Sealed FBI evidence leading to search of Trump's home is focus of court hearing

By Brian Ellsworth and Sarah N. Lynch

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Sealed records containing evidence tell the US Justice Department that the public deserves to see the details.

The Justice Department has objected to the release of the affidavit containing the evidence, which gave investigators probable cause to believe crimes were committed at Trump’s Palm Beach home.

The search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort was part of a federal investigation into whether Trump illegally expunged documents when he left office in January 2021 after losing the presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden.

The Justice Department is investigating violations of three laws, including a provision in the Espionage Act that prohibits the possession of national defense information and another law that makes it a crime to knowingly destroy, conceal, or falsify records with the intent to obstruct an investigation. .

Attorneys for several media outlets, including The New York Times, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, ABC News and NBC News, will ask federal Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday to unseal the affidavit and other related materials filed in court, saying the public has a right to know and the historical significance of the search outweigh any argument for keeping the records sealed.

Trump, in statements on social media, has asked the court to reveal the unredacted version of the affidavit “for the sake of transparency.” But none of his attorneys have filed motions asking the federal court in West Palm Beach to do so.

Trump says the search was politically motivated. He has also said, without providing evidence, that he had a standing order to declassify the documents in question.

However, none of the three laws cited by the Justice Department in the search warrant require showing that the documents were in fact classified.

Trump’s political rhetoric about the search has coincided with an increase in threats directed at FBI agents.

In Ohio last week, police shot and killed a gunman who was trying to break into an FBI building. Meanwhile, a second man in Pennsylvania has been charged with threatening FBI agents.

The search for Mar-a-Lago marked a significant escalation in one of the many federal and state investigations Trump has faced since his time in office and in private dealings. The former Republican president has suggested he could run for the White House again in 2024, but has not committed.

Last week, US Attorney General Merrick Garland took the highly unusual step of publicly disclosing the search warrant, two attachments, and a redacted version of the receipt showing the items the FBI seized during their raid on August 8.

Records showed the FBI seized boxes containing 11 sets of classified materials, some of which were labeled “top secret,” the highest level of classification reserved for the most sensitive US national security information.

Such documents are usually kept in special government facilities because their disclosure could cause serious damage to national security.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department said it is willing to release some additional redacted materials from the order, such as the cover pages, the government’s motion to seal and the court’s sealing order.

Media outlets in the case have also called for those records to be opened as well.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

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