Documents from the Trump Affidavit Indicate Concerns About Obstruction and Witness Intimidation
Despite reservations that its disclosure “may change the investigation’s course,” a federal judge decided to unseal a crucial document pertaining to the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence.
Despite the Justice Department’s objections, a federal judge on Friday declassified a heavily redacted version of a crucial document pertaining to the search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate. The Justice Department cited ongoing worries in the court records about the possibility of obstruction of justice as well as the fact that more sensitive documents are being withheld.
A significant portion of the affidavit, which was anticipated to provide additional information about the circumstances surrounding the investigation, including the reasons why law enforcement requested a search warrant for Trump’s Florida home and the proof that supported their request, was blacked out. It also revealed the seriousness of the criminal investigation’s high stakes despite not naming the targets of the law enforcement inquiry.
The government is pursuing a criminal investigation into the inappropriate removal and storage of sensitive information in unapproved areas, as well as the “unlawful concealing or removal” of government data, according to the affidavit that was submitted before to the search of Trump’s estate.
The 38-page court document lays out a history of the events leading up to the Aug. 8 FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, starting with a referral from the National Archives in February after it found 15 boxes of records at Trump’s house. Much of this timeline has already been made public. According to the paper, requests for the materials from the National Archives started in May 2021.
According to the affidavit, the FBI acquired the 15 boxes of papers in May, among which were 184 documents marked as classified and “handwritten notes” from the former president. Among the documents, 67 had confidential, 92 had secret, and 25 had top secret markings.
It continued by stating that there is “probable cause” to think that additional secret documents, including those containing presidential records or information on national defense, are still at Mar-a-Lago. The paper added that there is reason to assume that “obstruction” evidence would be discovered on the property.
The affidavit added that there was reason to think that a number of criminal laws may have been broken by the records kept at Mar-a-Lago.
According to the affidavit, one of these, the Espionage Act, if broken may result in a 10-year prison sentence. It also listed further criminal offenses that could lead to a 20-year prison sentence.
Trump has claimed that he used his executive authority to “declassify” materials. However, the affidavit already concedes that position, citing a letter from Trump’s legal team that claimed the former president had complete control over declassification. After that, a significant chunk is blacked out.
The affidavit’s numerous redactions left a lot of opportunity for conjecture. The Justice Department stated in a motion that the redactions were based on five categories: tipping off investigators, safeguarding grand jury information, stopping threats to law enforcement, unreasonably invading third parties’ privacy, and potential witness intimidation or retaliation.
The document mentions the protection, privacy, and safety of a “significant number of civilian witnesses,” in addition to law enforcement, and warns that if witnesses’ identities are revealed, they “may be subject to harms, including retaliation, intimidation, or harassment, and even threats to their physical safety.”
As the Court has already acknowledged, “these issues are not hypothetical in this case,” it continues menacingly.
In addition, it states that the government has “well-founded worries that, should facts in the affidavit be prematurely exposed, efforts may be taken to impede or otherwise interfere with this inquiry.”
The search warrant for Trump’s Florida residence was approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who on Thursday ordered that a redacted copy of the document be made available to the public on Friday.
In a court document made public on Thursday, Reinhart stated, “Based on my independent review of the Affidavit, I further find that the government has met its burden of establishing that its proposed redactions are narrowly tailored to serve the Government’s legitimate interest in the integrity of the ongoing investigation and are the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire Affidavit.”
The release of the affidavit in its entirety would reveal information identifying the parties involved, the investigation’s strategy and scope, and confidential grand jury information, according to Reinhart, who claimed that the administration had demonstrated “compelling reason” to seal certain portions of it.
After Trump revealed that the FBI had searched his Florida estate, the Justice Department took the unusual step of asking the judge to make another document, the search warrant, public. This was done in spite of the fact that the FBI was required by law to keep quiet about the matter due to an ongoing investigation. The Justice Department opposed the motion after several media outlets asked for the release of the affidavit, which would have likely revealed more information about the circumstances surrounding the investigation, including the reasons why law enforcement requested a search warrant for Trump’s Florida home and the proof that supported their request.
The Department of Justice argued in court filings that the release of the affidavit “could alter the investigation’s trajectory, reveal ongoing and future investigative efforts, and undermine agents’ ability to gather evidence or obtain truthful testimony,” adding that it could have “devastating consequences” for the “rights” of the people described therein.
The release of the affidavit has been demanded by Trump in the sake of “transparency.” However, his legal team did make its first filing earlier this week in relation to the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, asking a federal judge to appoint a “special master” to examine the documents taken from his home. Despite this, his legal team has not yet filed any legal motions in response to the search.
On Friday, Trump wrote on his social media platform ahead of the affidavit’s release that “the political Hacks and Thugs had no right under the Presidential Records Act to storm Mar-a-Lago and steal everything in sight,” reiterating previous claims made against the Justice Department and FBI.
“We are right now living in a Lawless Country, that just so happens to be, also, a Failing Nation,” the former president wrote.