Court hears arguments to unseal records in FBI search of Trump’s home

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Aug 18 (Reuters) – Sealed records containing evidence the U.S. Justice Department submitted to seek court approval to search Donald Trump’s Florida home were at the center of a hearing on Thursday. Federal judge says public deserves to see details.

The Justice Department has objected to the release of an affidavit containing evidence that gave investigators probable cause to believe crimes were committed at Trump’s Palm Beach home.

Jay Pratt, head of the department’s counter-intelligence and export control division, appeared in court on Thursday to argue the government’s stand.

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The search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort was part of a federal investigation into whether Trump illegally disposed of documents when he left office in January 2021 after losing the presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden.

The Justice Department is investigating violations of three laws, including a provision in the Espionage Act that prohibits the possession of national security information and another that makes it a crime to knowingly destroy, conceal or falsify records with intent to obstruct an investigation.

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Attorneys for several media outlets, including The New York Times, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, ABC News and NBC News, asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday to release the affidavit and other related documents filed in court. The historical significance of the search outweighs any arguments for sealing the records.

“Affidavits of probable cause should be made public, and only those redactions necessary to protect the compelling interest expressed by the government,” lawyers for the media companies filed in court.

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Trump has called on the court to remove the unredacted version of the affidavit “in the interest of transparency” in statements on social media.

But none of his lawyers have asked the West Palm Beach federal court to do so. However, his lawyer, Christina Popp, was in the courtroom on Thursday to observe the case.

Trump says the search is politically motivated. He has also said that he has a standing order to release relevant documents without providing evidence.

However, none of the three statutes cited by the Justice Department in the search warrant required a showing that the documents were actually classified.

Threats against FBI agents have increased since the raid.

Last week in Ohio, police shot and killed an armed man who tried to break into an FBI building. Meanwhile, a second man in Pennsylvania has been charged with making threats against FBI agents.

Trump’s anti-FBI rhetoric has caught on with Republican voters, 54% of whom say federal law enforcement officials acted recklessly in the case, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found this week. read more

The Mar-a-Lago search marked a significant expansion in several federal and state investigations Trump faces in office and from private business. The former Republican president has suggested he might run for the White House again in 2024, but has not made any commitments.

Last week, US Attorney General Merrick Garland took the highly unusual step of making public a search warrant, two attachments and a redacted version of the receipt showing items the FBI seized during its search on August 8.

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Records show the FBI seized boxes containing 11 sets of classified material, some of which were labeled “top secret” — the highest level of classification reserved for the most closely held U.S. national security information. read more

Such documents are usually kept in special government facilities because disclosure could seriously damage national security.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department said it was open to releasing some additional redacted material from the warrant, such as cover sheets, the government’s motion to seal and the court’s sealing order.

The media involved in the case also requested that those records be sealed.

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Brian Ellsworth in West Palm Beach, Florida and Sarah N. in Washington. Reported by Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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