In theory, the media has scored a victory against the Justice Department. In practice, it is not so clear. Several newspapers and television networks asked the Florida judge handling the case to publish the statement or affidavit that justified the search of Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s mansion, considering it to be in the public interest. The prosecution objected on the grounds that it would harm the investigation. The judge has decided that it be published, but that the most confidential parts be hidden, in a somewhat Solomonic resolution. We will have to wait at least a week to see how many strikeouts the document ends up having and what information it provides.
Anticipating this possibility, the Department of Justice, under the attorney general, had already said that if the confidential parts were redacted, the document would be incomprehensible and meaningless, so it was also against it. “The omissions necessary to mitigate damage to the integrity of the investigation would be so extensive as to render the remaining text without meaningful content,” he said this week in a brief filed in court. Even so, he asked the judge that, in case he allowed the partial publication of the report, let him suggest which fragments to protect.
Now the Department of Justice has the task of proposing, before noon next Thursday, which parts are hidden. There is a double risk. On the one hand, publishing aspects that compromise the investigation and the cooperation of witnesses. On the other, that effectively what is made public in the end is so irrelevant that it gives the impression that there was no justification for the registry. Once the judge has the proposal, he will make his decision, but he has already advanced that he is inclined towards the partial publication of the document. There could be a legal tussle if he believes the Justice Department has censored too much.
Donald Trump has indeed requested that the affidavit be published, in a coincidence with the media that is not very frequent. The more information you have about the investigation to prepare his defense, the better for him. And his calculation is that the “top secret” matters that could make the public think that the action was justified are not going to be revealed. He has little to lose.
On his social network, Trump tweeted this week: “There is no way to justify the unannounced raid on Mar-a-Lago, the home of the 45th President of the United States (…) by a large number of armed FBI agents. , and the Department of ‘Justice’, but in the interest of TRANSPARENCY, I call for the immediate release of the full affidavit with no hidden parts regarding this horrific and shocking break-in. Also, the judge in this case should abstain.”
Both the Prosecutor’s Office and Trump agreed to publish the search warrant with its annexes and the inventory of assets seized by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This allowed us to know that Trump is being investigated for at least three possible crimes punishable by fines and/or long prison sentences and also that numerous documents classified as “top secret” were found in the registry. In a new compliment, Trump alleged on Friday that he had declassified those documents, although there is no documentary trace of it.
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What was not published was the statement or affidavit in which the Prosecutor’s Office argues that there was sufficient evidence of a crime to proceed to search the house of a former president, something unprecedented in the history of the United States. “The Government has a compelling and overriding interest in preserving the integrity of an ongoing criminal investigation,” he argued before the judge. These attestations are not usually published.
The report “contains, among other critically important and detailed investigative facts: highly sensitive information about witnesses, including witnesses interviewed by the government, specific investigative techniques, and information that is required by law to be kept secret,” it alleged. “Release of the Government affidavit at this stage could also chill future cooperation from witnesses whose assistance may be requested as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high-profile investigations,” he added.
The judge, Bruce E. Reinhart, however, is inclined to publish everything that is not confidential. Whether or not what remains is of public interest, relevant and significant is not up to him to say, he explained at the hearing held this Thursday in the South Florida court of which he is the owner.
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