The US Justice Department is expected to make public on Friday a redacted version of the affidavit that led to the August 8 FBI search of former president Donald Trump's Florida home, a move that could shed more light on the evidence that led to the unprecedented search.
US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday ordered the redacted document to be released by noon (1600 GMT) on Friday, a ruling that came just hours after a Justice Department spokesman confirmed that prosecutors had submitted a sealed copy of the affidavit with proposed redactions for the judge's review.
Reinhart, who approved the warrant that preceded the FBI search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, ordered a partial release of the affidavit despite objections from prosecutors who wanted to keep the entire thing sealed to protect the integrity of their ongoing investigation.
The affidavit, a document that is not usually made public unless someone is charged with a crime, is a sworn statement outlining the evidence that gave the department probable cause to seek a search warrant.
Just how much the redacted affidavit will reveal remains to be seen.
In his order on Thursday, Reinhart said the Justice Department had valid reasons to keep some of the document secret, including the need to protect the identities of witnesses and federal agents as well as the government's investigation and strategy and grand jury material.
"The government has met its burden of showing that its proposed redactions are narrowly tailored to serve the government's legitimate interest in the integrity of the ongoing investigation and are the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire affidavit," Reinhart wrote.
The FBI in its court-approved search at Mar-a-Lago carried away more than 20 boxes containing 11 sets of classified government records, some of which were labeled "top secret."
"The government has met its burden of showing that its proposed redactions are narrowly tailored to serve the government's legitimate interest in the integrity of the ongoing investigation and are the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire affidavit."Bruce Reinhart
The search was part of a federal investigation into whether Trump illegally removed and kept documents from the White House when he left office in January 2021 and whether he tried to obstruct the government's investigation.
The documents the FBI seized were in addition to 700 pages worth of classified records the US National Archives recovered from Mar-a-Lago in January, some of which entailed Special Access Program materials, a reference to security protocols reserved for the country's most closely-held secrets.
After Trump accused the FBI of political retribution against him, Attorney General Merrick Garland made the unusual decision to confirm the existence of the department's investigation and asked a court to unseal large portions of the search warrant and property receipt listing the seized items.
The department declined to release the affidavit, prompting media companies to file a legal challenge to get it unsealed.
Trump on social media called for the document to be unsealed, though his lawyers had not weighed in on the matter.
He has filed a separate civil case asking another judge to halt the FBI's review of the seized records pending the appointment of a special master to independently review them for materials that could be protected under executive privilege, a legal principle that lets a president shield some information.
US District Judge Aileen Cannon has asked Trump's legal team to file a more targeted request by Friday that better explains what relief the former president is seeking and why his request should not be sent instead to Reinhart.