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What the search warrant affidavit for Mar-a-Lago might reveal

President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort is seen on November 1, 2019 in Palm Beach, Florida.  (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort is seen on November 1, 2019 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The U.S. Justice Department has until next week to release an affidavit of the search warrant granting access to former President Donald Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago after a federal magistrate judge in Florida ruled the government must make a redacted copy of the document public.

Jill Wine-Banks, a prosecutor in the Watergate trial and co-host of the podcast “#SistersInLaw,” points out how unusual it is to release an affidavit before indictments are announced and an investigation is complete.

DOJ officials argued in court that releasing the affidavit would “cause significant and irreparable damage” to the investigation and “serve as a roadmap” of the government’s ongoing criminal investigation. Officials also say it could put FBI agents involved in the search at risk.

DOJ officials have said most of the document would be redacted. Wine-Banks says it’s up to the Florida judge to determine what redactions will be allowed. Normally, an affidavit for a search warrant involving national security would include names and sources of information.

Major news organizations, including The Associated Press, The New York Times, CBS, CNN, among others argued in court for the release of the affidavit. But Trump did not have a lawyer in court making his case.

“That’s very significant,” says Wine-Banks. “If [Trump] really wanted it released, he would have had his lawyer in there arguing for the release.”

Still, Trump has been publicly demanding relases of the affidavit. Wine-Banks says he’s trying to control the narrative and assert that the government is trying to hide something.

The government is doing its job by keeping classified information secret — what Trump failed to do by keeping highly classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, Wine-Banks says. She also questions the media for making the case to release the affidavit.

“I believe in freedom of the press from the bottom my soul,” she says. “And I too want to know what’s in it.”

But Wine-Banks says that releasing the affidavit comes with some risks, especially on the lives of anyone “who might want to cooperate but fears doing so because their name might be revealed, and they could be subject to political or physical violence.”


Shirley Jahad produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Jahad also adapted it for the web

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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