify the redactions.

Other details

The search warrant affidavit states that, following the end of the Trump administration, the National Archives requested hundreds of presidential documents that belong to the government.

Earlier this year, Trump sent 15 boxes of documents to the archives, which the FBI said included 184 documents with classified information and 25 marked as “Top Secret,” the FBI affidavit states.

FBI agents also found documents that had controls on dissemination, such as ORCON, which means that dissemination beyond pre-approved U.S. entities requires approval from the agency that originated the documents. Several of the documents also contained what appear to be Trump’s handwritten notes, the affidavit states.

Further, the affidavit said the agency received evidence indicating that Trump stored additional documents at Mar-a-Lago. In a letter to Trump included in the affidavit, the FBI agent in charge of the investigation said documents “have not been handled in an appropriate manner or stored in an appropriate location” and said Mar-a-Lago did not have the proper facilities to secure such sensitive documents.

Trump issued a statement after the affidavit’s release, arguing the magistrate judge should not have signed off on the warrant. He called it “a total public relations subterfuge by the FBI & DOJ” and said, “WE GAVE THEM MUCH” before the search. He also personally attacked the magistrate judge, saying he had “animosity and hatred of your former president, me.”

The records unsealed Friday are the latest public airing of the FBI’s investigation into the former president that has roiled the nation’s politics. Media organizations and conservative groups pushed for the affidavit’s release as the former president argued the Biden administration has it out for him.

In the weeks since the search, congressional Republicans have denounced the actions of the FBI and vowed hefty oversight of the Biden administration should the GOP win control of either chamber of Congress in this fall’s midterm elections.

Earlier this month, Reinhart released documents showing the Justice Department is investigating the former president for potential violations of espionage laws, mishandling of classified information and destruction of government records.

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.

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.”

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