The federal judge in Florida who signed the warrant authorizing the search of former President Donald J. Trump’s private club and residence issued a formal order Monday ordering the government to propose drafting the affidavit sealed used to justify the search, saying it was kept. inclined to make parts of it public.
But the judge, Bruce E. Reinhart, repeated in his order the cautionary note he gave the court last week. The government, he added, could still persuade him to keep the entire affidavit under seal, and a widely redacted version could result in what he described as “meaningless disclosure.”
Hours after Judge Reinhart issued the order, lawyers for Mr. Trump filed a motion asking another federal judge in Florida — a judge that Mr. Trump directed the court to appoint an independent arbitrator, known as a special master, to review the seized documents. during the search of anyone who was outside the scope of the warrant or who was protected by executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.
The motion, which was filled with bombastic complaints about the search — “The government has long treated President Donald J. Trump unfairly,” he said at one point — also asked the Justice Department to provide an “informative receipt” of what was taken from Mar-a-Lago, home and club of Mr. Trump in Florida on August 8. His lawyers wrote that the inventory left at the property by officers who conducted the search was “legally deficient” and did “little to identify” the seized material.
If the judge who received the motion, Aileen M. Cannon, appoints a special master in the case, it will almost certainly prolong the process of reviewing the multiple boxes of documents that were seized and stall the government’s investigation into whether Mr. . trump obstructed a federal investigation and improperly withheld national defense documents.
Special masters were appointed in other high-profile searches involving Mr. Trump, including one conducted in 2018 into the office of Michael D. Cohen, the former president’s personal lawyer. In the Cohen case, the lawyers of Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen moved quickly to request a special master. This time, the legal team of Mr. It took Trump two weeks to request an independent review.
“The department is aware of tonight’s motion,” said Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley. “The United States will file its response in court.”
Judge Reinhart’s order earlier in the day effectively put into writing a ruling he delivered from the courtroom last Thursday, following arguments from media companies that wanted the entire affidavit unsealed and from federal prosecutors that they wanted to keep it completely secret. In both his written order and his oral ruling, Judge Reinhart ordered the Justice Department to submit a redacted version of the affidavit under seal by noon Thursday, along with a memo stating explains his justifications for the proposed redactions.
In his order, Judge Reinhart acknowledged that it was “a fundamental principle of American law that court proceedings should be open to the public,” but offered three reasons for keeping much of the affidavit sealed, including some that were never fully explored at the hearing last week in Federal District Court in West Palm Beach, Florida.
He said there was a “significant likelihood” that releasing the full affidavit could harm the safety of witnesses who helped the government’s investigation, leading to “witness intimidation or retaliation.”
“Given the public notoriety and controversy surrounding this search, it is likely that even witnesses not expressly listed in the affidavit will be quickly and widely identified through social media and other communication channels, which which could lead to them being harassed and intimidated.” wrote Judge Reinhart.
He also expressed concern about revealing the identity of the FBI agent who swore the affidavit, especially when there has been “increased threats against FBI personnel since the search.”
Days after the search at Mar-a-Lago, a gunman attacked the FBI field office in Cincinnati and died in a shootout with local police. Not long after, a Pennsylvania man was arrested after posting online messages threatening the FBI, including at least one that directly mentioned the attack outside Cincinnati.
Judge Reinhart further noted in his written order that releasing the full affidavit could also endanger Mr. Trump, given that the document “discusses physical aspects” of Mar-a-Lago, which is “protected by United States Secret Service.”
“Disclosure of these details,” Judge Reinhart wrote, “could affect the ability of the Secret Service to carry out its protective function.”
Overall, however, the judge wrote that he was still inclined to release parts of the affidavit, at least until he receives the government’s proposed redactions.
“In particular, given the intense public and historical interest in an unprecedented search of a former president’s residence,” Judge Reinhart wrote, “the government has yet to demonstrate that these administrative concerns are sufficient to justify the sealed”.
In their motion for a special master, Mr. Trump confirmed that prosecutors took several steps before searching Mar-a-Lago to retrieve the documents. Seeking to paint the former president as fully cooperative with the Justice Department, they noted, for example, that Mr. Trump returned 15 boxes of documents to the National Archives this winter and “voluntarily accepted service” of a subpoena from the sworn in May demanding the return of documents “bearing classification marks”.
The lawyers also noted that the Justice Department had told them that a team called a filter of federal agents was already working to separate potentially privileged items from the seized materials. In fact, one of the spokespersons of Mr. Trump recently released an email indicating that the filter team had discovered the passports of Mr. Trump among the papers that were taken from Mar-a-Lago and quickly returned them.
The lawyers complained, however, that a special master was still needed to oversee the team’s work, especially since its leader “is a deputy to the lead prosecutor in this matter.”
Beyond requesting the special master, the motion attacked the search, saying the warrant was “excessive” in that it amounted to a possible violation of the Fourth Amendment. But while the motion suggested there were “well-established grounds” for striking down the order, lawyers for Mr. Trump did not get to ask Judge Cannon to remove it.