Trump pushes for un-redacted affidavit’s release, despite the risks

Politics

Former President Donald Trump tosses caps to the audience as he arrives at a rally Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, in Waukesha, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

(The Hill) — Former President Trump is pushing for the full, unredacted release of the affidavit that led to the search warrant for his Mar-a-Lago estate, a move that carries risks for both Trump and the Justice Department.

“Pres. Trump has made his view clear that the American people should be permitted to see the unredacted affidavit related to the raid and break-in of his home,” Taylor Budowich, a spokesperson for the former president, said Thursday after Federal Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said he may be willing to unseal portions of the document.

Reinhart ordered Justice Department officials to suggest redactions to the document by next Thursday.

“Today, magistrate Judge Reinhard rejected the DOJ’s [Justice Department’s] cynical attempt to hide the whole affidavit from Americans,” Budowich continued. “However, no redactions should be necessary and the whole affidavit should be released, given the Democrats’ penchant for using redactions to hide government corruption, just like they did with the Russia hoax.”

Trump and his supporters have for years believed the FBI and Justice Department are biased against the former president, arguing that the bureau improperly surveilled his 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump separately posted on Truth Social, his social media platform, calling for the “immediate release” of the unredacted affidavit, citing the need for transparency. He also called for Reinhart to recuse himself from the case without giving a clear reason.

The rhetoric from Trump and his camp follows a similar playbook, experts say, in which the former president demands the release of potentially sensitive information.

If the government and judge decline to release the full, unredacted document, it allows Trump and his allies to claim federal law enforcement is hiding something, further fueling distrust among Trump supporters.

“It certainly is consistent with a project of delegitimizing law enforcement and law enforcement targeting him in particular,” said Dan Richman, a law professor at Columbia University. “Because he knows, as everybody knows, the government will regardless of the case be averse to the disclosure of search warrants as an institutional matter.”

The affidavit, which was used to convince Reinhart that there was enough evidence to support the probable cause needed to obtain a search warrant, contains information about the federal law enforcement investigation into Trump’s handling of material marked classified following his departure from the White House.

The Justice Department has argued that releasing the affidavit could jeopardize an ongoing investigation, as well as the sources of information in the case. Releasing identifying information about those sources could lead to threats. Reinhart, for example, has been subjected to threats since signing off on the warrant for the Mar-a-Lago search.

Beyond the risks for the Justice Department, there could be some risks for Trump should the full affidavit come out.

“There is a risk if it seems like he was sharing intel with unauthorized parties while out of office,” said one former Trump adviser, who noted that such details could ultimately be redacted by the government.

Experts also pointed out that the affidavit could reveal exchanges between the Justice Department and Trump’s team discussing the need to return sensitive materials, ultimately showing the government had made multiple good faith efforts to secure the documents in question before resorting to a search warrant.

The release of the affidavit could also carry political risks for Trump if it bolsters the case that Trump mishandled classified information.

Polling has already showed a significant percentage of voters believe Trump may have broken the law as president. 

A Politico-Morning Consult poll released days after the Mar-a-Lago search found roughly half of registered voters approved of the raid, though only 15 percent of Republicans approved. And 58 percent of voters said they believe Trump definitely or probably broke the law as president.

While calls to release the affidavit are likely to galvanize his hardcore supporters, it could ultimately create further concerns for the broader public. Trump will have to win over a broader base to win the White House if he runs for president in 2024.

Richman, the Columbia law professor, said he would not expect it to be the end of the matter if the judge opts to release the affidavit with limited or no redactions, saying the government would likely appeal such a decision.

“I would expect that central to the appeal would be the broader institutional question of whether this ought to be done,” Richman said. “It could set a really poor precedent for high profile searches in the future.”

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