This is a nice gesture towards transparency but it’s destined to please no one. That starts with Trump, who presumably understands why a “completely unredacted” affidavit can’t be published while an investigation is still going but won’t let that stop him from demanding it anyway.
It’s a cinch that the names of sources will be redacted, denying him and his cronies any targets to intimidate. And where’s the fun in that?
Trump and MAGA are destined, therefore, to complain that the redacted affidavit doesn’t reveal enough. On the other side, some lawyers will complain that releasing a search warrant affidavit before an indictment is issued is irregular and sets a terrible precedent. But you can understand why Judge Bruce Reinhart might be willing to take that step in this case, as it’s a matter of unusual public interest and he’s being threatened for supposedly having been biased in approving the warrant. He’s going to bend over backward, as much as he can, in the name of transparency.
I bet the number of death threats won’t even decline after today’s ruling.
“On my initial careful review … there are portions of it that can be unsealed,” Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said after a hearing where a top government lawyer contended the document’s release could jeopardize an investigation that is still in its “early stages.”…
The judge said he would “give the government a full and fair opportunity” to make redactions to the document, and ordered them to turn in the redacted version by next Thursday, along with a legal memo justifying the proposed redactions. He said he would then review the document and either order its release if he agrees with the redaction or hold a closed-door hearing with the government if he disagrees.
The judge added that if they can’t agree, “obviously I’d win” that argument, but he’d allow the government time to appeal his ruling.
Reinhart wants the DOJ to submit its suggested redactions by next Thursday at noon but didn’t set a deadline for when the redacted affidavit might be released. The lawyer for the DOJ gave him numerous reasons at today’s hearing why the entire document should remain sealed. Witnesses named in the document could be harmed and future witnesses might not cooperate; national security information referenced in the document could be revealed; the government’s next steps in the investigation would be telegraphed, giving Trump a “road map” on how to obstruct the probe.
The judge turned them down, saying that it’s “very important” in a case this politically sensitive for the public to have as much information as possible — although he did acknowledge that redactions can sometimes be so extensive as to turn a document into “meaningless gibberish.” It’s unclear if that was a warning to the feds to avoid doing that in this case or a note of resignation that most of the information in it will end up being bowdlerized. A few days ago, in its motion opposing the release of the affidavit, the DOJ warned the public to expect heavy, heavy editing if Reinhart ordered the affidavit unsealed. Via Politico’s Kyle Cheney:
In case the redacted affidavit doesn’t deliver something he can use to rile up his fans, Trump is considering releasing something in his possession that might do so. But opinions within TrumpWorld are divided about the wisdom of it:
Some allies of former President Donald Trump are urging him to publicly release surveillance footage of FBI agents executing a search warrant on his Mar-a-Lago residence, a proposal that has drawn mixed reaction inside his orbit, CNN has learned…
Some of Trump’s aides and allies have encouraged the former President to make some of the footage available to the public, believing it could send a jolt of energy through the Republican Party’s base. One person familiar with the conversations said there have been discussions about featuring the August footage in campaign-style ads, believing the footage could bolster Trump’s claims of political persecution…
A second Trump ally who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity has also encouraged the former President’s team to make the footage public, telling CNN it would “drive the base f—ing bananas” to see FBI agents “milling around Mar-a-Lago while President Trump was out of town.” (The former President was at Trump Tower in New York City when the search occurred last week.)
For a team that’s supposedly outraged at having FBI agents taking boxes out of Mar-a-Lago, they sound downright gleeful about the ways they might exploit the search politically in a Republican primary. Still, not everyone thinks releasing the footage is a good idea. For one thing, watching agents haul box after box out of the storage room would underscore the fact that there sure was a lot of material on Trump’s premises that apparently didn’t belong to him. For another, having the public watch the agents conduct the search would make it harder to argue that evidence was planted.
Although I wouldn’t worry much about that if I were him. If Rudy Giuliani and his fans could falsely inflate surveillance footage at an Atlanta voting precinct into a vast vote-rigging conspiracy that ruined several people’s lives, they won’t have trouble finding something ambiguous on the Mar-a-Lago video and spinning it into evidence of another grand conspiracy.
I’ll leave you with two items to read on the subject of motives. Why did Trump have the documents in the first place and why did the FBI take the step of executing a search warrant to get them back? This NYT piece reinforces my suspicion that Trump kept the material not because he was looking to sell it to nefarious foreign actors but because he sees no separation between his personal interests and the public office he held. He was the president; the president gets to see classified documents; so he took the documents with him. Simple as that. “From my own experiences with him, which is bolstered by those around him who are speaking in his defense, his actions seem to fit the pattern that as ‘king,’ he and the state are one and the same,” said one lawyer to the Times.
As for the FBI’s motives, read this suggestive but not definitive ABC story on Trump crony Kash Patel having announced in June that he intended to retrieve classified material related to the Russiagate probe from the National Archives and then publish it on his website. Trump had declassified those documents, Patel says, and so the public should be able to see them. Maybe the feds feared that he was about to pull a similar stunt with some of the sensitive material in the Mar-a-Lago storage room and concluded that they needed to get to it before Patel did. That’s just speculation, but it might explain their urgency to get the material back after letting this dispute over documents linger for months.