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Federal magistrate to release some parts of Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit

Justice Department has until Aug. 25 to submit proposed redactions to affidavit
Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart hears arguments on Aug. 18, 2022 in West Palm Beach federal court.jpg
Posted at 6:10 AM, Aug 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-18 16:54:39-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A federal magistrate in West Palm Beach agreed Thursday to release some parts of a probable cause affidavit connected to a high-profile search warrant that was executed at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago property on Palm Beach earlier this month.

During a 90-minute motion hearing at the Paul G. Rogers Federal Building, Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said he will likely unseal parts of the affidavit, but only after the Department of Justice submits any proposed redactions to the document.

The government has until 12 p.m. on Aug. 25 to submit those requests, which Reinhart will then review before making his final decision on which portions of the affidavit to release.

Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart hears arguments on Aug. 18, 2022 in West Palm Beach federal court (2).jpg
Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart hears arguments on Aug. 18, 2022 in West Palm Beach federal court.

At the start of Thursday's hearing in downtown West Palm Beach, Reinhart agreed to unseal the application for the search warrant, along with some additional documents with redactions that the Department of Justice did not object to.

Multiple media outlets, including WPTV's parent company, requested that Reinhart unseal the probable cause affidavit, which may detail why the FBI was so anxious to get inside Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 and seize the things agents found.

"Judge Reinhart seemed to have a very good sense that it is his job as the gatekeeper in this case to perform his function of balancing the interest in the public of accessing these materials against the interest in the government in keeping them secret," said Deanna Shullman, a media attorney representing one of the outlets. "Judge Reinhart gave us some clues to that today by telling us, for example, at this juncture, he is not inclined to keep the entirety of the search warrant application and its affidavit under seal."

Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart hears arguments on Aug. 18, 2022 in West Palm Beach federal court (1).jpg
Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart hears arguments on Aug. 18, 2022 in West Palm Beach federal court.

During Thursday's hearing, Jay Bratt, an attorney for the Department of Justice, told Reinhart that releasing a redacted version of the affidavit is "not practical."

Bratt admitted there is heightened public interest in this case, but there are things in the document that can't be revealed. In addition, Bratt expressed concerns over the identities of federal agents and the impact on witnesses.

However, media attorney Charles Tobin argued for unsealing the affidavit, telling Reinhart "you cannot trust what you cannot see."

Last Friday, a judge unsealed a list of items, including some documents labeled "top secret" and "highly classified," which were taken from Mar-a-Lago by federal agents.

The Department of Justice is resisting the release of the probable cause affidavit, saying that doing so could jeopardize any possible case and even future cases. But the media is contending there is a compelling case for the public to know why this is all happening.

"[The Justice Department] did tell us that it includes a road map for the investigation as it stands right now," Shullman said. "It explains the scope and breath of that application, and it has a number of confidential informants and witnesses whose ongoing participation may be jeopardized by the disclosure."

Trump and other Republican lawmakers have also called for the release of the affidavit related to the search of the former president's home.

A spokesperson for Trump released the following statement after Thursday's hearing:

"President Trump has made clear his view that the American people should be permitted to see the unredacted affidavit related to the raid and break-in of his home, Mar-a-Lago. Today, magistrate Judge Reinhard rejected the DOJ’s cynical attempt to hide the whole affidavit from Americans. No redactions should be necessary and the whole affidavit should be released, given the Democrats’ penchant for using redactions to hide government corruption, just like they did with the Russia hoax."

"The federal law is clear in this area that these affidavits are never revealed prior to an indictment, particularly never revealed if it's somehow going to upend an investigation by the government," said criminal defense attorney Val Rodriguez. "It may compromise witnesses, confidential informants. It may give clues to how the investigation is going. Techniques, things of that nature, which the government has a compelling interest in making sure they're not revealed."

As Thursday's hearing got underway, two vehicles flying "Trump 2024" flags could be seen circling the federal courthouse.

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Five attorneys for various media outlets appeared in court, along with two attorneys representing the Department of Justice.

Reinhart signed off on the search warrant and has been the focus of intense criticism among Trump's political and media supporters.

Mar-a-Lago, Aug. 10, 2022
This is an aerial view of President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla. The FBI searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate as part of an investigation into whether he took classified records from the White House to his Florida residence, people familiar with the matter said Monday.

Ursula Ungaro, a former federal judge in South Florida, said there are reasons why some of the information should remain a secret.

"There are issues here," Ungaro told WPTV. "There could be a confidential informant. So there would be concerns about maybe naming the confidentially of that individual's identity, and in the current atmosphere, I understand there is a potential for violence."

The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department confirmed to WPTV that it's aware of threats directed toward Reinhart and his place of worship.

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A former FBI agent and current criminal defense attorney said Reinhart's decision has the potential to impact countless other federal cases.

In a recent filing, the Department of Justice argued that "if disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government's ongoing investigation" and disclosure "would likely chill future cooperation by witnesses."

Media companies argue that narrow redactions based on evidence and approved by the court should satisfy the Department of Justice.

"The government's inherent interest in protecting not only this investigation, the integrity of their methods and sources, is first and foremost," former FBI Agent Stuart Kaplan, who is now a criminal defense attorney, said.

Kaplan told WPTV he would be surprised if Reinhart unsealed the affidavit.

"I think it's fraught with such danger because if, in fact, this judge sets these precedents to release it, then I think you're opening up the floodgates for other people that have either been the target of a search warrant or other people who are charged with crimes who have not gotten the affidavit, now may open the floodgates to litigate that," Kaplan said.

Kaplan told WPTV he would expect the Department of Justice to file an immediate appeal if Reinhart rules to unseal the affidavit.