By Zachary Stieber
Lawyers for media companies are set to appear before a federal judge in Florida on Aug. 18 to try to make the case that the main document underpinning the FBI search warrant that was executed at a residence of former President Donald Trump should be made public.
Lawyers representing the Associated Press, CNN, the Miami Herald, and other companies will go before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who approved the warrant that was executed on Aug. 8 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
While the warrant itself and several related documents, including an incomplete inventory of items taken from Trump’s residence, were unsealed at the behest of the government and Trump, U.S. lawyers oppose releasing the affidavit underpinning the warrant, even with redactions.
Doing so, they told Reinhart in a recent filing, would “jeopardize the integrity of this national security investigation,” which centers on Trump possibly violating defense and information laws.
“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 lawyers said. “In addition, information about witnesses is particularly sensitive given the high-profile nature of this matter and the risk that the revelation of witness identities would impact their willingness to cooperate with the investigation.”
Even if redactions were made, the government still opposes the release, claiming the necessary redactions would be “so extensive as to render the remaining unsealed text devoid of meaningful content, and the release of such a redacted version would not serve any public interest.”
In a reply, media companies said that argument wasn’t enough to overcome the presumption of public access.
“The affidavit of probable cause should be released to the public, with only those redactions that are necessary to protect a compelling interest articulated by the government,” they said.
The only agreement between the parties so far is that the names of prosecutors should be sealed if the affidavit is released, according to the filing.
In a separate brief, lawyers for Judicial Watch—which filed the first motion to unseal—said the government’s opposition “is devoid of any balancing of the interests at stake,” even though government lawyers in an earlier filing said the matter “plainly concerns public officials or public concerns as it involves a law enforcement action taken at the property of the 45th President of the United States.”
“The government’s argument for keeping the search warrant affidavit under wraps is little more than the assertion that the affidavit should remain sealed because of what the government says is important,” they added.
Maintaining the seal on the affidavit “will only fuel more speculation, uncertainty, leaks, and political intrigue and it will also serve to undermine public confidence in the fair administration of justice and equal protection of the law,” the reply also said. “Considering the gravity of this unprecedented action by the government, at a minimum, the Court should review the affidavit line-by-line to determine what information may be disclosed and what information may be redacted to balance the competing concerns at issue.”
Trump’s lawyers have not entered any filings in the case. A lawyer for the former president did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The hearing will be held in-person at the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach. Only people present on the scene can view the hearing. Neither video nor audio streaming will be available.