(The Hill) – A federal magistrate judge on Thursday said he would release a redacted version of the affidavit that convinced him to approve a warrant to search former President Trump’s Florida home.
The decision from Judge Bruce Reinhart comes after he ordered the Justice Department to propose redactions to a document whose full release they argued would compromise their ongoing investigation.
In his order, Reinhart found the redactions from DOJ to be sufficiently narrow.
“I find that the Government has met its burden of showing a compelling reason/good cause to seal portions of the Affidavit,” Reinhardt wrote, noting that it could reveal both the identities of witnesses, law enforcement agents, and uncharged parties as well as the investigation’s strategy, direction, scope.
The Justice Department is ordered to file a public version of its redacted document by noon Friday.
In an earlier ruling, Reinhart cautioned that redactions could be so broad as to make the release “meaningless,” warning if they were too extensive it could make him less inclined to force its disclosure.
“I cannot say at this point that partial redactions will be so extensive that they will result in a meaningless disclosure, but I may ultimately reach that conclusion after hearing further from the government,” he wrote.
Reinhart’s Thursday ruling offers little insight into what the public may ultimately glean from the release, but he ultimately decided it was “the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire affidavit.”
The Justice Department previously unsealed portions of the warrant related to the search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month, indicating that the government seized 11 different sets of classified materials, along with other information about Trump’s decision to pardon ally Roger Stone.
The warrant also indicated that Trump was under investigation for a possible violation of the Espionage Act, as well as two other statutes, one that bars concealing, removing, and mutilating government documents, and another that prohibits similar actions when done “with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence [an] investigation.”
It’s unusual for an affidavit to be unsealed far ahead of going to trial, let alone before charges have even been filed.
Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney, said any FBI informants are often assured their identity will be protected.
“I don’t know exactly what the sensitive information is that’s in the affidavit. But just protecting that information alone at this stage is really important, because they haven’t made a decision as to whether to charge this case or not. And so you need to protect that person in case they’re going to be a witness in a grand jury, and then maybe ultimately at a trial,” McQuade said in an interview ahead of the decision from Reinhart.
“But the other reason is search warrant affidavits are not disclosed at this stage. And if it happens in this case, then in the future, other targets are going to point to this and say, ‘I want my search warrant affidavit unsealed too.’ And it is in the long run going to have an adverse impact on the way the Justice Department and the FBI conduct investigations. If you think that your affidavit is going to get turned over, witnesses are not going to cooperate.”
Trump did not oppose the release of the warrant and has called for the release of the affidavit, all the while slamming the probe as a political witch hunt.
He’s separately filed a suit seeking to block the FBI probe while asking the court to appoint a third party that would review all evidence collected during the search.