Federal prosecutors on Monday urged a judge to keep secret details about witnesses and investigative techniques in its criminal investigation of former President Donald Trump’s mishandling of “highly classified materials” that led to its raid of his Mar-a-Lago home last week.
News organizations and other groups are asking for the release of the supporting affidavit behind the search warrant that led to the removal of 11 packets of classified documents from the Palm Beach social club.
Releasing the affidavit would “cause significant and irreparable damage to this ongoing criminal investigation,” said the 13-page filing signed by the head of the Department of Justice’s counterintelligence division, Jay Bratt, and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Juan Gonzalez.
“As the court is aware from its review of the affidavit, it contains, among other critically important and detailed investigative facts: highly sensitive information about witnesses, including witnesses interviewed by the government; specific investigative techniques; and information required by law to be kept under seal,” the filing said.
Bratt and Gonzalez also wrote that revealing the names of witnesses now could hurt prosecutors’ efforts to get them and others to cooperate. In a footnote, they pointed to the violence that Trump and his allies have already incited: “This is not merely a hypothetical concern, given the widely reported threats made against law enforcement personnel in the wake of the August 8 search.”
They added that the affidavit lays out the direction of their case, which would jeopardize the investigation. “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 filing said.
As is normal in criminal cases, the Justice Department executed its search warrant at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 without public notice. It was Trump’s complaints about it and attacks by him and his Republican allies on the department and the FBI that led Attorney General Merrick Garland to ask the court to make public the search warrant itself as well as the inventory of what was found, which took place last week.
Monday’s filing was in response to a continuing request by a number of news organizations and others, such as the pro-Trump Judicial Watch, for all the material related to the search, including the probable cause affidavit, which is typically a synopsis of evidence already collected that explains why prosecutors believe a search warrant is justified.
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks Thursday at the Department of Justice about the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, announcing the DOJ had filed a motion to unseal the search warrant and the property receipt for what was removed.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Bratt and Gonzalez wrote that although the department is prepared to redact the affidavit to protect its witnesses and safeguard the investigation, doing so would be counterproductive. “The affidavit cannot responsibly be unsealed in a redacted form absent redactions that would be so extensive as to render the document devoid of content that would meaningfully enhance the public’s understanding of these events beyond the information already now in the public record,” they wrote.
Trump is also under investigation by the Justice Department for his attempted coup to remain in power, including the plan to create fraudulent slates of electoral votes from states he had lost in the 2020 presidential election. A Georgia prosecutor is separately investigating his and his allies’ attempts to coerce state officials into falsely declaring him the winner in those states.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and by 306 to 232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol ― his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― led to the deaths of five people, including one police officer, the injury of an additional 140 officers and four police suicides.
Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.
In statements on his personal social media platform, Trump has continued to lie about the election and the Jan. 6 House select committee’s investigation, calling it a “hoax” similar to previous investigations into his 2016 campaign’s acceptance of Russian assistance and his attempted extortion of Ukraine into helping his 2020 campaign.
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