The Florida judge who signed off on the raid of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion published a written order Monday explaining his ground rules for releasing at least portions of the affidavit that triggered the search warrant.
The affidavit lists the probable cause justifying the August 8 search. Trump has called for it to be released, but the Department of Justice (DOJ) has balked, saying it could reveal sensitive information. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart indicated he will unseal the affidavit, but signaled to the government what it may legitimately seek to keep from public view.
“Numerous intervenors now move to unseal materials related to the search warrant,” Reinhart wrote in the Monday order, pointing out that his court on August 12 ordered the unsealing of the “warrant package,” which includes all relevant documents including the affidavit.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida offered redacted copies of several of the package documents to be unsealed, but not the affidavit.
“All that remains, then, is to decide whether the Affidavit should be unsealed in whole or in part,” Reinhart wrote. “The parties disagree whether a First Amendment right of public access applies to a sealed search warrant and related documents.”
Reinhart wrote that the First Amendment argument has limits.
“Where a sufficient reason exists, a court filing can be sealed from public view,” he wrote. “Despite the First Amendment right of access, a document can be sealed if there is a compelling governmental interest and the denial of access is ‘narrowly tailored to serve that interest.’”
Reinhart said he will consider whether the DOJ has a “sufficiently important interest in secrecy that outweighs the public’s right of access” and whether there is a “less onerous alternative” to keeping all or parts of the affidavit under seal.
The DOJ claims unsealing the affidavit will jeopardize its ongoing criminal investigation, which Reinhart acknowledged in certain circumstances could “override the common law right of access.” Reinhart added more hypothetical reasons for keeping the warrant sealed, including protecting the privacy of the agent who swore out the affidavit, protecting investigative sources and methods, and even safeguarding the physical layout of Mar-a-Lago on behalf of the Secret Service.
But Reinhart also wrote that the affidavit involves “matters of significant public concern,” and said at least some portions must be made public. He directed the DOJ to submit the affidavit with the redactions it deems necessary and to defend its reasoning.
“The Government shall file under seal a submission addressing possible redactions and providing any additional evidence or legal argument that the Government believes relevant to the pending Motions to Unseal,” Reinhart ordered.