Justice Department asks not to disclose affidavit behind Mar-a-Lago search




  • In US
  • 2022-08-15 23:45:09Z
  • By The Guardian
Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images  

The US justice department asked a judge Monday to keep sealed the affidavit that gave the FBI probable cause to search Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort over his potentially unlawful retention of government secrets, aggravating distrust within the former president's circle of political advisors.

The affidavit should not be unsealed because doing so could reveal the scope of the criminal investigation, justice department prosecutors argued in a court filing, days after the Mar-a-Lago search warrant showed it referenced potential violations of three criminal statutes.

FBI agents a week ago seized around a dozen boxes of materials - including documents marked Top Secret - executing a search warrant which referenced the Espionage Act outlawing the unauthorized retention of national security information that could harm the United States or aid an adversary.

"The affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government's ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course," the Justice Department said, adding that it did not oppose unsealing both a cover page and a sealing order that wouldn't harm the criminal probe.

In arguing against unsealing the affidavit, the Justice Department also said that the disclosure could harm its ability to gain cooperation from witnesses not only in the Mar-a-Lago probe but also additional investigations that would appear to touch on the former president.

"Disclosure of the government's affidavit at this stage would also likely chill future cooperation by witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high-profile investigations," prosecutors added.

The existence of potential witnesses who could yet cooperate in a number of investigations against Trump - seemingly people with intimate knowledge of the former president's activities - rattled close advisors once more Monday, further deepening distrust inside his inner political circle.

The lack of insight into what the Justice Department intends to do with the investigation into Trump's unauthorized retention of government documents - including two passports - has deeply frustrated the Trump legal team and aides alike in a week of perilous moments for the former president.

At least one lawyer on the Trump legal team - led by former assistant US attorney Evan Corcoran, who also acted as the lawyer for Trump's top former strategist Steve Bannon - has called up a reporter covering the story for any insight into how the Justice Department might next proceed.

It added to the already fraught atmosphere inside the reduced group of advisors who have day-to-day roles around Trump that erupted shortly after the FBI departed Mar-a-Lago and sparked suspicions that a person close to the former president had become an informant for the FBI.

That speculation came in part amid widening knowledge about how the FBI might have established probable cause that there was a crime being committed at Mar-a-Lago using new or recent information - to prevent the probable cause from going "stale" - through a confidential informant.

According to multiple sources close to Trump, suspicions initially centered on Nicholas Luna, the longtime Trump body-man who stepped back from his duties around March, and Molly Michael, the former Trump White House Oval Office operations chief, who remains on payroll but is due to soon depart.

Luna was subpoenaed by the congressional investigation into the January 6 Capitol attack but has not spoken to the FBI about this case, one of the sources said. And although Michael is slated to also leave Trump's orbit, the source said, her departure - like Luna's - is not acrimonious.

The focus in the middle of the week shifted to Mar-a-Lago employees and other staff at the members-only resort in Palm Beach, Florida, the sources said, seemingly in part because the FBI knew exactly which rooms and where in the rooms they needed to search.

But towards the weekend, and following the revelation that the FBI removed a leather-bound box from the property and already knew the location of Trump's safe, scrutiny shifted once more to anyone else who had not yet been suspected - including members of Trump's family, the sources said.

A spokesperson for the former president did not respond to a request for comment. Calls to Trump lawyers went unanswered or straight to voicemail. The Justice Department declined to comment on the investigation or Monday's request.

Nonetheless, the escalating distrust and rampant speculation about an informant has started to reach dizzying levels, even by the standards of the Trump presidency, which was characterized in many ways by competing interests and political backstabbing, the sources said.

It remains unclear whether the FBI relied on confidential informants, and the Guardian first reported that the search came in part because the Justice Department grew concerned that classified materials remained at Mar-a-Lago as a result of interactions with Trump's lawyers.

At least one Trump lawyer signed a document - apparently falsely - attesting to the Justice Department that there were no more classified materials left at Mar-a-Lago after federal officials in June removed 10 boxes worth of government records, the sources said, confirming a New York Times report.

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