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US judge orders Justice Dept. to redact, file Mar-a-Lago affidavit

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Aug 19, 2022 - 07:59 AM

WASHINGTON (AA) – A federal judge in the US state of Florida ordered on Thursday the Justice Department to unseal parts of the warrant affidavit used to carry out the FBI search on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Bruce Reinhart gave the agency until next Thursday to file a redacted version of the affidavit, according to multiple reports. He will then weigh the department’s proposed redactions, and indicated he would make at least some of the affidavit supporting the Aug. 5 search public, potentially offering new insights into the federal investigation.

Reinhart said it is “very important” for the American public to receive as “much information” as possible, according to the New York Times. He said at least some of the affidavit “could be presumptively unsealed.”

In a potential sign of the limitations Reinhart is willing to accept in the redaction process, Reinhart said the redaction process can turn documents into “meaningless gibberish.”

The Justice Department had fought to keep the entire affidavit sealed, citing the ongoing investigation into Trump after the FBI seized 11 sets of classified materials from Mar-a-Lago.

Trump’s Republican allies, including Senator Lindsey Graham, have loudly called for the department to make the affidavit public after it moved to unseal the search warrant and record of what was seized during the search last Friday.

Search warrant affidavits include information sworn to by federal investigators to provide probable cause to search. They are nearly always kept under seal until the investigation concludes.

The search warrant that was unsealed last week indicates the FBI is investigating Trump for violations of three federal laws, including the gathering, losing or transmitting of defense information; the concealment, removal, or mutilation generally of official records; and destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in federal investigations.

The warrant authorized agents to seize any related property, including documents, communications and “any government and/or Presidential Records created between January 20, 2017, and January 20, 2021.”

The property receipt said in addition to the classified materials that were taken away, FBI agents retrieved documents that included Trump’s order granting clemency to political ally Roger Stone, a “leatherbound box of documents,” two binders of photos, a potential presidential record and information regarding the French president.

It did not specify the French leader but was likely referring to Emmanuel Macron who was in office during Trump’s term.

Under fire from Trump and his allies, Attorney General Merrick Garland defended the search at Mar-a-Lago in exceedingly rare comments on an ongoing investigation, saying he “personally approved” the decision to seek a search warrant and emphasized the Justice Department “does not take such decision lightly.”

The US National Archives and Records Administration retrieved 15 boxes of White House documents in January from Mar-a-Lago, which should have been turned over to the agency when Trump left the White House.

The Archives later notified Congress that the boxes contained “items marked as classified national security information.”​​​​​​​

In June, federal investigators served Trump with a grand jury subpoena and seized “sensitive national security documents” from Mar-a-Lago, CNN reported.

The search earlier this month was executed because the FBI had evidence, including from a witness, that additional materials remained at the exclusive club and ex-presidential residence in Palm Beach, Florida.

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