A US magistrate judge started the process that could lead to the release of some information from the affidavit that the Justice Department used to get a search warrant for the Florida home of former President Donald Trump.
During a hearing at the West Palm Beach courthouse, Judge Bruce Reinhart said that he planned to unseal parts of the affidavit, which is what many news outlets and other groups want.
His announcement came after the Justice Department, which was against releasing the documents, gave new, if vague, information about the investigation into how the Trump White House handled classified documents.
Here are some things I learned from the hearing:
A judge Explains How Parts of An Affidavit Might Be Made Public
On Thursday, Reinhart set in motion the possible release of a heavily redacted version of the affidavit for the search at Mar-a-Lago. By next Thursday, the judge hopes to hear more from the Justice Department about how much investigators want to keep secret the document that describes the steps and methods they used to find out why the search was needed.
Reinhart said that he still wasn’t sure that the whole affidavit shouldn’t be made public.
Reinhart said, “I’m not ready to say that the whole affidavit should be sealed” based on what he knows now. He also said that there are “parts” that could be made public.
Reinhart said that prosecutors will be able to suggest changes and explain why each piece of information needs to be kept from the public. The deadline for these proposals is August 25 at noon ET.
Reinhart said that he might then have more private talks with the Justice Department before deciding what to do about transparency.
Unsealing a document makes it more likely that a criminal investigation will look into Trump.
Unsealed Document Sharpens Focus on Trump As Possible Subject of Criminal Probe
A document that was unsealed on Thursday gave details about the crimes the Justice Department is looking into, such as “willful retention of national defense information.” This makes the former President a more likely target of the criminal investigation, legal experts told CNN.
Before, the documents for a search warrant only listed federal laws, such as the Espionage Act, which is a very broad law. So far, the documents that have been made public have made it clear that Trump and others close to him could be in trouble with the law, including for possible obstruction of justice.
But the specific language about “willful retention” could point to the role of the former President. He would have been allowed to keep national defense documents while he was in office, but not after he left office and moved to his private club and home in Palm Beach, Florida.
The document was just opened as part of the request for the warrant. It was one of several mostly procedural documents that the judge opened Thursday.
The affidavit Described How Evidence of Obstruction May Be found At Mar-a-Lago, According to DOJ
During the hearing, a lawyer for the Justice Department said that the probable cause affidavit that was used to get a warrant said that prosecutors might find “evidence of obstruction” on the Florida property, which was a possible crime that the search warrant said was being looked into.
“In this case, the court has found probable cause that one of the obstruction laws was broken, and that evidence of that would be found at Mar-a-Lago,” said Jay Bratt, who is in charge of the counterintelligence section of the Justice Department.
One of the three laws listed on the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago, which was made public last week, was obstruction of justice. During the hearing on Thursday, Reinhart said that he “found probable cause” that the laws had been broken.
Bratt said that obstruction was being looked into to show that the DOJ was worried that future witnesses might not be willing to talk if too much information about the investigation so far got out.
DOJ Says The Affidavit Is Detailed And ‘Substantial Grand Jury Information
Bratt also talked about other parts of the affidavit, saying that it was long, detailed, and full of “substantial grand jury information.”He told the federal judge that letting the public read the affidavit would “give a road map to the investigation” and even show the next steps in the investigation.
Bratt’s comments in court made it clear that this is an active, ongoing criminal investigation, with a lot of work being done to talk to witnesses and a lot of grand jury work.
Bratt said that it was “another public interest” for criminal investigations to be able to move forward without being slowed down. He agreed that there was a public interest in transparency.
Warnings About Chilling Witnesses That There Have Been Several In This Probe
Bratt said that releasing the affidavit could make witnesses afraid to help with this and future investigations. He also said that several witnesses are already helping with the investigation into the documents. Bratt said that some of these witnesses have very specific information that, if made public, would show who they are
Bratt was also worried about the risks the FBI has been facing since the news of the Mar-a-Lago search came out. For example, there was a recent standoff at an FBI field office in Cincinnati, and “amateur sleuths” have been looking for information on the internet
He told the judge that the DOJ would want to hide even background information about the agents who have worked on the case so far if any of the other documents are released.
Trump Attorneys Did Not Seek To Weigh In Court About Releasing The Documents
At the hearing, Trump’s lawyer was there, but she did not say anything to the judge and was not asked for her opinion. Before the hearing, the lawyer, Christina Bobb, told reporters that she was there to watch.
Trump is not a part of the official fight about releasing the warrant documents. When the DOJ asked the judge to unseal the search warrant and the receipt of the search, the judge told the Department to talk to Trump and let the court know if Trump did not want the documents to be made public.
Before Thursday’s hearing, the judge gave the parties until 9 a.m. ET to respond to what the DOJ had said about the dispute. Even though Trump and his allies have been vocal outside of court about how they want the warrant documents to be made public, the Trump team did not try to get involved in the dispute at that point.
Reinhart was still told about some of Bobb’s public comments about the search on Thursday. Charles Tobin, who was arguing for the release of the affidavit on behalf of CNN and other media outlets, pointed out that Bobb had already given information about an FBI subpoena of surveillance tape from Mar-a-Lago and that DOJ officials had visited Mar-a-Lago in June.
Stay tuned for more updates, Nog Magazine.
Jessa Martin is the author of Nogmagazine, A professional in writing by day, and novelist by night, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.