Judge Bruce Reinhart said during a hearing in West Palm Beach court that he plans to unseal portions of the affidavit requested by various media and other organizations.
His announcement revealed new, if not more obscure, details about the investigation into the handling of classified documents from the Trump White House, as the Justice Department argued against releasing the documents.
Reinhart began the potential public release of a heavily redacted version of the affidavit for the search at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday. The judge plans to hear more from the Justice Department by next Thursday about how detailed investigators want to keep secret the document detailing their investigative activities and the methods that led to the need for the search.
Reinhardt said he still doesn’t believe the entire affidavit should remain undisclosed to the public.
“I am not prepared to find, based on the record he now has, that the affidavit must be sealed in its entirety,” Reinhart said, adding that there are “portions” that could be unsealed.
Advocates will have the opportunity to propose revisions and explain why each piece of information should be kept from public view, Reinhardt said. Those proposals are due by August 25th at noon ET.
Reinhardt said he may have additional confidential discussions with the Justice Department before making his decisions on transparency.
The unsealed document focuses on Trump as a possible subject of a criminal investigation
Previously, search warrant documents only listed federal laws, including a broader statute known as the Espionage Act. The documents released so far have made it clear that Trump and others around him face potential legal exposure.
But the specific language about “deliberate retention” may point to the role of the former president, who was authorized to retain national security documents while in office, but never once visited his private club and residence in Palm Beach, Florida.
The newly unsealed document was part of an application for a warrant and was among several procedural documents the judge unsealed on Thursday.
According to the DOJ, the affidavit described how evidence of contraband could be found at Mar-a-Lago.
A probable cause affidavit used to obtain a warrant explained how prosecutors would find “evidence of obstruction” based on the Florida property, a Justice Department attorney said during the hearing.
“In this case, the court found probable cause for a violation of one of the embargo statutes, and evidence of the embargo was found at Mar-a-Lago,” said Jay Pratt, head of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence division.
Obstruction of justice was one of three laws listed in the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago, which was unsealed last week, and Reinhardt said during Thursday’s hearing that he “found probable cause” that the laws were violated.
Pratt made the comment about impeding the investigation while trying to highlight the DOJ’s fear that future witnesses may not be willing to provide information if more comes out about the investigation so far.
The DOJ affidavit is long, detailed and contains ‘substantial grand jury information’
Brett revealed other details about the affidavit, describing it as long, detailed and “substantially grand jury information.”
Allowing the public to read the affidavit would “provide a blueprint for the investigation,” he told a federal judge.
Pratt’s comments to the court emphasized that it was an active, ongoing criminal investigation, robust witness interview work and grand jury activity.
Acknowledging that there is a public interest in transparency, Pratt said there is “another public interest” in criminal investigations moving forward unimpeded.
Warnings about chilling witnesses reveal that many were present at the trial
Brett warned that the release of the affidavit could have a chilling effect on participating witnesses and future trials, revealing that many witnesses are already part of the documentary investigation. Some of those witnesses have very specific pertinent information that, if released, would reveal who they are, Pratt said.
Pratt also raised concerns about the dangers the FBI has faced since news of the Mar-a-Lago search broke, including a recent standoff at the Cincinnati FBI field office and “amateur sleuths” on the Internet.
He told the judge that if any other documents were released, the DOJ would even want to turn over background information about the agents who had worked on the case.
Trump lawyers have not sought to weigh in on the release of the documents in court
Trump’s attorney was present at the hearing, but he did not speak before the judge or be asked to weigh in during the hearing. Prosecutor Christina Popp told reporters before the hearing that she would be watching.
Trump is not officially a party to the controversy over the release of the warrant documents. Earlier, when the DOJ asked a judge to unseal the warrant and search receipt, the judge directed the department to confer with Trump and let the court know whether Trump objects to the release of the documents.
Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, the judge set a 9 a.m. ET deadline for the parties to file submissions responding to the DOJ filings in the dispute. Notably, the Trump team has not sought to formally engage in the dispute, particularly as Trump and his allies have vocally called for the warrant documents to be released outside court.
Nevertheless, Pope’s few public comments about the search were put before Reinhardt on Thursday. Charles Tobin — who argued for release of the affidavit on behalf of various media outlets, including CNN — pointed out that Bob had already provided information about the FBI subpoena for the Mar-a-Lago surveillance tapes and that DOJ officials had visited Mar. -a-Lago in June.
This story has been updated with additional updates.
CNN’s Evan Perez contributed to this report.
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