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Justice Department opposes release of Mar-a-Lago affidavit

Media outlets have asked a judge to unseal the document, which probably includes key details about the FBI’s decision to search former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence

Attorney General Merrick Garland at the Justice Department on Aug. 11. (Susan Walsh/AP)

The Justice Department on Monday asked a judge to keep sealed the sworn affidavit underpinning last week’s extraordinary FBI search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence, a document thought to hold key details about the government’s investigation into the potential mishandling of classified materials.

Monday’s court filing was made in response to requests from multiple media outlets, including The Washington Post, seeking the affidavit’s public release. Law enforcement officials submit such documents to a judge as part of their application for a search warrant. Affidavits typically contain information addressing why authorities think there is evidence at a certain property and other details about an investigation, including sometimes the identities of witnesses.

The Justice Department argued that releasing the affidavit could hamper its investigation and potentially harm those involved.

“Even when the public is already aware of the general nature of the investigation, revealing the specific contents of a search warrant affidavit could alter the investigation’s trajectory, reveal ongoing and future investigative efforts, and undermine agents’ ability to collect evidence or obtain truthful testimony,” the 13-page filing states. “In addition to the implications for the investigation, the release of this type of investigative material could have ‘devastating consequences’ for the reputations and rights of individuals whose actions and statements are described.”

The judge has called a hearing for Thursday and then will have to decide whether the affidavit should remain sealed.

Agents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago seized 11 sets of classified documents, court filing shows

Trump and other Republicans have said that last week’s search was politically motivated. The former president has lashed out at law enforcement in response and suggested that the FBI planted evidence, although he has not offered information to support his claim.

Late Monday, Trump called for the release of the affidavit “in the interest of TRANSPARENCY.”

“I call for the immediate release of the completely Unredacted Affidavit pertaining to this horrible and shocking BREAK-IN,” he wrote on Truth Social, his social media platform.

Earlier Monday, Trump claimed that the agents who searched Mar-a-Lago “stole my three Passports.” The FBI said in response that it follows search and seizure orders from the courts, and “returns items that do not need to be retained for law enforcement purposes.”

On Friday, a judge agreed to unseal the court-approved search warrant and an inventory detailing the 11 sets of classified documents retrieved last week from Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and residence in Palm Beach. The documents also identify what federal laws officials suspect may have been violated.

A list of items seized in the FBI’s search of former president Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago home was unsealed on Aug. 12. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

The Trump search warrant focuses on classified information. What you need to know.

The former president said before the judge’s decision to unseal the warrant and inventory list that he favored releasing those documents.

Media outlets seeking its release have argued in court filings that documents related to the FBI’s search should be made public because of the “historic importance of these events.”

The Post noted in its filing that the Justice Department requested last week that parts of the search warrant filings be released because of the public’s “clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred in these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing.” That reasoning, the filing states, should justify unsealing the affidavit.

“Before the events of this week, not since the Nixon Administration had the federal government wielded its power to seize records from a former President in such a public fashion,” The Post argued in court documents. The newspaper is joined in its motion by CNN, NBC News and Scripps.

The Justice Department’s request arrives as federal law enforcement experiences a rise in threats from supporters of the former president.

In their request to the judge, officials cited a news article about an armed man who last week allegedly tried to breach the FBI’s Cincinnati field office before engaging in an hours-long standoff with law enforcement. The man, Ricky Shiffer, was killed by authorities later that day.

On Monday, the Justice Department filed a complaint against a Pennsylvania man, Adam Bies, whom officials accused of making online threats against FBI agents in the days after the Mar-a-Lago search. The charges were reported earlier by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“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,” reads a footnote in the Justice Department’s filing seeking to keep the affidavit sealed.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security on Friday issued a joint intelligence bulletin to employees warning of “violent threats” against federal law enforcement, courts, government personnel and facilities in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search, according to a copy of the document obtained by The Post.

The chatter observed on social media is said to include a threat to place a bomb outside FBI headquarters in Washington and general calls for “civil war” and “armed rebellion,” the bulletin states. The risk of further violence has prompted the bureau to erect barricades around its offices in downtown D.C.

Monday’s filing also cited officials’ concern about the potential dangers witnesses could face if their names were made public, saying that such an outcome could deter others from cooperating with the investigation.

The Post reported last week that among the materials FBI agents were seeking to retrieve from Mar-a-Lago were classified documents about nuclear weapons. People familiar with the investigation did not offer additional details, such as whether the documents being sought involved weapons belonging to the United States or another nation.

The revelations have alarmed House Democrats, who over the weekend asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to conduct a review and damage assessment.

In the Senate, Democratic and Republican lawmakers are seeking more information as well. On Monday, leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines requesting “that DOJ and ODNI provide the Committee with the classified documents that were seized in the search of Mar a Lago, and an assessment of potential risks to national security as a result of their mishandling,” a committee spokeswoman said. The development was first reported by Axios.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Josh Dawsey, John Wagner and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.