What to watch for from the hearing on releasing more warrant documents from the Mar-a-Lago search

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart holds a hearing at 1 p.m. ET on demands by various media and others that he unseal documents secretly filed by the DOJ in his court when the department sought approval for a warrant to search the Trump’s residence in Mar-a-Lac.

Some of the documents have already been unsealed, with the Justice Department seeking to unseal them last week and Trump not objecting to their release. But some news outlets — including CNN — are pushing for more sealed court documents related to the search to be made public. Of particular note is the affidavit that federal investigators should have filed with the court under seal explaining why they believed there was probable cause that a crime had been committed and why they believed evidence of the crime had existed in Mar-a-Lago in recent days.
The Justice Department opposes releasing the additional search warrant documents, telling the court in a filing this week that it would “cause significant and irreparable damage to this ongoing criminal investigation.”

Here’s what to watch for as news emerges from Thursday’s hearing, which is being held in person and will not be livestreamed:

How does the DOJ describe the risks that disclosure of the documents poses to its investigation?

The Justice Department said in its filing that its investigation would be “irreparably” compromised if the additional documents were unsealed.

“If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap for the government’s ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course, in a manner that is highly likely to jeopardize future stages of investigation,” the Justice Department filing said. He specifically pointed to the threat that the release of FBI witness information “would chill the future cooperation of witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high-profile investigations.” “.

The Department of Justice may seek to highlight these points in a way that gives a better idea of ​​the status of the investigation.

While it was known prior to the search that the Justice Department was investigating the handling of classified Trump White House documents, news of the search led to confirmation that the investigation has taken other important steps. , including FBI interviews with prominent ex-Trump officials.
Among those who have spoken to the FBI for the investigation are Trump’s White House attorney Pat Cipollone and his former deputy Patrick Philbin, as CNN and The New York Times reported on Tuesday. Other Trump aides known to have been interviewed by investigators include Molly Michael, then Trump’s executive aide; Beau Harrison, an operations coordinator for Trump who previously worked at the White House; former White House staff secretary Derek Lyons; and Walt Nauta, a former White House valet.

How does the DOJ describe the national security risks of unsealing documents?

As the Justice Department said in its filing, this investigation is not just any criminal investigation, but one that “involves national security.”

“The fact that this investigation involves highly classified documents further underscores the need to protect the integrity of the investigation and exacerbates the potential for harm if information is released to the public prematurely or inappropriately,” the Department of Justice said. Justice.

Thursday’s hearing may give some clues as to why the department sought to execute the search when it did.

CNN and The New York Times reported how a series of investigative steps and efforts to secure material marked as classified unfolded over several months before the search. The National Archives had first requested and recovered 15 boxes in January – with some materials labeled with a classification level – prompting the agency to request a criminal investigation. The Ministry of Justice then looked into the matter, with significant investigative measures taken, notably in June. Investigators visited the beach club, saw where the records were kept, asked the Trump team to secure them, and issued a subpoena to return them to federal custody. The Trump Organization also provided investigators with access to surveillance videos in response to another subpoena. This led investigators to spot something on video around a storage room that was relevant to them, the Times reported.

Is the Trump team seeking to make its point of view known to the judge?

The former president is not officially a party to the conflict. Instead, the Justice Department is clashing with media and other organizations demanding the release of the documents. When the DOJ offered to unseal the first set of warrant documents last week — specifically the search warrant itself and the search property receipt — the judge ordered the department to speak with Trump and d inform the court if the former president objected to the publication of these documents. . He didn’t and they were released on Friday.

The court has not since asked for more information on how Trump plans to release more warrant documents, but Trump’s views on the unsealing of the documents have been presented to the court in other ways. One of the groups that has asked the court to unseal the documents is Judicial Watch, a conservative group that regularly advocates for transparency in government activities and documents. The organization has repeatedly flagged in court Trump’s public statements supporting the release of the documents. Judicial Watch has asked the court to allow it to make brief submissions during Thursday’s hearing, and there is a deadline Thursday at 9 a.m. ET for other parties to file in court to respond to the court’s objection. DOJ to unseal the documents.

Trump on social media called for the “immediate release of the completely unredacted affidavit,” but it remains to be seen whether his team seeks to weigh in with the judge.

Will the judge give an indication of how he will rule?

In the dispute, Reinhart is asked to weigh the Justice Department’s reasons for keeping the documents secret against the public interest in transparency surrounding a highly newsworthy investigation. The Justice Department — in previously seeking to unseal the first set of warrant documents — has already admitted that there is a significant public interest that warrants some transparency around the FBI’s search. But the department drew the line on releasing the additional mandate documents.

The question is whether this is where Reinhart also draws the line.

He could say what he will do on the bench during Thursday’s hearing. Or he could keep his cards close to his chest and wait to rule with a written order later. However, Thursday’s hearing could not fully enter into the substance of the arguments of the two parties, and remain on certain procedural issues that the judge wishes to settle as a priority.

But it would be very surprising if the judge disagreed with the Department of Justice. While this is an unusual situation, secrecy surrounding an ongoing investigation is a norm in the justice system across the country. And the judge has already seen this search warrant affidavit and can already assess for himself the seriousness of the details it contains.

CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this story.

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