By Brian Ellsworth and Sarah N. Lynch
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - Sealed records containing evidence the U.S. Justice Department presented to secure court approval to search Donald Trump's Florida home will be at the heart of a hearing on Thursday, when news organizations will try to persuade a federal judge that the public deserves to see the details.
The Justice Department has opposed the release of the affidavit containing the evidence, which gave investigators probable cause to believe crimes were committed at Trump's Palm Beach home.
The search at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort was part of a federal investigation into whether Trump illegally removed documents when he left office in January 2021 after losing the presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden.
The Justice Department is investigating violations of three laws, including a provision in the Espionage Act that prohibits the possession of national defense information and another statute that makes it a crime to knowingly destroy, conceal or falsify records with the intent to obstruct an investigation.
Attorneys for several media outlets including The New York Times, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, ABC News and NBC News will ask U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday to unseal the affidavit and other related materials filed with the court, saying the public's right to know and the historic significance of the search outweigh any arguments to keep the records sealed.
Trump in statements on social media has called on the court to unseal the unredacted version of the affidavit "in the interest of transparency." But none of his attorneys have filed any motions asking the West Palm Beach federal court to do so.
Trump says the search was politically motivated. He has also said, without providing evidence, that he had a standing order to declassify the documents in question.
However, none of the three laws cited by the Justice Department in the search warrant require a showing that the documents were in fact classified.
Trump's political rhetoric about the search has coincided with a rise in threats directed at FBI agents.
In Ohio last week, police shot an armed man dead after he tried to breach an FBI building. A second man in Pennsylvania, meanwhile, has since been charged with making threats against FBI agents.
The Mar-a-Lago search marked a significant escalation in one of the many federal and state investigations Trump is facing from his time in office and in private business. The Republican former president has suggested he might run for the White House again in 2024, but has not made any commitment.
Last week, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland took the highly unusual step of publicly moving to unseal the search warrant, two attachments and a redacted version of the receipt showing the items the FBI seized during its search on Aug. 8.
The records showed that the FBI seized boxes containing 11 sets of classified materials, some of which were labeled "top secret" - the highest level of classification reserved for the most closely held U.S. national security information.
Such documents usually are typically kept in special government facilities because disclosure could cause grave damage to national security.
Earlier this week, the Justice Department said it is open to releasing some additional redacted materials from the warrant, such as cover sheets, the government's motion to seal and the court's sealing order.
The media outlets in the case have also asked for those records to be unsealed as well.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)