After the FBI’s unprecedented raid of his Mar-a-Lago estate, for days Donald Trump and his allies decried the search as an abuse of power.
Since then, Trump has tried to seize the mantle of transparency, calling for the release of the affidavit behind the search warrant — a document that would provide hugely more detail. This was a notable posture, since it was possible the affidavit could include plenty of damaging evidence against him — after all, it had been troubling enough to convince a magistrate judge to authorize the historic search.
But it seems Trump is more interested in looking like he wants the affidavit released — or more aptly, in making the Justice Department, which regularly opposes releasing documents in ongoing investigations, look like it’s hiding something.
As a hearing began Thursday on whether to release the document in response to requests by news organizations, including The Washington Post, Trump’s legal team still hadn’t taken a position in court.
Conservative activist group Judicial Watch, which also pushed for the release, noted in its filing that Trump publicly supported the release of the document. But when Trump lawyer Christina Bobb arrived at the court Thursday, she said she was just there to observe, with no plans to file or say anything about the matter at hand.
It’s unlikely we’ll see the affidavit in anything amounting to its full form. Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart said Thursday that he was open to unsealing portions of it and has asked the Justice Department to propose redactions within the next week.
The government has argued, as it would in any such case, that releasing extensive details would threaten an ongoing investigation and the people involved in it. Releasing it would be highly unusual.
But the subject of the affidavit coming forward and making a concerted push for its release could certainly matter — especially if this is truly something Trump wants public. Instead, we got silence, at least in the forum where it matters.
The lack of involvement by Trump’s lawyers in Thursday’s hearing was the culmination of days of rather awkward commentary on the matter, which reinforces what seems quite evident now: Trump prefers the perception of pushing for transparency to actual transparency. An unreleased affidavit, after all, serves his political purposes much better than a released one likely would.
The awkward dance began Monday night.
During an appearance on Fox News, Bobb previewed the present situation,, saying Trump’s team supported Judicial Watch’s actions, but stopping short of taking a legal position. And Fox News’s Laura Ingraham was actually somewhat taken aback by that posture:
INGRAHAM: But you’re not — I mean — I don’t know, given the president’s comments earlier, we would think that he would want it all out there so everyone can see it in the light of day. I’m still not following what would the concern be on your part for not having it released?BOBB: No. We are supporting it. We’re not -- I’m not aware of any effort to oppose it. We just are following the lead of the case that’s already going and watching to see what happens in response to it. But he absolutely --INGRAHAM: Fair. So he's not opposing its release, but he's not going to urge that it be released. Is that a correct characterization?BOBB: I think, I would say that’s a fair assessment at this point. Yes.
That night, Trump declared that he did in fact want it released. He said on his social media platform that “in the interest of TRANSPARENCY, I call for the immediate release of the completely Unredacted Affidavit.”
Bobb was a bit more explicit Tuesday, telling a radio host that this unusual circumstance called for the unusual disclosure by the Justice Department.
“Under the circumstances, I think it’s much more imperative to the nation that they’re transparent rather than hiding the ball on a horrible, horrible precedent that they’ve now created in this country for raiding the president’s personal residence,” Bobb said. “The burden on the country that we’re suffering because of their actions strongly outweighs any potential criminal investigation that they claim to be doing.”
Lara Trump, the wife of Trump’s son Eric and a Fox News contributor, took to the network Wednesday afternoon and assured, “We want it shown, too.”
Fox News contributor Lara Trump says her family would have “no concerns” if the affidavit used to justify the Mar-a-Lago search is unsealed.— The Recount (@therecount) August 17, 2022
A judge will hold a hearing Thursday to discuss requests to unseal the affidavit. The DoJ argues that would compromise its investigation. pic.twitter.com/UWvRa0ORmN
Against the backdrop of those comments, the Trump team simply sitting this legal battle out is pretty remarkable — and should probably register with all the conservatives who’ve been whipped up into a frenzy on this subject.
But seeing the document remain mostly sealed is probably a best-case scenario for Donald Trump. His supporters and many Republican lawmakers declared the investigation an abuse of power before having virtually any information about it; learning what prompted it would only force Trump and his allies to account for the actual evidence. What’s more, the Justice Department’s opposition to the release of the affidavit has been and will be construed as it trying to hide something.
What’s perhaps most remarkable is that it remains unlikely we would see the extensive detail from the affidavit regardless — even if Trump and his legal team actually pushed hard for it in court. Such a release would seem to require a full-throated legal argument from the subject of the investigation, who has declared he believes it is just that important.
Unless he doesn’t.
Given that the judge appears inclined to unseal some of the affidavit and continue the legal process over what information might become public, we might yet find out how truly interested Trump is in full transparency.
Update: Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich on Thursday afternoon assured Trump still supports releasing the full, unredacted affidavit, pitching the DOJ’s opposition to that as sinister. Still no word on whether Trump’s lawyers will argue for that in court.
However, no redactions should be necessary and the whole affidavit should be released, given the Democrats’ penchant for using redactions to hide government corruption, just like they did with the Russia hoax. 2/2— Taylor Budowich (@TayFromCA) August 18, 2022