Washington — Federal investigators are now looking closely at video evidence they’ve obtained, which shows people at Mar-a-Lago with access to storage areas where former President Donald Trump’s papers from his residence were being held — including some classified documents, according to a U.S. official.
The video showing this potential access to a site with highly sensitive material remains a significant cause for concern inside the Justice Department.
A source close to Trump’s lawyers said they are aware of such video but cautioned against reading into it. Officials continue to catalogue his documents with a filter team to see if anything should be returned to Trump.
At this point, the question of whether there will be a public release of the evidence that prompted the FBI’s search at Trump’s Florida residence remains undecided. The judge who authorized the warrant reiterated Monday that Justice Department prosecutors must bring him a proposed redacted version of the evidence by Thursday.
Judge Bruce Reinhart wrote Monday that while he “rejects” the government’s stance that the current record supports keeping the entire Mar-a-Lago affidavit secret, he is open to changing his mind and wants to review the proposed redactions before making a final ruling.
“I cannot say at this point that partial redactions will be so extensive that they will result in a meaningless disclosure,” Reinhart wrote, addressing the Justice Department’s argument that they would so heavily redact the record that it would become worthless to the public. “I may ultimately reach that conclusion after hearing further from the Government.”
At issue is whether the media, and by extension the public, have such a vital interest in viewing the affidavit – which normally contains specific information about evidence — that the judge should take the unusual step of releasing it.
Multiple news organizations, including CBS News, have petitioned the court to unseal the affidavit, but the Justice Department countered that there is a need to “protect the integrity of an ongoing law enforcement investigation that implicates national security.”
Investigative methods and the identities of FBI agents and witnesses are at stake, prosecutors argued, and releasing the record to the public might “chill” cooperation from other potential witnesses.
“There is a significant likelihood that unsealing the Affidavit would harm legitimate privacy interests by directly disclosing the identity of [its author] as well as providing evidence that could be used to identify witnesses,” Reinhart conceded Monday.
Like the media organizations, Trump has called for the public disclosure of the unredacted affidavit, though his lawyers have not been entered as interested parties in any of the court proceedings, which Reinhart also noted in his Monday order.
Prosecutors and lawyers for the various media organizations sparred in Reinhart’s Florida courtroom last week over the affidavit’s release.
Despite opposition from the Justice Department, Reinhard said he was “not prepared to find the affidavit should be fully sealed.”
“There are portions of it that could, at least, presumptively be unsealed,” he added during the hearing.
But Monday’s ruling indicated he may, in fact, ultimately side with prosecutors in part because the affidavit references the physical layout of Trump’s residence, “which is a location protected by the U.S. Secret Service” that should likely remain out of the public eye.
The Justice Department — which had no comment on the judge’s order — is examining Trump’s handling of presidential records after the National Archives and Records Administration said in January it had retrieved 15 boxes of presidential records, some of which contained classified national security material, from Mar-a-Lago, and asked the investigators to look into the matter.
The Justice Department, with the approval of Attorney General Merrick Garland, sought the search warrant that resulted in the Aug. 6 law enforcement action at Trump’s resort. Reinhart, who has seen the affidavit and examined any evidence from investigators, authorized the search warrant on Aug. 5.
On Monday, Reinhart again explained that he “carefully reviewed the Affidavit before signing the Warrant” and was “satisfied” that the facts are “reliable.”
Trump has claimed that he declassified the documents at issue before he left office, and he denies any wrongdoing.
His legal team is considering filing a court motion calling for the appointment of a “special master” to review and return evidence collected during last week’s FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago estate, one of his attorneys said Friday.