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Mar-a-Lago affidavit: Judge to decide if key Trump document is unsealed

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Mar-a-Lago affidavit: Judge to decide if key Trump document is unsealed

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The affidavit central to the FBI’s search of former President Trump’s Florida home will remain under seal for at least another week, a federal judge ruled Thursday, giving the Justice Department seven days to redact the detailed document in a way that would not undermine its ongoing investigation if made public.

The judge, who signaled he is willing to unseal some of the document, said from the bench that he would make a determination next Thursday.

Federal Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart convened the hearing Thursday after multiple media outlets, including the Washington Post, called on the court to release all filings related to the search for classified documents at Mar-A-Lago, Trump’s Florida home and residence.

The Justice Department has been adamant that the affidavit should remain sealed. A Justice Department official told the judge Thursday that its investigation is “open and in its early stages.” Unsealing the document now, the government contends, “would provide a roadmap and suggest next investigative steps we are about to take.”

Attorneys for several media outlets have argued that the affidavit should be made public given the “historic importance” of the Justice Department’s investigation.

“Transparency serves the public interest in understanding and accepting the results. That’s good for the government and for the court,” Charles Tobin, a lawyer for the media outlets, said in court on Thursday. “You can’t trust what you cannot see.”

Trump wants Mar-a-Lago affidavit released, as some aides ponder risk

Trump has denounced the inquiry as politically motivated, saying on social media this week that he believes the document should be unsealed with no redactions “in the interest of TRANSPARENCY.”

His lawyers, however, did not submit a formal motion to the court declaring such a stance. Trump lawyer Christina Bobb appeared at the courthouse Thursday, saying she was in attendance simply to monitor the proceedings.

Jay Bratt, who heads the Justice Department’s counterintelligence and export control section, is arguing the government’s case opposite a slate of lawyers representing the news media. Bratt has been closely involved in the investigation, having visited Mar-a-Lago in June to examine the materials Trump had stored there. The counterintelligence and expert control section leads investigations into leaks of government secrets.

Bratt said releasing the affidavit would jeopardize the well-being of witnesses named in the document and could have a chilling effect on others “who may come forward and cooperate in the government’s investigation.”

“The government is very concerned about the safety of the witnesses,” Bratt said.

Former Justice Department officials closely following the case have said the affidavit is unlikely to contain any “good” information for the former president and, as The Post reported earlier this week, Trump’s advisers had not reached a consensus on whether its disclosure would be in his best interest.

Law enforcement officials submit such documents to a judge as part of their application for a search warrant. Affidavits typically contain information addressing why authorities think there is evidence at a certain property and other details about their investigation.

It has become the latest flash point in federal authorities’ ongoing criminal probe stemming from Trump’s dispute with the National Archives over materials taken from the White House when his term ended last year.

Late last week, the judge — with the Justice Department’s endorsement — unsealed the search warrant and an inventory list including broad descriptions of the classified materials federal agents say they recovered from Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s club and residence in South Florida.

Justice Department opposes release of Mar-a-Lago affidavit

Legal experts said the Justice Department’s reticence to publicize the document is consistent with how the agency typically conducts investigations and that it would be highly unusual for a judge to release the documents in full amid an ongoing investigation.

People who have conferred with Trump in recent days said the former president believes that any information made public about the investigation into his handling of classified material will rile his supporters, ultimately benefiting him politically.

But others in Trump’s orbit fear that such a move could backfire because they do not know exactly what it contains.

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