Authorities on Friday made public a redacted version of the affidavit used to obtain a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this month.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart ruled in favor of unsealing the document on Thursday. Several groups and news outlets asked the court to unseal records related to the search, including the Washington Post, The New York Times, the Associated Press, Judicial Watch and the Florida Center for Government Accountability.
Separate officers used for part of Mar-a-Lago search in case of privilege issues
Update 2 p.m. EDT Aug. 26: The FBI used a group of law enforcement officers separate from those combing the rest of Mar-a-Lago to search “45 Office” and review seized materials for anything that might fall under attorney-client privilege, according to a redacted affidavit unsealed Friday.
The group, dubbed the “Privilege Review Team,” was also tasked with identifying seized materials that might fall under attorney-client privilege.
“If at any point the law enforcement personnel assigned to the investigation subsequently identify any data or documents that they consider may be potentially attorney-client privileged, they will cease the review of such identified data or documents and refer the materials to the Privilege Review Team for further review,” according to the affidavit.
In court records, officials outlined a plan to handle such information.
Earlier this week, attorneys for Trump requested a special master be appointed to review the items seized.
Officials believed ‘evidence of obstruction’ would be found at Mar-a-Lago
Update 1:45 p.m. EDT Aug. 26: In the affidavit, an FBI agent said officials had “probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction” would be found during a search of Mar-a-Lago.
“There is probable cause to believe that additional documents that contain classified (national defense information) or that are Presidential records subject to record retention requirements currently remain at (Mar-a-Lago),” according to the affidavit.
Earlier released court records showed officials are investigating whether Trump violated the Espionage Act, obstructed justice or mishandled top secret records.
FBI investigation launched in February with 4 goals
Update 1:35 p.m. EDT Aug. 26: The FBI investigation into whether confidential records were being improperly stored at Mar-a-Lago began in February after authorities got a referral from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, court records show. Officials said they had found more than 180 classified records in boxes of documents the president had returned to authorities from Mar-a-Lago in January.
In an affidavit unsealed Friday in court, an FBI special agent said authorities opened their investigation with a focus on four things: figuring out how classified records were removed from their rightful places and came to be stored at Mar-a-Lago, determining whether the records were kept in authorized locations, finding out if other records had been improperly taken and stored inappropriately and identifying people who might have wrongfully removed or retained classified information without authorization.
According to the affidavit, authorities determined that documents which appeared to contain national defense information were among those stored at Mar-a-Lago “in an unauthorized location.”
Trump criticizes judge: ‘Why hasn’t he recused himself on this case?’
Update 1:25 p.m. EDT Aug. 26: Trump on Friday criticized Reinhart for earlier approving of the warrant to search Mar-a-Lago, an incident the former characterized as a “Break-In” in a post on social media.
“He recused himself two months ago from one of my cases based on his animosity and hatred of your favorite President, me,” Trump wrote. “What changed? Why hasn’t he recused himself on this case?”
Reinhart was among a half-dozen magistrates to recuse himself from a lawsuit by Trump against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and several other current and former officials in the Justice Department, according to Politico. The judge did not give a reason for his recusal.
In the affidavit unsealed Friday, an FBI special agent said officials found more than 180 classified documents in records turned over to authorities from Mar-a-Lago in January, including 25 marked top secret.
“Nothing mentioned on ‘Nuclear,’ a total public relations subterfuge by the FBI & DOJ, or our close working relationship regarding document turnover - WE GAVE THEM MUCH,” the former president wrote Friday.
14 of 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago contained confidential records, officials say
Update 12:55 p.m. EDT Aug. 26: After Trump’s representatives handed over 15 boxes of documents that had been kept at Mar-a-Lago to the National Archives and Records Administration in January, authorities found classified records in 14 of boxes, according to a redacted affidavit unsealed Friday in court.
The documents included 67 documents marked as confidential, 92 documents marked as secret and 25 documents marked as top secret, an FBI special agent said in the affidavit.
Documents are classified as confidential when their disclosure could reasonably damage national security. Secret documents are believed to risk, upon exposure, serious damage to national security and top secret documents are deemed to risk exceptionally grave damage to national security.
Read the redacted affidavit released Friday
Update 12:35 p.m. EDT Aug. 26: Authorities on Friday released a 32-page affidavit filed in court in connection with the search of Mar-a-Lago. Several paragraphs and pages of the document were redacted after Reinhart ruled the areas blocked out were “narrowly tailored to serve the Government’s legitimate interest in the integrity of the ongoing investigation and are the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire Affidavit.”
Documents outline government’s argument for keeping information under seal
Update 12:25 p.m. EDT Aug. 26: Documents unsealed in court Friday outlined the government’s arguments for keeping some information redacted in the affidavit officials used to obtain a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago.
In a court filing, which was also partially redacted, officials argued that five categories of information must remain under seal: information from civilian witnesses who might face retaliation; information about the investigation “that could provide a roadmap for potential ways to obstruct the investigation;” information that is required by law to remain out of the public sphere, such as grand jury subpoenas and testimony; information that could put law enforcement officials at risk; and information that could disrupt the privacy of third parties.
Judge orders release of newly filed restricted documents
Update 12:10 p.m. EDT Aug. 26: A judge on Friday ordered the release of redacted documents filed in court Friday in relation to the search earlier this month of Mar-a-Lago.
The documents had been filed earlier Friday before a court-ordered deadline to file a redacted affidavit to be made public following the search. The documents were filed before 11:30 a.m. Friday and had been restricted “until further notice.”
Original report In a court filing, Reinhart said that the government showed it had good reason to redact parts of the affidavit to protect “the identities of witnesses, law enforcement agents, and uncharged parties” and details of “the investigation’s strategy, direction, scope, sources, and methods.” He also determined that the proposed redactions “are narrowly tailored to serve the Government’s legitimate interest in the integrity of the ongoing investigation and are the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire Affidavit.”
Documents unsealed earlier this month showed authorities are investigating whether Trump violated the Espionage Act, obstructed justice or mishandled top secret records.
The government opposed efforts to unseal the affidavit, citing the need to protect the ongoing investigation.
“If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government’s ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course, in a manner that is highly likely to compromise future investigative steps,” authorities said last week in a court filing.
“Information about witnesses is particularly sensitive given the high-profile nature of this matter and the risk that the revelation of witness identities would impact their willingness to cooperate with the investigation. … This is not merely a hypothetical concern, given the widely reported threats made against law enforcement personnel in the wake of the August 8 search.”
Officials said that they considered whether to release the affidavit with redactions and ultimately determined that the necessary redactions would be so extensive that they would render the document essentially meaningless. They submitted their proposed redactions to the court hours before Reinhart’s ruling on Thursday.
Attorneys for media outlets seeking to make the affidavit public argued that the public has the right to learn as much as possible about the investigation as soon as possible given the historic nature of the search. They added that media reports have outlined several of the events in the investigation, citing articles from the Post, the Times, CBS News, the Miami Herald, CNN, The Wall Street Journal and NBC News.
In a post last week on social media, Trump called for “the immediate release of the completely Unredacted Affidavit” used to support the search.
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