A US magistrate judge started the process of potentially releasing some information from the affidavit that the Justice Department used to obtain a search warrant for former President Donald Trump's Florida residence.
Judge Bruce Reinhart said during a hearing at the West Palm Beach courthouse that he was planning to unseal portions of the affidavit, which is sought by various media outlets and other organizations.
His announcement came after the Justice Department, while arguing against the disclosure of the documents, revealed new, if not extremely vague, details about the investigation into the handling of classified documents from the Trump White House.
Here are some key takeaways from the hearing:
- Judge lays out process for potentially releasing parts of affidavit: Reinhart set in motion on Thursday the possible public release of a heavily redacted version of the affidavit for the search at Mar-a-Lago. The judge plans to hear more from the Justice Department by Aug. 25 about how extensively investigators want to keep confidential the document that describes their investigative steps and methods leading to the need for the search. Reinhart said he wasn't convinced yet that the entire affidavit should remain undisclosed to the public. Prosecutors will have the opportunity to propose redactions and explain why each piece of information needs to be kept from the public eye, Reinhart said. Those proposals will be due noon ET on Aug. 25. Reinhart said he then may have additional confidential discussions with the Justice Department before making his decisions on transparency.
- Affidavit described how evidence of obstruction may be found at Mar-a-Lago, according to DOJ: A Justice Department lawyer said during the hearing that the probable cause affidavit used to get a warrant described how prosecutors might find "evidence of obstruction" on the grounds of the Florida property — a possible crime that the search warrant itself revealed was under investigation. "In this case, the court has found probable cause there's a violation of one of the obstruction statutes, and that evidence of obstruction would be found at Mar-a-Lago" said Jay Bratt, who heads the Justice Department's counterintelligence section. Obstruction of justice was one of the three statutes listed on the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago, which was unsealed last week, and Reinhart said during the hearing Thursday that he "found there is probable cause" that the statutes had been violated. Bratt made the comments about obstruction being investigated while he was trying to highlight DOJ's fear that future witnesses may not be willing to provide information if too much was to come out about the investigation so far.
- DOJ says affidavit is lengthy, detailed and contained "substantial grand jury information": Bratt revealed other details about the affidavit, describing it as lengthy, detailed and containing "substantial grand jury information." He told the federal judge that letting the public read the affidavit would "provide a roadmap to the investigation," and would even indicate the next steps in the probe. Bratt's comments in court emphasized that this is an active, ongoing criminal investigation, with robust witness interview work being done and grand jury activity. While acknowledging that there is a public interest in transparency, Bratt said that there was "another public interest" in criminal investigations being able to go forward unimpeded.