The U.S. Justice Department is set to release later Friday one of the most sought-after legal documents in recent history: an affidavit supporting the FBI’s recent search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence.
The document is being sought by a group of news organizations and others amid intense public interest and political uproar over the FBI’s unprecedented action as part of an ongoing investigation of the former president’s handling of classified government documents after he left the White House in January 2021.
A federal judge directed the Justice Department late Thursday to unseal a redacted version of the affidavit by noon Friday after prosecutors proposed blacking out sections to guard sensitive details about the investigation. The redactions were made under seal and can’t be seen by the public.
The August 8 search of Trump’s Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida, during which FBI agents removed 11 sets of classified documents, some of them labeled top secret, has triggered a political firestorm, with Trump and his allies accusing the Biden administration of “weaponizing” law enforcement against him. The administration denies the charge.
The search warrant, unsealed on August 12, showed that Trump is being investigated for potential violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses in connection with his handling of government documents.
On his Truth Social platform, Trump, who has said he wants the affidavit unsealed, wrote Friday, “The political Hacks and Thugs had no right under the Presidential Records Act to storm Mar-a-Lago and steal everything in sight, including Passports and privileged documents.”
Just what details about the investigation the affidavit will reveal remains to be seen. Before Federal Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart’s order, the Justice Department had opposed making the affidavit public, saying it contains critical details about the ongoing investigations, and requires so many redactions that unsealing it would worthless.
But Reinhart appeared to accept the government’s proposed redactions to the document. In his order, Reinhart wrote that he had reviewed the redacted affidavit as well as an accompanying legal memo, and found that “the Government has met its burden of showing a compelling reason/good cause to seal portions of the Affidavit because disclosure would reveal (1) the identities of witnesses, law enforcement agents, and uncharged parties, (2) the investigation’s strategy, direction, scope, sources, and methods, and (3) grand jury information protected by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure.”
Citing the “historical significance” of the Mar-A-Lago search, media outlets pressing for unsealing the affidavit filed a new motion on Thursday asking that portions of the Justice Department’s memo justifying the redactions be unsealed.
“Like the search warrant affidavit itself, the Brief is a judicial record to which a presumption of public access applies,” they wrote.
The FBI’s search of Mar-A-Lago came seven months after Trump turned over to the National Archives 15 boxes of government records that he’d taken to Mar-A-Lago after leaving the White House in January 2021.
Under the Presidential Records Act, all presidential records are the property of the U.S. government and must be turned over to the National Archives by outgoing presidents.
In a May 10 letter to a Trump lawyer, acting U.S. archivist Debra Wall wrote that the boxes included more than 100 classified documents consisting of more than 700 pages. The National Archives released the letter this week.
The FBI investigation of Trump’s handling of classified records represents the latest legal headache for the former president as he mulls running for re-election in 2024.
In the 21 months since he lost his re-election bid in November 2020, Trump has been under investigation by congressional investigators and prosecutors for his efforts to overturn the results of the vote.