Major media companies set to seek release of affidavit behind Mar-a-Lago search warrant

Author: CBS News Staff
Former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Credit: CBS

Attorneys for many of the nation’s largest media companies will try to persuade a federal magistrate judge on Thursday afternoon to make public the affidavit supporting the warrant that allowed FBI agents to search former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last week.

The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CBS and the other broadcast TV networks, CNN and others want U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart to release the affidavit over the objection of the U.S. Justice Department, which says its investigation of Trump’s handling of “highly classified material” would be compromised.

The media companies argue the affidavit’s release would help the public determine if the Justice Department had legitimate reasons for the search or if it was part of a Biden administration vendetta against Trump, as the former president and his backers contend. Trump, in a Truth Social post last week, called for the release of the unredacted affidavit in the interest of transparency.

“The matter is one of utmost public interest, involving the actions of current and former government officials,” wrote attorney Carol Jean LoCiero, who is representing the Times and others. “President Trump decried the search as an ‘assault that could only take place in Third World Countries,’ asserted agents ‘even broke into my safe,’ and otherwise challenged the validity of the search.”

Justice Department attorneys argued in a court filing that its investigation into Trump’s handling of “highly classified material” is ongoing and that the document contains sensitive information about witnesses.

The filing by Juan Antonio Gonzalez, the U.S. attorney in Miami, and Jay Bratt, a top Justice Department national security official, says making the affidavit public would “cause significant and irreparable damage to this ongoing criminal investigation.”

“If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government’s ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course, in a manner that is highly likely to compromise future investigative steps,” they wrote.

“Should the Court order partial unsealing of the affidavit, the government respectfully requests an opportunity to provide the Court with proposed redactions,” the Justice Department also said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Trump’s attorneys had not indicated on the court’s docket that they plan to take part in the hearing.

FBI agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on Aug. 8, removing 11 sets of classified documents, with some marked not only top secret but also “sensitive compartmented information,” according to a receipt of what was taken that was released Friday. That is a special category meant to protect the nation’s most important secrets that if revealed publicly could cause “exceptionally grave” damage to U.S. interests. The court records did not provide specific details about the information the documents might contain.

In January, officials from the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of presidential records from Mar-a-Lago, some of which contained classified information. In July, a lawyer for Trump certified to investigators that all classified material had been handed over to the National Archives.

Trump claimed last week that he had declassified all the material seized at Mar-a-Lago while he was still in office. While a sitting president does have broad declassification ability, Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House intelligence committee, said on “Face the Nation” Sunday that he had seen no evidence Trump declassified the material while in office.

Further, Schiff said that the authority to declassify material does not extend to a former president, and he called it “absurd” for Trump to claim “18 months after the fact” that he had retroactively declassified the documents he took to Mar-a-Lago.

Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton told CBS News’ Robert Costa that Trump’s handling of classified documents “worried” him.

According to Bolton, intelligence briefers would bring pictures or graphs for the president to see and would hand them to Trump.

“Often, the president would say, ‘Well, can I keep this?’ And in my experience, the intelligence briefers most often would say, ‘Well sir, we’d prefer to take that back,'” Bolton said. “But sometimes they forgot.”

Earlier this year, the National Archives asked the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of records. The National Archives also said then that some of the documents Trump turned over to them had been ripped up and taped back together.

Trump’s allies on the House Judiciary Committee on Monday sent letters to top officials in the Biden administration demanding they send to Congress documents and communications about the FBI search of Trump’s residence.

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