Judge: Government Hasn’t Proven Trump Search Warrant Affidavit Should Remain Sealed

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U.S. government officials have not presented sufficient evidence to keep a key document related to the search warrant executed at former President Donald Trump’s home shielded from the public, a federal judge ruled on Aug. 22.

U.S. officials have claimed that an affidavit, which convinced U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart to approve the warrant, needs extensive redactions to protect FBI agents and witnesses, as well as the ongoing investigation into Trump.

The redactions would leave “very little—nothing of substance,” Jay Bratt, chief of the Department of Justice’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, told Reinhart during a recent hearing.

The government has met its burden of showing its interests outweigh public access to unsealing the entire affidavit, Reinhart said in the new ruling. But the government has not yet sufficiently argued that portions of the document should not be made public.

“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 said.

Still, “given the intense public and historical interest in an unprecedented search of a former President’s residence, the Government has not yet shown that these administrative concerns are sufficient to justify sealing,” he added. “I therefore reject the Government’s argument that the present record justifies keeping the entire Affidavit under seal.”

Reinhart ordered the government to file additional evidence supporting keeping the entire document under seal along with proposed redactions to the affidavit, which is a document authored by an FBI agent that outlines why the government believes it needs a warrant. The warrant was served on Aug. 8 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.

Reinhart will review the proposed redactions. He’ll either reject them while giving the government a chance to appeal to a higher court or agree with them and release the redacted document.

Reinhart Order on Warrant Affidavit Used for Trump Raid PDF


Legal Principles

The public has a right to view judicial proceedings and records, based on the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and common law, but that right is not absolute. In some cases, a party may be able to show that other interests outweigh the public interest. The government and other parties agreed on the release of the warrant itself and some other material, but have diverged on the affidavit.

By Zachary Stieber

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