Justice Department releases redacted Mar-a-Lago affidavit

By Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 5:39 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022
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12:38 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

Read the redacted Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit and memo

The Justice Department on Friday released a redacted version of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit and a memo.

The affidavit lays out why investigators believe there was probable cause that crimes had been committed. The warrant authorized the FBI to search former President Donald Trump's home and private club earlier this month.

Read the released document:

12:39 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

DOJ legal brief justifies redactions by expressing "compelling" concerns of providing investigation "road map"

From CNN's Tierney Sneed

Along with the affidavit, the Justice Department also released a redacted legal brief explaining why it proposed the redactions to the affidavit.

The brief said its details would provide a “road map” to the investigation, and that revealing “this information could thus adversely impact the government's pursuit of relevant evidence.”

It appears that one example of this risk is laid out in a redacted paragraph.

The legal brief reiterated language that prosecutors had previously used to describe reasons why the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit should be kept secret.

“In addition, revealing this information could severely disadvantage the government as it seeks further information from witnesses,” the filing said, before going into another paragraph that is redacted.

“These concerns are particularly compelling in this case,” the brief says, at the start of another redacted paragraph that the brief said was “explained in the affidavit.”

“In short, the government has well-founded concerns that steps may be taken to frustrate or otherwise interfere with this investigation if facts in the affidavit were prematurely disclosed,” the filing said.
12:30 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

The redacted affidavit has been released

A redacted version of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit has been released after a federal judge's orders. CNN is reviewing the document now.

The affidavit was filed by the Justice Department when it sought a warrant to search former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this month. It lays out why investigators believed there was probable cause that crimes had been committed and the material FBI agents expected to find at the residence.  

The public disclosure comes one day after US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart ordered the Justice Department to release a redacted version of the affidavit. The redactions in the document released Friday were proposed by the Justice Department, and accepted by Reinhart. 

Federal prosecutors said the redactions were necessary to protect cooperating witnesses and keep grand jury information secret.

CNN's Marshall Cohen contributed reporting to this post. 

12:23 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

DOJ legal brief references risks to witnesses if affidavit redactions aren't made

From CNN's Tierney Sneed

The Justice Department legal brief said it would outline five reasons for proposed redactions to the affidavit.

The first reason the heavily redacted brief covered is the impact disclosing those details would have on witnesses. 

The DOJ argued that without the proposed redactions "the affidavit could be used to identify many, if not all, of these witnesses."

What follows is two paragraphs of redacted material.

"If witnesses' identities are exposed, they could be subjected to harms including retaliation, intimidation, or harassment, and even threats to their physical safety," the filing then said. "As the Court has already noted, these concerns are not hypothetical in this case."

The brief also noted how FBI agents involved in the investigation had already been identified and have received "threats of violence from members of the public"

"Exposure of witnesses' identities would likely erode their trust in the government's investigation, and it would almost certainly chill other potential witnesses from coming forward in this investigation and others," the filing said.

This language is similar to what the DOJ used in their public arguments to not release the affidavit.

12:16 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

DOJ has met the deadline and filed the redacted document

From CNN's Evan Perez

The DOJ has met the deadline set by a federal judge to release a redacted version of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit.

They filed the redacted document, according to a source familiar. 

The document has not appeared yet in PACER, a service that provides public access to federal court records.

12:14 p.m. ET, August 26, 2022

DOJ's legal brief explaining the proposed redactions for affidavit has been unsealed

From CNN's Tierney Sneed

(Sarah Silbiger/Pool/Getty Images)
(Sarah Silbiger/Pool/Getty Images)

The Justice Department's legal brief explaining the proposed redactions for the Mar-a-Lago affidavit has been unsealed.

This is not the affidavit itself but rather the memo outlining redactions. 

11:57 a.m. ET, August 26, 2022

Biden says he'll let DOJ determine possible national security threat at Mar-a-Lago

From CNN's Allie Malloy

President Biden said that he would let the Justice Department decide whether national security could have been compromised at Mar-a-Lago when asked about it by reporters Friday.

“We will let the Justice Department determine that,” Biden told the pool.

Biden did not answer further questions on the FBI search of former President Trump’s Florida home.

11:35 a.m. ET, August 26, 2022

What Trump says privately about the Mar-a-Lago documents clashes with his public bravado

From CNN's Gabby Orr, Kristen Holmes, Evan Perez and Jeremy Herb

Not long after the National Archives acknowledged in February that it had retrieved 15 boxes of presidential records from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, Trump began fielding calls from Tom Fitton, a prominent conservative activist.

Fitton, the longtime head of the legal activist group Judicial Watch, had a simple message for Trump — it was a mistake to give the records to the Archives, and his team should never have let the Archives "strong-arm" him into returning them, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Those records belonged to Trump, Fitton argued, citing a 2012 court case involving his organization that he said gave the former President authority to do what he wanted with records from his own term in office.

While Trump continued to publicly tout his cooperation with the Archives, privately the former President began obsessing over Fitton's arguments, complaining to aides about the 15 boxes that were handed over and becoming increasingly convinced that he should have full control over records that remained at Mar-a-Lago, according to people with knowledge of his behavior at the time.

Trump's team seems to be primarily concerned with the public relations fight — and Trump's political prospects. While Trump has publicly called for the release of the affidavit justifying the search of his residence, his lawyers have yet to take any legal action to seek its disclosure.

Publicly, Trump and his allies have celebrated the surge in enthusiasm and fundraising among Republicans — with the former President painting himself as a victim of the "deep state." Some in Trump's orbit have even gone so far as to indicate that a potential indictment would give Trump a political boost as he mulls another presidential run.

But privately, the former President and his allies have become increasingly concerned. One source close to the former President told CNN that Trump has posed questions about a potential indictment to members of his inner circle. Another adviser acknowledged that while Trump has certainly been in legal peril before, including while he was president, this seems different and potentially more dangerous, particularly because the former President no longer has the legal protections afforded to the executive office.

A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

11:01 a.m. ET, August 26, 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 in Palm Beach, Florida, is seen on August 10.
An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, is 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."

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