FBI search at Mar-a-Lago: What’s next in the affidavit fight

In the coming days, US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart — which approved the warrant the FBI used to search Mar-a-Lago earlier this month — will privately consider Justice Department proposals to redact portions of the affidavit it filed during the warrant application, if the affidavit is to be published at all.

In the document, investigators investigating Trump’s handling of classified White House documents should have explained to the judge why they believed there was probable cause for a crime and that evidence existed of that crime at the compound. from Florida.

The affidavit contains ‘substantial information about the grand jury,’ a Justice Department lawyer told Reinhart at a hearing last weekwhere media organizations and other entities advocated for the public release of the document, which was filed under seal.

Trump requested the release of the affidavit because it was not among the warrant-related documents his legal team received with the search. But the former president has yet to formally seek to get involved in this court battle over whether the affidavit should be unsealed, and has instead filed a separate case before another judge where he asks to see the affidavit in its entirety.

Here’s what we know about what’s about to unfold:

The DOJ’s next deadline is Thursday – but what it does will likely be under seal

The Justice Department has until noon Thursday to submit any redactions it thinks the affidavit will need if the judge were to release it. Along with this, the department will also submit legal arguments as to why these deletions are necessary.

Previously, the department had argued that once the necessary redactions were made, the affidavit would be “devoid of significant content”.

Reinhart has said the bid due Thursday could be filed under seal. Prosecutors may publicly file a redacted version of the legal arguments they make. But so far, there is no indication that the ministry plans to do so.

Beyond Thursday’s filing deadline for the DOJ, there is no set timeline for what happens next in the dispute.

The judge could still rule that he will not disclose any part of the affidavit

The judge said last week that the department had yet to convince him that the entire affidavit should remain sealed. But he still left himself a little leeway to change his mind, according to what the ministry will tell him in this latest series of secret filings.

Takeaways from the court hearing on the release of more Mar-a-Lago research papers
He wrote in a published notice Monday that “the current record” did not warrant “keeping the entire affidavit sealed.” He also wrote that “at this stage” he did not accept the Department of Justice’s argument that once all necessary redactions were made, they would be “so extensive as to result in meaningless disclosure.” .

“[B]but I may ultimately come to this conclusion after hearing more from the government,” he wrote.

For now, all that is certain is that the Justice Department convinced the judge not to release the affidavit in its entirety without any redactions.

But the judge takes into account factors promoting transparency

As Reinhart wrote in Monday’s notice, the Justice Department has already acknowledged that the warrant concerns “matters of substantial public interest.”

“It is certain that the unsealing of the affidavit would promote public understanding of historically significant events,” Reinhart said. “That factor works in favor of disclosure.”

Analysis: Trump turns legal battle over FBI search into political rallying cry

The historical significance of Mar-a-Lago’s research also made Reinhart skeptical of another DOJ argument: that the work that will be required to make redactions will strain departmental resources and could set a precedent. which will create similar disruptions and burdens in other cases.

“Particularly given the intense public and historical interest in an unprecedented search of the residence of a former president, the government has yet to demonstrate that these administrative concerns are sufficient to warrant the sealing off,” said writes the judge.

Reinhart will have before him the reasons why the Justice Department says the information in the affidavit should be kept confidential, including how it might disclose the sources and methods the government is using in its investigation, and how the details of affidavits could be used to identify witnesses.

It could be several weeks before the dispute over the unsealing of the affidavit is resolved

Once the Justice Department files its submission, there are no other pending deadlines currently set on the public record – meaning the judge could make his next move very quickly, or he could wait several days or even weeks to act.

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At last week’s hearing, the government’s trial attorney – DOJ counterintelligence chief Jay Bratt, who is playing a leading role in the investigation – said that after the department would have submitted its drafting proposals, it would be prepared to appear before the judge to discuss it “in camera”. This means a private proceeding that would be out of sight not only for the public, but also for parties who oppose the DOJ seeking release of the warrant documents.

But it’s unclear if the judge will request this type of hearing and if there will be any indication on the public record that it is happening – adding more uncertainty to what will happen in the coming days and when.

Adding to the fluid nature of the schedule, it is possible that the Justice Department, if the judge does not ultimately accept its proposals for processing the affidavit, will have time to appeal the decision. The judge can make his decision but suspend it for a period of time so that the DOJ can appeal. This would kick off a new round of litigation that could drag on for weeks or even months.

CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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