Judge Bruce Reinhart on Monday admitted the FBI’s raid on former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home was “unprecedented,” and formally rejected the Justice Department’s argument to keep the affidavit leading to the search under seal, citing the “intense public and historical interest.”
Reinhart, in a filing Monday morning, said he rejects “the Government’s argument that the present record justifies keeping the entire Affidavit under seal.”
“The Government argues that even requiring it to redact portions of the Affidavit that could not reveal agent identities or investigative sources and methods imposes an undue burden on its resources and sets a precedent that could be disruptive and burdensome in future cases,” Reinhart wrote. “I do not need to reach the question of whether, in some other case, these concerns could justify denying public access; they very well might.”
He added: “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.”
Reinhart said he has given the Justice Department an “opportunity to propose redactions if I declined to seal the entire Affidavit,” something he granted last week, giving the government a deadline of Thursday, Aug. 25 at noon.
“Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED that by the deadline, the Government shall file under seal a submission addressing possible redactions and providing any additional evidence or legal argument that the Government believes relevant to the pending Motions to Unseal,” the motion states.
Reinhart, during a highly anticipated hearing in the West Palm Beach Division of Florida last Thursday, said that the entire affidavit should not be kept under seal, despite the Justice Department’s argument that the release would jeopardize future steps in the investigation and provide a “roadmap” for the probe.
During the hearing, Reinhart ordered that government prosecutors submit a version of the affidavit with proposed redactions by Aug. 25 at noon.
Reinhart will then review those redactions and determine how best to proceed — whether to accept the recommendations from government prosecutors or perform his own redactions instead.
The judge also reminded that the government or media, the two parties to the suit, can appeal his ruling if one or both object to his proposed redactions, which would remain under seal.
Government prosecutor Jay Bratt argued that unsealing the affidavit would “provide a roadmap” of an ongoing investigation still in its early stages.
Bratt also said the country is in a “volatile” state, and he warned that releasing the names of witnesses or FBI agents would “chill” other witnesses who may still come forward.
“This is not a precedent we want to set,” Bratt said. “The government is very concerned about the safety of witnesses in this case.”
Media organizations arguing the affidavit should be unsealed, the government and Reinhart all agreed that this is a unique and unprecedented case.
Charles Tobin, who argued for the Washington Post and other media organizations, said the raid on Mar-a-Lago was one of the most significant law enforcement actions in the nation’s history, saying, “The public interest could not be greater.”
Trump, while not a party in the hearing, demanded this week that the affidavit be unsealed and released in an unredacted form.
“In the interest of TRANSPARENCY, I call for the immediate release of the completely Unredacted Affidavit pertaining to this horrible and shocking BREAK-IN,” Trump posted earlier this week.
Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich, in a statement after Reinhart’s ruling, said, “President Trump has made clear his view that the American people should be permitted to see the unredacted affidavit related to the raid and break-in of his home, Mar-a-Lago.”
Meanwhile, the documents Reinhart unsealed and released Thursday included the “criminal cover sheet” as well as the application for the warrant.
The government, in that application, said the “basis for the search” was “evidence of a crime” and “contraband, traits of crime, or other items illegally possessed.”
The application said the search is related to “willful retention of national defense information,” “concealment or removal of government records” and “obstruction of federal investigation.”
Reinhart signed the application for the warrant on Aug. 5, 2022.
Earlier this month, Reinhart unsealed the FBI’s search warrant and property receipt from the search. Reinhart signed the warrant on Aug. 5, giving the FBI authority to conduct its search.
According to the property receipt, reviewed before its release by Fox News Digital, FBI agents took approximately 20 boxes of items from the premises, including one set of documents marked as “Various classified/TS/SCI documents,” which refers to top secret/sensitive compartmented information.
Records covered by that government classification level could potentially include human intelligence and information that, if disclosed, could jeopardize relations between the United States and other nations, as well as the lives of intelligence operatives abroad. However, the classification also encompasses national security information related to the daily operations of the president of the United States.
The property receipt also shows that FBI agents collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents.
The property receipt does not reveal any details about any of those records.
The list also includes a “leatherbound box of documents,” binders of photos, handwritten notes, miscellaneous documents, miscellaneous top secret documents, miscellaneous confidential documents, as well as other records.
The government conducted the search in response to what it believes to be a violation of federal laws: 18 USC 793 — gathering, transmitting or losing defense information; 18 USC 2071 — concealment, removal or mutilation; and 18 USC 1519 — destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.
The allegation of “gathering, transmitting or losing defense information” falls under the Espionage Act.
The former president and his team are disputing the classification and say they believe the information and records to have been declassified.
Sources familiar with the investigation told Fox News Digital that the FBI also seized boxes containing records covered by attorney-client privilege and potentially executive privilege during its raid.
Sources told Fox News that, due to attorney-client privilege, Trump’s team asked the Justice Department for their position on whether they would support a third party, independent special master to review those records, but sources told Fox News that DOJ notified Trump’s team that they would oppose that request.