Unsealing Mar-a-Lago Search Warrant

https://pagepate.wistia.com/medias/ldff242j6f

Bruce:

A federal judge ordered the government to propose restrictions to the affidavit that was used to justify a search warrant executed by the FBI last week at Mar-a-Lago. Judge Bruce Reinhart said he was inclined to unseal parts of it. Reinhardt said it was very important that the public have as much information as it can about the historic search. Adding, whether those portions would be meaningful for the public or the media was not for him to decide. And he acknowledged that the redaction process can often be extensive and effectively turn documents into “meaningless gibberish.” Joining me live, via Zoom, is Page Pate, an expert on constitutional law, and recognized as one of the best legal minds in America. Good morning.

Page Pate:

Good morning, Bruce.

Bruce:

So the judge seems to be striking a middle ground here. That said, Justice Department officials did not respond to the ruling, but privately I’m hearing they’re shocked by the decision. Your take.

Page Pate:

Bruce, it is very unusual for a federal judge to unseal an affidavit in support of a search warrant before anyone has been charged and before the case gets to court. But we have such incredible amount of public interest and attention to this case, that the judge is taking the very unusual step in requiring the government to put up something. I mean, you executed this search warrant. There’s been a lot of attention. There’s some pushback on it. We need to tell the people why we executed the search warrant. So now, it’s back in the Justice Department’s hands. They’ve got to go through this affidavit, black out or redact the parts that they think could be damaging to their case, and then present it to the judge. And then the judge will make a decision, either I’m going to go ahead and release what the Justice Department is okay with, or I’m going to require more. And we’ll see.

Bruce:

So the property receipt that’s already been unsealed indicates there were four types of documents that have been unsealed. One set was classified as TS/SCI, and that acronym stands for top secret compartmented information. And the SCI acronym is what’s curious here, because it puts the documents in an entirely different classification. It means there’s highly restricted access. That I understand is what makes this a bigger deal.

Page Pate:

It certainly does from the government’s perspective, because they’re saying, “Look, this is not a regular criminal investigation, where we’re looking for drugs, or we’re looking for emails relating to fraud. We are looking for material that is sensitive to our national security. So if we’ve got to describe in our affidavit to the public why we think this is important, well, we may be releasing that same information to the public.” And so the Justice Department is very sensitive about this type of material, in particular.

Bruce:

And we may be talking about espionage, that’s to be determined. Let me go back to a point you made earlier. The DOJ has until noon next Thursday to send Judge Reinhart the proposed redactions under seal. Where does this land, because it’s hardly likely any critical issues will be made public.

Page Pate:

That’s right. The Justice Department will make their proposed redactions. It will go back to the magistrate judge. If the magistrate judge says, “Yeah, this is okay. I understand why you want to hold onto the other information, I will release this.” Or the judge could say, “It’s not enough. I want to see more from this affidavit to release to the public.” Either way though, the Justice Department can appeal the magistrate judge’s decision to the district court. So I don’t think it’s going to be over next week. I think this will still be in court for, at least, a week or so to come.

Bruce:

So we know cameras were rolling when the FBI executed the search warrant, because Donald Trump refused to turn them off. Surveillance footage of the FBI going through Mar-a-Lago. If there was anything stunning on it, do you think Trump would’ve released it by now? Or do you, as his former top aide, Stephanie Grisham, thinks it’s nothing more than FBI agents doing their job.

Page Pate:

Yeah, Bruce, I think if there was anything to see there, we would’ve seen it by now. I mean, normally when the FBI’s executing a federal search warrant, they’re going to be aggressive. They’re going to detain people. They’re going to go through everything. They will have firearms displayed. It’s going to be a scene. But I don’t think that happened here. I think the FBI went in a total different direction. They came later in the morning, they were dressed in plain clothes. While they were armed, they probably were not displaying any guns or anything like that. So I don’t think it was nearly as impactful as it would normally be, or you’re right, Trump would’ve already shown us that video.

Bruce:

And let me ask you about a Allen Weisselberg, who for decades was one of Donald Trump’s most trusted and loyal employees, CEO of the Trump family business. He pleaded guilty to 15 counts, ranging from grand larceny to tax fraud, to falsifying business records. And he said he will testify against Trump and the Trump organization. Damaging to Mr. Trump?

Page Pate:

Well, we’ll see. I mean, I understand the charges against Mr. Weisselberg relate directly to what he did as far as cheating on his taxes, taking income and benefits that he did not disclose on his income tax. Obviously that’s problematic. Obviously that’s a crime. But what information does he have about the organization and specifically, what information does he have that Donald Trump knew about these tax problems? We’ll see. He has not provided a proffer or a sample of what he’s going to say. That will have to come out in court during the trial involving the Trump organization.

Bruce:

Page Pate, always a pleasure. I appreciate your time.

Page Pate:

Thank you, Bruce.

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