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Judge may release affidavit in Trump search, but only after redaction



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Judge Bruce Reinhart said it was “very important” that the public have as “much information” as it can about the search at Mar-a-Lago.

Supporters of former President Donald J. Trump gather outside of the Federal District Court in West Palm Beach, Fla. on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. Saul Martinez/The New York Times

By Patricia Mazzei and Alan Feuer, New York Times Service

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A federal judge ordered the government Thursday to propose redactions to the highly sensitive affidavit that was used to justify a search warrant executed by the FBI last week at former President Donald Trump’s private home and club, saying he was inclined to unseal parts of it.

Judge Bruce Reinhart said it was “very important” that the public have as “much information” as it can about the search at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida residence. He noted later in a written order that the government “had not met its burden of showing that the entire affidavit should remain sealed.”

Reinhart went on to say that he was leaning toward releasing portions of the document, adding that “whether those portions would be meaningful for the public or the media” was not for him to decide. He also acknowledged that the redaction process could often be extensive and sometimes turned documents into “meaningless gibberish.”

In its fullest form, the affidavit supporting the warrant would reveal critical details of the broader investigation into Trump’s handling of sensitive documents, chief among them what led prosecutors to believe there was probable cause that evidence of a crime existed at Mar-a-Lago. Even a redacted version could shed light on aspects of the inquiry, such as the back-and-forth negotiations between Trump and federal prosecutors about returning the documents, a crucial step in showing that the former president may have willfully kept them in his possession.

Reinhart’s decision in the closely scrutinized case appeared to strike a middle course between the Justice Department, which had wanted to keep the affidavit entirely under wraps as it continued to investigate Trump’s retention of classified documents, and a group of news organizations, which requested that it be released in full to the public.

As part of his ruling, Reinhart ordered the government to send him under seal proposed redactions to the warrant affidavit by next Thursday at noon. He said he would review the suggestions and decide if he agreed with them. But he did not set a specific date for the affidavit to be released.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to Reinhart’s ruling, but privately, officials said they were surprised by the decision.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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