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A federal magistrate in Florida is scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday on whether to release the probable cause affidavit used to substantiate the FBI’s raid on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
The hearing follows several media outlets asking the court to release the affidavit to understand the reasoning behind a raid on the home of a former commander-in-chief.
Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who gave the initial search warrant the go-ahead on August 5, is expected to preside over the hearing, although it is unclear whether he will make a decision from the bench or take the case up. deliberate.
The hearing comes as political tensions have escalated since news of the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago first broke last week over Trump’s alleged failure to turn over presidential files and classified documents. at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
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Trump, for his part, says his staff was working with the National Archives to provide records required under the Presidential Archives Act of 1978.
“Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before,” Trump said in a statement last week. “After working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was neither necessary nor appropriate.”
Trump also claims that the documents seized have been declassified and are therefore not subject to special safeguard requirements. Given the denials, GOP lawmakers called on the Justice Department to release its affidavit outlining its rationale for a search warrant for the home of a former president.
“They can redact names and other sensitive information, but the DOJ has to put its cards on the table,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C. “Media speculation is rampant…Let America see the affidavit.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland and the DOJ reject requests to release the document. The Justice Department said releasing the affidavit would violate long-standing legal precedent, potentially jeopardize the government’s investigation and expose any confidential sources.
“If released, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap for the government’s ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course in a way that is highly likely to jeopardize future stages of investigation. investigation,” the DOJ said in a court filing earlier this week. object to the publication of the affidavit.
Usually, an affidavit listing probable cause for a search warrant is not unsealed until after a charge or arrest has been made. This precedent has however been broken in the past, particularly in extraordinary circumstances.
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Legal experts say a raid on the home of a former president is cause enough.
“In these cases, the court weighs the public interest against the need to maintain secrecy,” said Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University School of Law. “This is a historic raid that has caused widespread public unrest. Millions of Americans question the Justice Department’s motivation.”
Much of the debate revolves around what is included in the affidavit and whether it can be made public without undermining any ongoing investigation.
“The Probable Cause Affidavit is usually based on more than one interview or single piece of information. It is usually a series of steps that explain why you believe a crime was committed and where the evidence is,” Ken said. Gray, a former FBI agent and professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven.
“A lot depends on the details contained in the document. Even an editorial staff can end up revealing the sources, especially if only certain people are known to have this information.
In filing to object to unsealing the affidavit, the Justice Department argued that the law could harm the government’s ability to induce sources to come forward.
“Disclosure of the government affidavit at this stage would also likely impede future cooperation of witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high-profile investigations,” wrote the DOJ.
Experts say there’s a larger issue at stake, primarily the Justice Department’s credibility in investigating one of President Biden’s key political rivals and likely 2024 adversary. only growing amid leaks surrounding the raid that revealed insight into the conduct of the DOJ.
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Given that reality, legal experts say the Justice Department should make at least some effort to be transparent about its Mar-a-Lago raid case.
“The Department of Justice continues to operate as if everyone is asking for full disclosure,” Turley said. “They can redact portions of the affidavit. They can allow the court to review the redacting and judge the sensitivity of the provisions. But they basically oppose it to the detriment of the American public.”