A federal judge has acknowledged that redactions to an FBI affidavit setting out the basis of the search for former US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate could be so extensive as to render the document ‘meaningless’ it was made public.
But US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said he continued to believe it should not remain sealed in its entirety due to the public interest in the ongoing criminal investigation.
A written order from Judge Reinhart largely reiterates what he said in court last week, when he ordered the Justice Department to offer redactions to information in the affidavit he wants to keep secret.
This submission is due Thursday at noon.
Justice Department officials sought to keep the entire document sealed, saying releasing any part of it risked compromising an investigation and leaking investigative techniques.
They informed the judge that the redactions to the affidavit they were likely to propose would be so numerous that the public would be left without substantial new information in the event the document was released.
Judge Reinhart acknowledged this possibility in his Monday order, writing, “I cannot say at this stage that the partial redactions will be so significant as to result in meaningless disclosure, but I may ultimately come to that conclusion after to have heard more from the government.
Several news outlets, including the Associated Press, have urged the judge to unseal additional documents related to the Mar-a-Lago search this month, when FBI officials said they recovered 11 sets of classified documents, including top secret files, from the Florida estate. .
Of particular interest is the affidavit in support of the search, which presumably contains key details about the Justice Department’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump retained and mishandled classified and sensitive government documents.
Mr. Trump and some of his supporters have also called for the document to be released, hoping it will expose what they claim is government overreach.
In his written ruling, Judge Reinhart said the Justice Department had a compelling interest in preventing the publication of the affidavit in its entirety.
But he said he did not believe it should remain completely sealed and said he was unconvinced by the department’s arguments that the drafting process “places an undue burden on its resources”.
“Particularly given the intense public and historical interest in an unprecedented search of the residence of a former president, the government has yet to demonstrate that these administrative concerns are sufficient to justify the sealing off,” said he wrote.