Why is the DOJ blocking the release of the Trump raid affidavit?

The Department of Justice has told the federal magistrate judge who approved last week’s search of former president Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, home and office that it opposes unsealing a copy of the sworn statement prosecutors used to apply for a search warrant because it would jeopardise multiple ongoing investigations and could damage national security.

Last week, multiple news organisations asked Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhardt to unseal all materials relating to the warrant, which authorised FBI agents to search Mr Trump’s home and office at his Mar-a-Lago social club for “any physical documents with classification markings”, “information, including communications in any form, regarding the retrieval, storage, or transmission of national [defence] information or classified material”, any government records created during Mr Trump’s administration and any evidence of “knowing alteration, destruction, or concealment” of such records.

Although the Justice Department had previously asked the judge to unseal the warrant itself, citing Mr Trump’s public comments revealing the search of his property, prosecutors with the department’s national security division said in a Monday court filing that they would not support making public the underlying affidavit on which Mr Reinhardt based his decision to allow the search, citing “a very different set of considerations” compared to the matter of whether to unseal the actual warrant.

“There remain compelling reasons, including to protect the integrity of an ongoing law enforcement investigation that implicates national security, that support keeping the affidavit sealed,” prosecutors said. They added that the government would not oppose unsealing the cover sheet submitted with the search warrant application, the motion to seal filed with the court at the time the government asked for a warrant to search Mr Trump’s property, and the order which sealed the warrant and supporting documents to begin with because releasing those documents would not jeopardise what they characterised as a “national security investigation”.

While prosecutors acknowledged the public interest in obtaining the sealed affidavit, they said the government has a “compelling, overriding interest in preserving the integrity of an ongoing criminal investigation”.

They added that unsealing the affidavit would “cause significant and irreparable damage to this ongoing criminal investigation” by disclosing “critically important and detailed investigative facts” such as “highly sensitive information about witnesses, including witnesses interviewed by the government” and “specific investigative techniques”.

Prosecutors also said unsealing the search warrant would disclose material the government is required by law to keep secret because it concerns grand jury testimony.

“If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government’s ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course, in a manner that is highly likely to compromise future investigative steps”.

Prosecutors also noted that disclosure of information regarding the identities of witnesses could harm the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts by making other witnesses less willing to cooperate for fear of receiving the types of death threats that Mr Trump’s supporters routinely unleash upon anyone deemed to have displeased or crossed the ex-president in any way.

“Disclosure of the government’s affidavit at this stage would also likely chill future cooperation by witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high-profile investigations,” they said, adding later that the “highly classified materials” the investigation pertains to also adds to the need to keep the affidavit secret.


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