The Justice Department is opposing the release of details in an affidavit that lays out the argument that investigators made to a federal magistrate judge explaining the probable cause it had to search former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last week, saying it could have a chilling effect on the inquiry.
In their new filing arguing for some continued secrecy, the Justice Department made clear the seriousness of the ongoing criminal investigation, saying it “implicates highly classified materials.”
“Disclosure of the government’s affidavit at this stage would also likely chill future cooperation by witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high-profile investigations,” the Justice Department wrote. “The fact that this investigation implicates highly classified materials further underscores the need to protect the integrity of the investigation and exacerbates the potential harm if information is disclosed to the public prematurely or improperly.”
Media organizations, including CNN, had asked for the affidavit to be unsealed after the search last week at Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, club and residence.
The Justice Department said in its filing that disclosing the affidavit details “at this juncture” would “cause significant and irreparable damage to this ongoing criminal investigation.”
“The redactions necessary to mitigate harms to the integrity of the investigation would be so extensive as to render the remaining unsealed text devoid of meaningful content, and the release of such a redacted version would not serve any public interest,” the Justice Department stated.
CNN, joined by The Washington Post, NBC News and Scripps, asked the judge last week to unseal all documents – including any probable cause affidavits – connected to the FBI search.
“Not since the Nixon Administration has a President been the subject of such a dramatic and public criminal process,” the outlets said in the filing, adding that the outlets are “attempting to shed light on the federal government’s unprecedented actions and motivations.”
“Here, there could not be a more ‘historically significant event’ than an FBI raid of a former President’s home for the alleged removal of national security records after leaving office,” the outlets said.
The New York Times, CBS, the Palm Beach Post, the Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press and ABC also requested the judge unseal affidavits.
A magistrate judge unsealed the Mar-a-Lago search warrant and property receipt on Friday, after Justice Department lawyers and lawyers for the former President agreed they should be released. Other parts of the search warrant, including the probable cause affidavit, were not addressed at the time. Trump’s team does not have access to the DOJ’s affidavit, though it was reviewed confidentially by the judge before the search.
The search warrant made public Friday identifies violations of the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice and criminal handling of government records as reasons for the search.
The receipt list, which shows what items agents recovered from Mar-a-Lago, shows that agents removed 11 sets of classified documents – including some marked with the highest levels of classification – from Trump’s home.
Republican politicians have continued to demand that the Justice Department explain its reasoning for taking the dramatic step to search Mar-a-Lago – with some, along with Trump’s circle of advisers, trying to downplay the seriousness of the documents. But the DOJ’s filing on Tuesday disputes that demand by saying the investigation deals with highly classified information.
After the judge unsealed the search warrant and receipt for Trump’s property last week, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a series of tweets that “We still need to see the affidavit,” and that “Attorney General (Merrick) Garland must release the information as to why a warrant was necessary, not what was taken.”
Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “releasing the affidavit would help, at least that would confirm that there was justification for this raid.”
Prosecutors need to “show that this was not just a fishing expedition, that they had due cause to go in and to do this, that they did exhaust all other means,” Rounds said, emphasizing that waiting would hurt the integrity of the department. “And if they can’t do that, then we’ve got a serious problem on our hands.”
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, sent letter on Sunday to Garland and top intelligence officials requesting a classified briefing on the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago.
Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, who is the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, echoed that request on Sunday, telling CNN’s Brianna Keilar that “Congress is saying show us the goods.”