The government must provide a redacted affidavit justifying the Mar-a-Lago search
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
There has been a development related to the search of President Trump's Florida home. At a hearing today, a federal magistrate reached a compromise, ruling that the government must provide a redacted version of the affidavit that justified last week's search of Mar-a-Lago. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart gave the government a week to produce the affidavit with sensitive information blocked - a sign that the currently sealed document could soon be released in some form. NPR's Greg Allen was in the courtroom in West Palm Beach today, and he joins us now. Hi, Greg.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.
SUMMERS: So affidavits like these are almost never unsealed, especially while an investigation is still ongoing. So, Greg, can you tell us why the court is considering releasing this one, at least partially, it sounds like?
ALLEN: Right. Well, one reason is that there really aren't other cases like this one. Judge Reinhart and the lawyers, both for the government and media organizations, all talked about the unprecedented nature of this case and the heightened public interest. You know, we're talking about the search of a former president's residence to recover government documents that include classified material. They also agreed that under the law, the burden is on the government now to show why it must - why these documents must remain sealed.
A lawyer for the Justice Department, Counterintelligence Chief Jay Bratt, first tried to convince the judge that the affidavit should be sealed. Unsealing, he said, would provide a roadmap to a criminal investigation that he said is still in its early stages. It also could have an impact on witnesses, he said. It could endanger those whose identities were disclosed in the affidavit. It could also discourage additional witnesses from cooperating in the future as this investigation goes forward. Judge Reinhart has seen the affidavit, of course. He reviewed it before approving the search warrant. And after hearing all the arguments, he said he believed that it can be released with redactions.
SUMMERS: OK, so so far, has there been any sort of indication of how much of the affidavit will be left after it is redacted?
ALLEN: That's a good question. It's really hard to say at this point. Lawyers for media organizations agreed that portions of the affidavit should be redacted - you know, the parts that identify witnesses or agents or deal with the investigation. The government lawyer mentioned the volatile situation surrounding the search, which makes it so sensitive. He talked about the two FBI agents whose identities were disclosed early on and who received death threats as part of this. He also mentioned the incident last week in Cincinnati, where a man who was trying to break into an FBI office and then was killed. At one point, he said so much would have to be redacted from the document, what remained would be largely useless to the media and the public.
Attorneys for media organizations conceded that there would have to be redactions, but they pointed out that much of the information likely in the affidavit has already been disclosed. The classified nature of the documents, the meetings between the National Archives and Trump lawyers about the material at Mar-a-Lago - a lot of that's already been disclosed by Trump and in media reports and is probably in the affidavit. So ultimately, the judge agreed with the media groups and said that the government should produce a redacted version, and he gave himself a few more days to do so.
SUMMERS: A few more days - so what else do we know about that timing? How soon could we see some part of this affidavit?
ALLEN: Well, again, that's up in the air. The government has until next Thursday at noon to submit a redacted affidavit to the judge. And if he agrees with their redactions, he could just sign an order and release it fairly soon, maybe as early as next week. But if, as seems likely, there is some disagreement between the judge and the government on the redactions, that could begin a back and forth between the government and the judge. Some of it might be in his chambers with someone - a court reporter there, or some of it might just be in motions going back and forth. It all could take some time. And then if the government ultimately disagrees with what the judge rules, it may appeal the decision.
ALLEN: And the judge said the affidavit would remain under seal for some time - well, until all the appeals are exhausted. So it's possible we might not see actually the release of this affidavit for weeks or even longer.
SUMMERS: All right, watching and waiting. NPR's Greg Allen in West Palm Beach, Fla. Thank you.
ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.