The federal magistrate judge who approved the raid of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is now saying he may not unseal the search affidavit despite pressure from media organizations.
According to NBC News, magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, on Monday, noted that even with an "intense public and historical interest in an unprecedented search of a former president's residence," the number of redactions that would accompany such a release would render it meaningless.
Reinhart also said he is confident that the search warrant would reveal "probable cause that evidence of multiple federal crimes would be found" at Mar-a-Lago.
The judge's written order on Monday came after a hearing last week in which Reinhart gave the government until Thursday to submit redactions for a pending public release of the search warrant affidavit. But Reinhart wrote that he agreed with the government's position that releasing the affidavit would stifle cooperation from witnesses and could put investigators at risk.
"As the government aptly noted at the hearing, these concerns are not hypothetical in this case," Reinhart wrote, adding that "there have been increased threats against FBI personnel since the search.
"After the public release of an un-redacted copy of the [inventory of the search], FBI agents involved in this investigation were threatened and harassed. Given the public notoriety and controversy about this search, it is likely that even witnesses who are not expressly named in the affidavit would be quickly and broadly identified over social media and other communication channels, which could lead to them being harassed and intimidated."
The judge adds that the affidavit identifies "not just the facts known to the government, but the sources and methods … used to gather those facts. That information is not known to the public. For the reasons discussed above, the government has a compelling reason not to publicize that information at this time."
Reinhart says he still wants to see the government's proposed redactions before making a decision.
"I must still consider whether there is a less onerous alternative to sealing the entire document," the judge wrote. "I cannot say at this point that partial redactions will be so extensive that they will result in a meaningless disclosure, but I may ultimately reach that conclusion after hearing further from the government."
Reinhart foreshadowed his Monday order on Friday, where he considered making so many redactions as to turn the affidavit into "meaningless gibberish." He then questioned if that censoring of information was the media's problem.
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