DOJ urges court not to release Trump raid affidavit, cites concerns about witnesses, investigation

The Department of Justice says the affidavit supporting the FBI's search of former U.S. president Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home contains "highly classified" material and "sensitive information" about witnesses.

Several news organizations asked court to unseal information leading to FBI search warrant for Mar-a-Lago

Donald Trump departs Trump Tower in New York on Aug. 10, two days after FBI agents searched his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Fla. The U.S. Department of Justice has opposed a push to unseal an affidavit that led to the search. (David 'Dee' Delgado/Reuters)

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday rebuffed efforts to make public the affidavit supporting the search warrant for former president Donald Trump's estate in Florida, saying the investigation "implicates highly classified material" and the document contains sensitive information about witnesses.

The government's opposition came in response to court filings by several news organizations, including The Associated Press, seeking to unseal the underlying affidavit the Justice Department submitted when it asked for the warrant to search Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this month.

Trump, in a Truth Social post early Tuesday, called for the release of the unredacted affidavit in the interest of transparency.

The court filing — from Juan Antonio Gonzalez, the U.S. attorney in Miami, and Jay Bratt, a top Justice Department national security official — argues that making the affidavit public would "cause significant and irreparable damage to this ongoing criminal investigation."

The document, the prosecutors say, details "highly sensitive information about witnesses," including people who have been interviewed by the government, and contains confidential grand jury information.

The government told a federal magistrate judge that prosecutors believe some additional records, including the cover sheet for the warrant and the government's request to seal the documents, should now be made public.

WATCH | FBI search warrant reveals new details of investigation into Trump:

Trump under investigation for Espionage Act violations, FBI search warrant reveals

1 month ago
Duration 4:24
A U.S. federal judge unsealed the search warrant used on former U.S. president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. The Justice Department revealed a brief list of what FBI agents seized, which included 20 boxes of papers that could violate U.S. espionage laws.

A property receipt unsealed Friday showed the FBI seized 11 sets of classified documents, with some not only marked top secret but also "sensitive compartmented information," a special category meant to protect the nation's most important secrets that if revealed publicly could cause "exceptionally grave" damage to U.S. interests.

The court records did not provide specific details about information the documents might contain.

The Justice Department acknowledged Monday that its ongoing criminal investigation "implicates highly classified material."

The search warrant, also unsealed Friday, said federal agents were investigating potential violations of three different federal laws, including one that governs gathering, transmitting or losing defence information under the Espionage Act.

The other statutes address the concealment, mutilation or removal of records and the destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.

Scope of investigation unclear

The Mar-a-Lago search warrant, carried out last Monday, was part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Trump's home earlier this year. The National Archives had asked the department to investigate after saying 15 boxes of records it retrieved from the estate included classified records.

A view of a property receipt for the items that were seized during the FBI's execution of a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8. (Jon Elswick/The Associated Press)

It remains unclear whether the Justice Department moved forward with the warrant simply as a means to retrieve the records or as part of a wider criminal investigation or an attempt to prosecute the former president. Multiple federal laws govern the handling of classified information, with both criminal and civil penalties, as well as presidential records.

But the Justice Department, in its filing Monday, argued that its investigation is active and ongoing and that releasing additional information could not only compromise the probe but also subject witnesses to threats or deter others from coming forward to co-operate with prosecutors.

"If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government's ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course, in a manner that is highly likely to compromise future investigative steps," the government wrote in the court filing.

The threat of violence has swirled since the FBI operation at Trump's estate one week ago.

On Monday, a Pennsylvania man was charged after allegedly making threats against FBI personnel. That followed an incident on Aug. 11 in which a suspect identified as Ricky Shiffer, an apparent Trump supporter per his social media posts, tried to breach an FBI office in Cincinnati. Shiffer, from Ohio, later got into a gun battle that ended with police killing him, authorities said.

As well, armed protesters gathered outside an FBI office in Phoenix, Ariz., on Saturday to express their displeasure at the Trump property search.

Both Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray have condemned the threats against FBI personnel.