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Judge unseals redacted affidavit used to justify Trump search warrant

A federal judge has unsealed a redacted version of the affidavit that was used to justify the search warrant executed earlier this month at former President Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago. 

The filings that have been made public so far show that the FBI’s affidavit was 38 pages long, and at least 78 paragraphs long. It is heavily redacted — 11 pages are totally blacked out, 13 are partially redacted and 14 have no redactions. 

The affidavit says there was “probable cause” that evidence of obstruction would be found at the premises, Mar-a-Lago. It also states that “probable cause exists to believe that evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed in violation 18 U.S.C. §§ 793(e), 2071, or 1519 will be found at the PREMISES.”

The redacted affidavit also states that the FBI’s investigation “established that documents bearing classification markings, which appear to contain National Defense Information (NDI), were among the materials contained in the FIFTEEN BOXES and were stored at the PREMISES in an undisclosed location.” 

“A preliminary triage of the documents with classification markings revealed the following approximate numbers: 184 unique documents bearing classification markings, including 67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET, and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET,” the affidavit said. 

According to the redacted affidavit, 14 of the 15 boxes that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recovered in January 2022 contained classified documents. In mid-May,  the FBI, in a “preliminary review” of the documents, observed some documents marked “HCS” – HUMINT Control System — which the affidavit notes is “an SCI control system designed to protect intelligence information derived from clandestine human sources.”

The affidavit also noted that “several of the documents also contained what appeared to be [Trump’s] handwritten notes.”

The government, in asking the court to seal the affidavit, stated that it deemed it to be necessary “because the items and information to be seized are relevant to an ongoing investigation and the FBI has not yet identified all potential criminal confederates nor located all evidence related to its investigation.” 

The FBI also expressed a fear that prematurely disclosing the affidavit and related documents might have “a significant and negative impact on the continuing investigation and may severely jeopardize its effectiveness by allowing criminal parties an opportunity to flee, destroy evidence (stored electronically and otherwise), change patterns of behavior, and notify criminal confederates.”

Trump responded to the release on his social media platform Truth Social. “Affidavit heavily redacted,” he wrote. Trump had called for a full, unredacted version of the affidavit to be released, but the Justice Department had argued that the FBI’s investigative methods and the identities of the agents involved could be compromised. 

“Nothing mentioned on ‘Nuclear,’ a total public relations subterfuge by the FBI & DOJ, or our close working relationship regarding document turnover – WE GAVE THEM MUCH,” Trump continued, referring to what his representatives returned to the National Archives.

The affidavit also links to a CBS Miami story from Jan. 2021 titled “Moving trucks spotted at Mar-a-Lago.” The rest of the information about that incident is heavily redacted. 

Last week, federal Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart ordered the Justice Department to provide him with proposed redactions to the affidavit — which likely includes witness statements and specific allegations — after media organizations including CBS News pushed for its public release. Reinhart said Thursday that the government had met its obligations to justify the redactions. 

The FBI searched Trump’s primary residence at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 as part of an investigation into his handling of presidential records since leaving office. On Aug. 12, the search warrant was unsealed, along with an inventory of materials seized, which listed 11 sets of classified documents. 

The Mar-a-Lago search warrant was approved by Attorney General Merrick Garland and then by  Reinhart on Aug. 5. Reinhart, a magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, reviewed the affidavit and its references to evidence from investigations, saying last week that “all the information that the court relied upon is in the affidavit.” 

The Justice Department had argued that the affidavit should remain sealed, citing the need to “protect the integrity of an ongoing law enforcement investigation that implicates national security.” Investigative methods and the identities of FBI agents and witnesses are at stake, prosecutors told the judge, and said releasing the affidavit risked chilling future cooperation. 

The media organizations had argued that unsealing at least portions of the affidavit is necessary to help the public understand the Justice Department’s reasons for the search. 

Earlier this week, Trump and his attorneys filed a motion before a different judge for the appointment of a special master to be named to review the documents taken from Mar-a-Lago. They argued a special master — a court-appointed monitor — is necessary to protect the former president’s constitutional rights. 

Trump’s attorneys also asked that the Justice Department provide them with a more detailed accounting of what the FBI took from his Florida resort and return any property not within the scope of the search warrant.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) received 15 boxes of presidential materials from Mar-a-Lago in January. The NARA identified over 100 documents with classification markings — including some identified as Top Secret and protected by sensitive Special Access Programs — following its initial review of those boxes, according to a letter sent in May by the Archives’ acting archivist to an attorney for the former president.

The White House declined to comment on specifics of the affidavit. 

“We understand again, we understand the interest in this,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during Friday’s press briefing. “We are not going to comment on any underlying materials, any content that is related to an ongoing investigation. This is an independent investigation, legal investigation, that the Department of Justice has the independence to conduct. And we do not feel it is appropriate for us to comment.”

Here is the redacted affidavit:

— This is a developing story.

Robert Legare, Gillian Morley, Andres Triay and Kathryn Watson contributed to this report.

Source: CBS Minnesota

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