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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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.

11:23 a.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Mar-a-Lago — and Trump — have long caused concerns for US intelligence

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate seen on August 10.
An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate seen on August 10. (Steve Helber/AP)

Revealing an airstrike over "beautiful" chocolate cake. A trespasser from China carrying flash drives and electronics. Cellphone photos of the "nuclear football" briefcase. And now, classified documents recovered during an FBI search.

Mar-a-Lago, the stone-walled oceanfront estate Donald Trump labeled the "Winter White House," has long been a source of headaches for national security and intelligence professionals. Its clubby atmosphere, sprawling guest-list and talkative proprietor combined into a "nightmare" for keeping the government's most closely held secrets, one former intelligence official said.

Now, the 114-room mansion and its various outbuildings are at the center of a Justice Department investigation into Trump's handling of presidential material. After an hours-long search of the property last week, FBI agents seized 11 sets of documents, some marked as "sensitive compartmented information" — among the highest levels of government secrets. CNN reported Saturday that one of Trump's attorneys claimed in June that no classified material remained at the club — raising fresh questions about the number of people who have legal exposure in the ongoing investigation.

In many ways, Trump's 20-acre compound in Palm Beach, Florida, amounts to the physical embodiment of what some former aides describe as a haphazard-at-best approach by the former President to classified documents and information.

"Mar-a-Lago has been a porous place ever since Trump declared his candidacy and started winning primaries several years ago," said Aki Peritz, a former CIA counterterrorism analyst. "If you were any intelligence service, friendly or unfriendly, worth their salt, they would be concentrating their efforts on this incredibly porous place."

Continue reading here.

11:15 a.m. ET, August 18, 2022

Former CFO of Trump Organization pleads guilty for role in tax fraud scheme and agrees to testify

From CNN's Kara Scannell

Allen Weisselberg arrives in court in New York on Thursday, August 18.
Allen Weisselberg arrives in court in New York on Thursday, August 18. (Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

In another investigation related to former President Donald Trump, Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, pleaded guilty Thursday to his role in a 15-year-long tax fraud scheme and as part of the deal he has agreed to testify against former Trump’s real estate company at trial.

In court Thursday, Weisselberg said “yes, your honor” when asked if he was pleading guilty of his own choice.  

Weisselberg pleaded guilty to 15 felonies and admitted he failed to pay taxes on $1.7 million in income, including luxury perks, such as rent and utilities for a Manhattan apartment, leases for a pair of Mercedes-Benz cars, and private school tuition for his grandchildren. 

He admitted to concealing those benefits from his accountant to underreport his income and knowingly omitted the income from his personal tax returns. 

Weisselberg answered a series of specific questions about the scheme from the judge in a hushed and barely audible tone, saying “yes, your honor” repeatedly.

As part of the deal, he will pay nearly $2 million in back taxes, interest and penalties and waive any right to appeal. 

Allen Weisselberg enters the courtroom on August 18 in New York.
Allen Weisselberg enters the courtroom on August 18 in New York. (Curtis Means/Pool/Getty Images)

Judge Juan Merchan said Weisselberg would be sentenced after the Trump Organization’s trial. He said the agreement was for a five-month sentence to be followed by five years of probation. The judge warned Weisselberg if he does not meet all the conditions of the plea agreement, “I would be at liberty to impose any lawful sentence which in your case includes imprisonment from 5 to 15 years.” 

The plea puts him at odds with the Trump Organization, where he has worked for 40 years, and his testimony could damage the company, if it goes to trial on related tax charges as scheduled in October.