The latest on the Trump Mar-a-Lago search documents

By Tierney Sneed, Katelyn Polantz, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury, Adrienne Vogt and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 5:08 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022
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2:04 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

DOJ emphasizes risks to FBI and future witnesses if documents are unsealed

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz and Tierney Sneed

Jay Bratt, a top lawyer in the Department of Justice's national security division, raised concerns about the risks the FBI has faced since the news of the Mar-a-Lago search broke, with Bratt mentioning the recent standoff at a Cincinnati FBI field office and "amateur sleuths" on the internet.

He told the judge that if any of the other documents are released, the DOJ would want to redact even background information about the agents who have worked on the matter so far.

Bratt also laid out DOJ's concerns that releasing the affidavit would having a chilling effect on future witnesses. He said during the hearing that several witnesses are already part of the investigation, some with very specific relevant information that — if revealed — would reveal who they are.

1:51 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Affidavit described how evidence of obstruction may be found at Mar-a-Lago, DOJ argues

From CNN's Hannah Rabinowitz and Katelyn Polantz

An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home on August 15.
An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home on August 15. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

The Justice Department argued in court on Thursday that the probable cause affidavit used to get a warrant to search former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence described how prosecutors might find “evidence of obstruction” on the grounds of the Florida property — a possible crime that the search warrant itself revealed was under investigation.

“In this case, the court has found probable cause there's a violation of one of the obstruction statutes, and that evidence of obstruction would be found at Mar-a-Lago" said Jay Bratt, who heads the Justice Department’s counterintelligence section.

Obstruction of justice was one of the three statutes listed on the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago, which was unsealed last week, and Judge Bruce Reinhart said during the hearing Thursday that he "found there is probable cause" that the statutes had been violated.

Bratt made the comments about obstruction being investigated while he was trying to highlight DOJ's fear that future witnesses may not be willing to provide information if too much was to come out about the investigation so far.

Bratt also said that the affidavit contained “substantial grand jury information.”

CNN has reported that the FBI search came months after federal investigators served grand jury subpoena and took away sensitive national security documents from Trump's property during a June meeting.

1:32 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Justice Department tells federal judge releasing affidavit would "provide a roadmap to the investigation"

From CNN's Tierney Sneed and Katelyn Polantz

Jay Bratt, a top lawyer in the Department of Justice's national security division, is arguing for the government at the hearing on requests by several news outlets — including CNNto unseal more materials filed by the Justice Department related to the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate last week.

Bratt told the federal judge that letting the public read the affidavit would "provide a roadmap to the investigation," and would even indicate the next steps in the probe.

He also described the affidavit as detailed and lengthy.

While acknowledging that there is a public interest in transparency, Bratt said that there was "another public interest" in criminal investigations being able to go forward unimpeded.

Bratt's statements in court have so far emphasized that this is an active, ongoing criminal investigation, with robust witness interview work being done and grand jury activity.

1:15 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Judge says he will release some of the procedural filings under seal on the docket

From CNN's Tierney Sneed and Katelyn Polantz

US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart says he will unseal some of the procedural filings that are currently under seal on the search warrant docket.

According to the judge's comments, the filings are the Department of Justice's motion to seal the warrant documents, the order granting that sealing request and the criminal cover sheet.

1:51 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

NOW: Hearing on Mar-a-Lago search affidavit has started

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz in West Palm Beach, Florida

The Paul G. Rogers federal building and courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida, on August 18.
The Paul G. Rogers federal building and courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida, on August 18. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, the federal judge who approved the Mar-a-Lago search warrant, is hold a hearing now at the court in Florida to discuss requests to unseal investigators' probable cause affidavit, which the Justice Department has opposed releasing.

Media organizations, including CNN, asked for the affidavit to be unsealed after the search last week at former President Donald Trump's Palm Beach, Florida, club and residence.

Cameras are not allowed inside the federal courtroom, but CNN is there and will be providing updates on key moments from the hearing.

12:54 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Trump attorney is attending hearing on whether to release Mar-a-Lago affidavit

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz in West Palm Beach, Florida

Trump attorney Christina Bobb said she plans to observe the court hearing on Thursday where a federal magistrate judge will consider requests to unseal the affidavit used by the Justice Department to justify searching the former President’s residence at Mar-a-Lago.

Bobb was spotted by CNN entering the courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Interested parties, which would include Trump, had until 9 a.m. ET Thursday to file on their positions on the secrecy of the affidavit. Neither Trump nor his attorneys filed anything this morning, but Bobb could speak to the court if requested.

CNN and other media outlets have asked the judge to unseal the search warrant affidavit. The Justice Department opposes unsealing the documents, saying that would compromise the investigation into the potential mishandling of classified documents taken to Mar-a-Lago after Trump left office and alleged obstruction.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET.

12:11 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

A hearing on releasing more documents from the Mar-a-Lago search will start soon. Here's what to watch for. 

From CNN's Tierney Sneed

An extraordinary dispute will play out in a federal courthouse in South Florida on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET over what transparency the American public is owed into the Justice Department investigation of the handling of classified documents from former President Donald Trump’s White House.

Here are key things to watch for during today's hearing:

How does the DOJ describe the risks disclosing the documents poses to its investigation?

The Justice Department said in its filing that its investigation would be “irreparably” harmed if the additional materials are unsealed.

“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 Justice Department filing said.

It pointed specifically to the threat that disclosure of information about FBI witnesses would “chill future cooperation by witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high-profile investigations.”

The Justice Department may seek to emphasize those points in a way that gives more of a picture of where the probe stands.

How does DOJ describe the national security risks of unsealing the documents?

As the Justice Department put forward in its filing, this investigation is not just any criminal probe but one that “that implicates national security.”

“The fact that this investigation implicates highly classified materials further underscores the need to protect the integrity of the investigation and exacerbates the potential for harm if information is disclosed to the public prematurely or improper,” the Justice Department said.

Thursday’s hearing could give some hints about why the department sought to execute the search when it did.

CNN and The New York Times have reported how a series of investigative steps and efforts to secure material marked as classified played out over several months before the search. The National Archives had first requested and got back into its possession 15 boxes in January – with some materials labeled with a classification level – prompting the agency to call for a criminal investigation. The Justice Department then looked into the matter, with major investigative steps taken, especially in June. Investigators visited the beach club, saw where records were being kept, asked the Trump team to secure them and issued a subpoena to have them returned to federal hands. The Trump Organization also provided investigators access to surveillance videos in response to another subpoena. That led investigators to spot something on the video around a storage room that concerned them, the Times has reported.

12:30 p.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Here's why CNN and other news outlets asked the court to unseal the entire record related to Mar-a-Lago search

From CNN's Tierney Sneed

Police direct traffic outside an entrance to former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on August 8.
Police direct traffic outside an entrance to former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on August 8. (Terry Renna/AP)

CNN, joined by The Washington Post, NBC News and Scripps, asked a court last week to unseal documents connected to the FBI search of former President Donald Trump's Florida residence  — including documents not covered by the Justice Department's own bid to unseal a selection of the warrant materials.

Specifically, CNN and the other outlets are asking for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida to unseal the entire record filed with the court, including all probable cause affidavits filed in support of the search warrant. These lay out why investigators believe that there is probable cause that a crime was committed and the evidence of that crime existed in recent days at the site where the search was sought.

The request was filed after the Justice Department submitted its own request with the federal court to unseal certain warrant materials. In remarks announcing the request, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department is seeking the release of the "search warrant and property receipt" from the FBI's search.

In the unsealing filing by CNN and the other outlets with the court, they pointed to "the historic importance of these events."

"Before the events of this week, not since the Nixon Administration had the federal government wielded its power to seize records from a former President in such a public fashion," the outlets said in the filing.

The filing said that "tremendous public interest in these records in particular outweighs any purported interest in keeping them secret."

"The Media Intervenors certainly do not seek these records for any illegitimate purpose," the outlets said. "To the contrary, public access to these records will promote public understanding of this historically significant, unprecedented execution of a search warrant in the residence of a former President."

11:47 a.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Analysis: How to keep track of Trump's legal issues

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Former President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower to meet with New York Attorney General Letitia James on August 10.
Former President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower to meet with New York Attorney General Letitia James on August 10. (James Devaney/GC Images/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump has created a unique gravitational pull for lawsuits and investigations that often hit the people in his orbit but have not yet landed on him.

Now there's a burst of activity from the authorities circling around him — federal, state, city and county prosecutors — who are all considering ways to hold him accountable for:

  • His personal business.
  • His treatment of classified data as he left the White House.
  • His anti-democratic efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Unless you've been on Mars for the summer, you know that his Florida home was searched by the FBI for possible mishandling of classified documents.

But there are so many more cases that touch Trump.

Consider the recent developments regarding his business dealings:

  • Trump's business — CNN reported Wednesday that the Trump Organization's former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, is expected to plead guilty to a 15-year tax fraud scheme and serve jail time. But Weisselberg will not cooperate with authorities against Trump, although he could testify if Trump or his adult children are ever charged. 

The same week Trump's Florida home was searched by the FBI, the former President was under oath in New York.

  • Trump's finances — He and two of his adult children have testified as part of a civil investigation by the New York attorney general into whether the Trump Organization misled lenders, insurers and tax authorities. Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. This inquiry is separate from the criminal investigation of the Trump Organization pursed by the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election have sparked their own subset of legal issues, one of which was on major display Wednesday in Atlanta.

  • Georgia's 2020 election results — His former lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was on Wednesday in front of a grand jury investigating Trump's effort to find votes and overturn Georgia's 2020 election results. Giuliani was described by CNN's reporter as defiant and exuding confidence. This investigation is being conducted by the Fulton County district attorney. Read more.

Those developments are on top of what we learned earlier this month.

  • 2020 election — While the Fulton County inquiry is focused just on Georgia, the US Department of Justice appears to be conducting a larger inquiry into Jan. 6, 2021, and the events surrounding the Capitol insurrection. CNN reported earlier this week that former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, who was featured in the House Jan. 6 committee hearings, is just the latest White House official under Trump to be subpoenaed by a federal grand jury.

A version of this story appeared in CNN's What Matters newsletter. Read the full story here and subscribe to the newsletter here.