What’s next in the fight over the Mar-a-Lago FBI record affidavit

() — The next steps in the legal fight to make the FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, more transparent will take place largely in secret.

In the coming days, Trial Judge Bruce Reinhart — who approved the warrant the FBI used to search Mar-a-Lago earlier this month — will privately consider proposals from the Justice Department to redact portions of the affidavit. filed when applying for the order, if the affidavit is to be published.

In the document, investigators investigating Trump’s White House handling of classified documents would have had to explain to the judge why they believed there was probable cause for a crime and that there was evidence of that crime at the Florida resort.

The affidavit contains “substantial information from the grand jury,” a Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney told Reinhart at a hearing last week, in which media organizations and others advocated. for making the document public, which was presented under seal.

Trump requested the release of the affidavit as it was not part of the documents related to the search warrant provided to his legal team. But the former president has yet to formally inject himself into this court fight over whether the affidavit should be unsealed, instead filing a separate case in front of a different judge asking to see the affidavit in its entirety.

Here’s what we know about what’s about to happen:

The Justice Department’s next deadline is this Thursday, but what it does will likely be under seal.

The Justice Department has until noon Thursday to submit the redactions it believes the affidavit will need if the judge makes it public. With that, the department will also present legal arguments as to why those redactions are necessary.

Previously, the department has argued that once the necessary redactions are made, the affidavit would be “devoid of significant content.”

Reinhart has said that the presentation scheduled for this Thursday could be presented under seal. Prosecutors may publicly present a redacted version of the legal arguments they present. But so far there has been no indication that the department plans to do so.

Beyond the filing deadline for the DOJ, there is no set timetable for what happens next in the dispute.

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The judge could still decide not to release any part of the affidavit

The judge said last week that the department had not yet convinced him that the entire Mar-a-Lago search affidavit should remain sealed. But there’s still been a bit of room left for him to change his mind, depending on what the department tells him in this latest round of secret introductions.

He wrote in an opinion published Monday that “the present file” did not justify “keeping the entire affidavit under seal.” He also wrote that “at this point” he was not buying the Justice Department’s argument that once all the necessary redactions were made, they would be “so extensive as to result in meaningless disclosure.”

“But I may come to that conclusion after listening to the government,” he wrote.

For now, all that is certain is that the Justice Department has convinced the judge not to release the affidavit in its entirety without any redaction.

The judge takes into account the factors that favor transparency

As Reinhart wrote in the opinion of this mondaythe Department of Justice has already admitted that the order involves “matters of significant public interest.”

“Certainly, disclosing the affidavit would further public understanding of historically significant events,” Reinhart said. “This factor weighs in favor of disclosure.”

The historical importance of the Mar-a-Lago search also made Reinhart skeptical of another DOJ argument: that the work involved in doing the redactions will strain the department’s resources, and could set a precedent that creates disruption and similar loads in other cases.

“In particular, 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,” the judge wrote.

Reinhart will be presented with the reasons the Justice Department says the information in the affidavits should remain confidential, including how it might reveal sources and the methods the government is using in its investigation. , and how the details of the affidavits could be used to identify witnesses.

It could be several weeks before the dispute over the unsealing of the affidavit is resolved
Once the Justice Department files his plea, there are no other pending deadlines currently on the public record, meaning the judge could take his next step very quickly, or he could wait several days or even weeks to act.

During last week’s hearing, the attorney acting on behalf of the government—DOJ counterintelligence chief Jay Bratt, who is playing a prominent role in the investigation—said that after the department submitted its redaction proposals, would be willing to appear before the judge to discuss them “behind closed doors”.

That means a private proceeding that would be out of sight not just from the public, but from parties opposing the DOJ in seeking to release the warrant documents.

But it is unclear if the judge will ask for such a hearing and if there will be any indication in the public record that it is happening, adding more uncertainty to what will happen in the next few days and when.

To the fluidity of the deadlines is added the possibility that the Department of Justice, if the judge does not finally accept its proposals on the management of the affidavit, have time to appeal the decision. The judge could issue his ruling but put it on hold for a set amount of time so the Justice Department can file an appeal. This would lead to a new round of litigation that could drag on for weeks or even months.

‘s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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