The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday proposed redactions to an affidavit that FBI agents used to obtain a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate as part of an investigation into Trump’s handling of classified government documents.
The sealed affidavit – essentially the legal justification for conducting the controversial and unprecedented search of the former president’s property – is being sought by a number of U.S. news organizations and other groups.
But federal prosecutors have opposed making the document public, saying it contains critical details about the ongoing investigation, including information about the government’s investigative techniques and witnesses interviewed by the FBI.
Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said the DOJ’s submission was made under seal in response to an August 22 court order directing prosecutors to propose redactions to the affidavit.
“The Justice Department respectfully declines further comment as the Court considers the matter,” Coley said in a brief statement.
It remains unclear whether Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who issued the court order, will ultimately decide in favor of releasing the document.
That is because prosecutors have argued in court that the information in the affidavit is so sensitive that blacking it out will render the document meaningless.
Reinhart has said that “the Government has not met its burden of showing that the entire affidavit should remain sealed.” But he’s held out the possibility that he may accept the prosecutors’ argument.
“I cannot say at this point that partial redactions will be so extensive that they will result in a meaningless disclosure, but I may ultimately reach that conclusion after hearing further from the Government,” Reinhart wrote in his Monday court order.
The August 8 search of Mar-A-Lago set off a political firestorm, prompting Trump and his allies to accuse the Biden administration of “weaponizing” the Justice Department and the FBI.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, who authorized the Justice Department to seek a search warrant for Mar-A-Lago, has dismissed the accusation.
During the search, FBI agents removed 11 sets of classified documents labeled confidential, secret or top secret, according to a property receipt given to Trump’s lawyer.
The content of the documents remains secret. But the information was deemed sensitive enough that Garland personally intervened in the case.
The search came months after Trump turned over to the National Archives 15 boxes of government records that he’d taken to Mar-A-Lago after leaving the White House in January 2021.
Under the Presidential Records Act, all presidential records are the property of the U.S. government and must be turned over to the National Archives by outgoing presidents.
In a May 10 letter to a Trump lawyer, Debra Wall, acting archivist of the United States, wrote that the boxes included more than 100 classified documents consisting of more than 700 pages. The National Archives released the letter this week.
The FBI investigation of Trump’s handling of classified records represents the latest legal headache for the former president as he mulls another run at the White House in 2024.
In the 21 months since he lost his re-election bid in November 2020, Trump has been probed by congressional investigators and prosecutors in connection with his efforts to reverse the results of the vote.