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

See Mar-a-Lago photos that have experts raising national security concerns
02:59

What we covered

  • Today’s key hearing: A federal judge set in motion the possible public release of a heavily redacted version of the affidavit for the FBI search at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, saying in a hearing Thursday that he’s unconvinced it should remain fully sealed.
  • The requested docs: Some of the Mar-a-Lago search documents were already unsealed last week, but several news outlets — including CNN — requested that the affidavit be made public. It is a document investigators would have had to file to outline why they thought there was probable cause that a crime was committed and why they believed evidence of the crime had existed at Mar-a-Lago in recent days.
  • What the DOJ is saying: The department is opposing releasing the affidavit, with its lawyers arguing in court that unsealing it would “provide a roadmap” to the ongoing criminal investigation. The judge has ordered that the DOJ submit proposed redactions in a week before ruling on releasing the affidavit.

Our live coverage has ended. You can scroll through the posts below to read about how the hearing unfolded.

23 Posts

Here are key takeaways from today's hearing on releasing more documents from the FBI Mar-a-Lago search

A US magistrate judge started the process of potentially releasing some information from the affidavit that the Justice Department used to obtain a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence. 

Judge Bruce Reinhart said during a hearing at the West Palm Beach courthouse that he was planning to unseal portions of the affidavit, which is sought by various media outlets and other organizations.

His announcement came after the Justice Department, while arguing against the disclosure of the documents, revealed new, if not extremely vague, details about the investigation into the handling of classified documents from the Trump White House.

Here are some key takeaways from the hearing:  

  • Judge lays out process for potentially releasing parts of affidavit: Reinhart set in motion on Thursday the possible public release of a heavily redacted version of the affidavit for the search at Mar-a-Lago. The judge plans to hear more from the Justice Department by Aug. 25 about how extensively investigators want to keep confidential the document that describes their investigative steps and methods leading to the need for the search. Reinhart said he wasn’t convinced yet that the entire affidavit should remain undisclosed to the public. Prosecutors will have the opportunity to propose redactions and explain why each piece of information needs to be kept from the public eye, Reinhart said. Those proposals will be due noon ET on Aug. 25. Reinhart said he then may have additional confidential discussions with the Justice Department before making his decisions on transparency. 
  • Affidavit described how evidence of obstruction may be found at Mar-a-Lago, according to DOJ: A Justice Department lawyer said during the hearing that the probable cause affidavit used to get a warrant 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 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. 
  •  DOJ says affidavit is lengthy, detailed and contained “substantial grand jury information”: Bratt revealed other details about the affidavit, describing it as lengthy, detailed and containing “substantial grand jury information.” He 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.  Bratt’s comments in court emphasized that this is an active, ongoing criminal investigation, with robust witness interview work being done and grand jury activity. 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. 

See the sketches from inside the courtroom as a judge heard a request to unseal more Mar-a-Lago documents

US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart held a hearing on Thursday in Florida to discuss requests to unseal investigators’ probable cause affidavit, which the Justice Department has opposed releasing.

Jay Bratt, a top lawyer in the Department of Justice’s national security division, argued 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 emphasized that this is an active, ongoing criminal investigation.

There are no cameras allowed during federal proceedings, but artist Bill Hennessy’s sketches provide a glimpse of the events.

Here’s what it looked like inside the courtroom:

Jay Bratt, a lawyer for the Department of Justice's national security division, stands before Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday.
US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart presides over the hearing.
Chuck Tobin stands before Judge Bruce Reinhart.

Trump keeps pushing for releasing the full affidavit. Just not in court.

Former President Donald Trump and his team have continued to publicly push for the release of the full affidavit used to justify the search warrant of his Mar-a-Lago home, saying there should be no redactions “in the interest of TRANSPARENCY.”

After Thursday’s hearing on the possible release of the affidavit wrapped, Trump’s spokesman Taylor Budowich tweeted once again that Trump “made his view clear that the American people should be permitted to see the unredacted affidavit related to the raid and break-in of his home,” saying “no redactions should be necessary and the whole affidavit should be released.”

But they have not made that argument in court – at least not yet. 

Despite Trump lawyer Christina Bobb being in court on Thursday, the former president’s team did not enter submit any formal motion making that stance clear. Instead, she was just there to monitor the hearing.

A source familiar with the discussions told CNN that submitting a formal motion remains a possibility, but the legal team has not made a final decision about doing so yet. Some in Trump’s orbit were surprised that the judge asked the Justice Department to propose redactions and arguments for them, instead of simply keeping the sensitive document sealed. 

As prosecutors now have until next Thursday to submit those possible redactions, Trump is continuing his hunt for an addition to his legal team. The former president is seeking to bring on an attorney with experience in Florida law and has had multiple conversations about candidates in recent days, according to a source.

Judge unseals procedural documents related to Mar-a-Lago search

US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday released several procedural court documents related to the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home of Mar-a-Lago. 

The newly released filings provide more specificity on the potential offenses being investigated by the Justice Department — describing the offenses as the “willful retention of national defense information” as well as the “concealment or removal of government records” and “obstruction of federal investigation.”

In the filings, prosecutors also argued that the search warrant paperwork before the Mar-a-Lago search last Monday needed to be keep secret, “because the integrity of the ongoing investigation might be compromised, and evidence might be destroyed.” 

The filings include the Department of Justice’s motion to seal the warrant documents, the order granting that sealing request and the criminal cover sheet.

The cover sheet also specifies that the Justice Department applied to search Mar-a-Lago, believing they could find both evidence of these crimes and get back illegally possessed items.

Note: This is not the search warrant affidavit, which would include more details. The judge plans to hear more from the Justice Department by next week about how extensively investigators want to keep confidential the document that describes their investigative steps and methods leading to the need for the search.

Attorney for media organizations says public has right to see as much of Mar-a-Lago affidavit as possible

Deanna Shullman speaks to members of the media outside the federal court in West Palm Beach on Thursday, August 18.

An attorney who is part of the group of lawyers representing a coalition of media companies — including CNN — seeking the release of a heavily redacted version of the affidavit for the search at Mar-a-Lago said the public has a right to see as much of the document as possible.

“This is a proceeding that is about the credibility of all the players. So whether the judge is doing his job, whether the DOJ is doing its job, that is the proper function of these access proceedings and why the public is entitled to access; that is the public interest. We are entitled to monitor the affairs of our government at all levels and that is the interest in essence that we were asserting today,” Deanna Shullman, an attorney representing Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and ABC told reporters after today’s hearing in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Shullman also said she understands the government’s desire to keep certain elements of the affidavit shielded from public view, but she said there is a way to accomplish that without a wide-ranging redaction of the document.

“None of the media intervenors want to jeopardize the safety or security of a confidential informant; it is very common in these situations that information that would lead to the disclosure of their identity is kept secret,” she said. “However, it is important to note that simply saying somebody works for a particular agency is not sufficient. Perhaps saying their title, their post, the number of years they have been in position and other identifiers may get us there, but the generic fact that there are confidential informants working with the government is not something that I would think is subject to protection.”

US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart set in motion on Thursday the possible public release of the document at today’s hearing. 

The judge plans to hear more from the Justice Department by next week about how extensively investigators want to keep confidential the document that describes their investigative steps and methods leading to the need for the search.

Judge sets up possible release of redacted affidavit justifying Mar-a-Lago search

US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart set in motion on Thursday the possible public release of a heavily redacted version of the affidavit for the search at Mar-a-Lago. 

The judge plans to hear more from the Justice Department by next week about how extensively investigators want to keep confidential the document that describes their investigative steps and methods leading to the need for the search.

Reinhart said he wasn’t convinced yet that the entire affidavit should remain undisclosed to the public.

Prosecutors will have the opportunity to propose redactions and explain why each piece of information needs to be kept from the public eye, Reinhart said. Those proposals will be due next Thursday.

Reinhart said he then may have additional confidential discussions with the Justice Department before making his decisions on transparency.

Earlier on Thursday, Reinhart said he would unseal some other, 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.

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

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.

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

An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home on August 15.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

The Paul G. Rogers federal building and courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida, on August 18.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

Police direct traffic outside an entrance to former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on August 8.

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.