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Feds oppose unsealing affidavit for Mar-a-Lago search warrant

Prosecutors say the investigation “implicates highly classified material” and the affidavit contains sensitive information about witnesses.
An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is seen Wednesday in Palm Beach. Court papers show that the FBI recovered documents labeled “top secret” from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is seen Wednesday in Palm Beach. Court papers show that the FBI recovered documents labeled “top secret” from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. [ STEVE HELBER | AP ]
Published Aug. 15

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Monday rebuffed efforts to make public the affidavit supporting the search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s estate in Florida, saying the investigation “implicates highly classified material” and the document contains sensitive information about witnesses.

The government’s opposition came in response to court filings by several news organizations, including The Associated Press, seeking to unseal the underlying affidavit the Justice Department submitted when it asked for the warrant to search Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this month.

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

The document, the prosecutors say, details “highly sensitive information about witnesses,” including people who have been interviewed by the government, and contains confidential grand jury information.

The government told a federal magistrate judge that prosecutors believe some additional records, including the cover sheet for the warrant and the government’s request to seal the documents, should now be made public.

A property receipt unsealed Friday showed the FBI seized 11 sets of classified documents, with some not only marked top secret but also “sensitive compartmented information,” 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 information the documents might contain.

The receipt for property that was seized during the execution of a search warrant by the FBI at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., is photographed Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
The receipt for property that was seized during the execution of a search warrant by the FBI at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., is photographed Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick) [ JON ELSWICK | AP ]

The Justice Department acknowledged Monday that its ongoing criminal investigation “implicates highly classified material.”

The search warrant, also unsealed Friday, said federal agents were investigating potential violations of three different federal laws, including one that governs gathering, transmitting or losing defense information under the Espionage Act. The other statutes address the concealment, mutilation or removal of records and the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.

The Mar-a-Lago search warrant, carried out last Monday, was part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Trump’s home earlier this year. The National Archives had asked the department to investigate after saying 15 boxes of records it retrieved from the estate included classified records.

The FBI's unsealed search warrant for former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach is photographed Friday.
The FBI's unsealed search warrant for former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach is photographed Friday. [ JON ELSWICK | AP ]
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It remains unclear whether the Justice Department moved forward with the warrant simply as a means to retrieve the records or as part of a wider criminal investigation or an attempt to prosecute the former president. Multiple federal laws govern the handling of classified information, with both criminal and civil penalties, as well as presidential records.

But the Justice Department, in its filing Monday, argued that its investigation is active and ongoing and that releasing additional information could not only compromise the probe but also subject witnesses to threats or deter others from coming forward to cooperate with prosecutors.

Related: The FBI search at Trump Mar-a-Lago estate is just one of several probes

“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,” the government wrote in the court filing.

By MICHAEL BALSAMO, Associated Press.

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