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Justice Department ordered to release redacted Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit

<i>Brandon Bell/Getty Images</i><br/>
Getty Images
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

By Tierney Sneed

The Justice Department must release a redacted version of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit by noon on Friday, a federal judge ruled.

The affidavit lays out why investigators believe there was probable cause that crimes had been committed. The warrant authorized the FBI to search former President Donald Trump’s home and private club earlier this month.

Earlier Thursday, the DOJ submitted its proposed redactions to US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who issued the order for the public release.

Justice Department Spokesman Anthony Coley said: “The United States has filed a submission under seal per the Court’s order of Aug. 22. The Justice Department respectfully declines further comment as the Court considers the matter.”

Justice Department prosecutors have emphasized that they need continued secrecy as to not disrupt the ongoing criminal investigation — especially as they keep confidential grand jury activity and protect witnesses who have or could share information.

In his order, Reinhart said the Justice Department convinced him that portions of the affidavit should remain sealed because “disclosure would reveal (1) the identities of witnesses, law enforcement agents, and uncharged parties, (2) the investigation’s strategy, direction, scope, sources, and methods, and (3) grand jury information.”

He concluded that DOJ had met “its burden of showing 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.”

News outlets ask judge to unseal DOJ brief addressing redactions

Not long after the DOJ’s sealed filings about the redactions were submitted, a conglomeration of media companies, including CNN, filed a request with the judge asking to unseal the Justice Department brief addressing the redactions.

The media outlets said the brief should be made public with any redactions necessary to protect the ongoing investigation. Additionally, the media companies asked for the judge to order that, going forward, any documents the Justice Department files under seal in the transparency dispute also be filed publicly with the appropriate redactions.

“As this Court has also recognized, there is little interest in maintaining secrecy with respect to facts about the investigation that the government has already publicly confirmed to be accurate,” the news outlets’ request said.

At the minimum, the media organizations argued, “any portions of the Brief that recite those facts about the investigation, without revealing additional ones not yet publicly available — in addition to any other portions that pose no threat to the investigation — should be unsealed.”

“If and when additional facts come to light and are confirmed to be accurate, or certain facts no longer pose a threat to the investigation for any other reason, there is no justification for maintaining them under seal either,” the news outlets wrote. “Furthermore, any legal arguments in the government’s filings should be made public, even if some of the facts the government recounts remain under seal.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

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