Trump search judge cites ‘historical interest’ in affidavit
The judge who approved the search of former President Trump’s Florida estate said “intense public and historical interest” in the FBI affidavit backing the warrant justified making an effort to unseal portions of it.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart in West Palm Beach, Fla., issued a written order Monday affirming his finding from a hearing last week that the Justice Department hadn’t made its case to keep the FBI’s search-warrant affidavit completely sealed. He specifically rejected the argument that the process of proposing redactions in the affidavit would be too time consuming and burdensome — a standard argument made in such cases.
“Particularly 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,” the judge wrote.
Reinhart on Thursday gave the Justice Department until noon this Thursday to propose redactions to partially unseal the affidavit. The order Monday says the government can provide “any additional evidence or legal argument” relevant to its opposition to unsealing.
The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The 13-page Monday order didn’t contain surprises but did give more detail about the court’s reasoning for denying a government request to keep the affidavit completely secret. Reinhart also stressed that he believes the search was justified based on the information in the document.
The FBI obtained in Monday’s search of Trump’s home several types of classified and top secret documents.
“Having carefully reviewed the affidavit before signing the warrant, I was — and am — satisfied that the facts sworn by the affiant are reliable,” he said.
The judge also expanded on his reasons for not fully unsealing the affidavit, as a group of media organizations requested. Reinhart noted the need to protect the identity of agents and witnesses in light of recent threats against the FBI.
“Given the public notoriety and controversy about this search, it is likely that even witnesses who are not expressly named in the affidavit would be quickly and broadly identified over social media and other communication channels, which could lead to them being harassed and intimidated,” wrote Reinhart, who has also received threats.
The judge also said that disclosing witness and agent identities “could then impede the ongoing investigation through obstruction of justice and witness intimidation or retaliation.” Such concerns are “not hypothetical in this case,” he said.
The search of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home has spawned accusations by his supporters of politicized law enforcement.
In addition to high public interest, media organizations had argued that many details about the probe had already been reported, undercutting the need for continued secrecy and allowing for complete unsealing of the affidavit. The judge disagreed.
“Much of the information being discussed is based on anonymous sources, speculation, or hearsay; the government has not confirmed its accuracy,” Reinhart wrote.
Get our Essential Politics newsletter
The latest news, analysis and insights from our politics team.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.