WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on Monday opposed releasing an affidavit in support of the warrant to search former President Donald Trump's home, saying its release could hurt the investigation and future probes.
News organizations had filed a motion to make public the affidavit, which would shed new light on the department's investigation into Trump's alleged removal of classified documents from the White House at the end of his term.
The department said in a court filing the affidavit contains "highly sensitive information about witnesses, including witnesses interviewed by the government; specific investigative techniques; and information required by law to be kept under seal."
Releasing it is "highly likely to compromise future investigative steps" and could "chill future cooperation by witnesses" in this investigation and others in the future, the department argued.
The filing came after a federal judge on Friday unsealed the search warrant at the department's request. The warrant was used in a search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on Aug. 8, when the FBI seized 11 sets of documents.
Since then, the FBI has bolstered security at its offices across the country in wake of increasing threats to federal law enforcement officers, according to two sources familiar with the activity.
Three Trump passports being returned
Federal authorities notified Donald Trump's attorneys Monday that three passports belonging to the former president that had been recovered in last week's search at Trump's Florida estate were being returned, a law enforcement official said Monday.
The notification was made in a Monday morning email, later made public by Trump's representatives.
The email, sent by Jay Bratt, a top official in Justice's National Security Division, said that "filter" agents identified the travel documents–two of them expired along with an active diplomatic passport.
"We are returning them, and they will be ready for pickup at (the Washington Field Office) at 2 pm today," Bratt wrote.
Earlier Monday, Trump claimed that the passports had been stolen, referring to it as as "assault on a political opponent..."
-- Kevin Johnson
Pennsylvania man arrested after allegedly making death threats against FBI
A Pennsylvania man accused of making threats against the FBI, including a social media post threatening to kill agents, was arrested Friday.
Adam Bies, 46, of Mercer faces up to 10 years in prison over federal charges of influencing, impeding or retaliating against federal law enforcement officers. Bies allegedly posted death threats on Gab under the username “BlankFocus.”
“My only goal is to kill more of them before I drop,” Bies said in one post, according to the Justice Department. In another, he allegedly said “If you work for the FBI then you deserve to die.”
Bies allegedly wrote “We the people cannot wait to water the trees of liberty with your blood. I’ll be waiting for you to kick down my door.”
Justice Department officials have warned of a crush of new threats against federal law enforcement officials after the FBI conducted a search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate last week.
-- Rick Rouan
'Kill FBI on sight': Truth Social reveals the final days of the Cincinnati attacker
Short of affidavit, some additional Trump search documents could be made public
While the Justice Department urged that the affidavit supporting the search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate remain under seal, government lawyers do not oppose releasing some other documents related to last week’s unprecedented law enforcement action.
Justice does not oppose the release of the government’s request to seal the search-related documents and the judge’s order to keep the material under wraps.
-- Kevin Johnson
Text with USA TODAY politics reporters: Elections news right on your phone, from our top reporters
National Security Archive president raised red flags in 2020
Tom Blanton, president of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, raised red flags about the pack-up of presidential material immediately after the election on Nov. 13, 2020 in a letter to White House Attorney Pat Cipollone.
He pointed to Trump’s norm-breaking administration, which eschewed records of meetings with foreign leaders, reprimanded its own attorneys for taking notes during meetings and told the Secret Service to not keep logs of visitors to Mar-a-Lago or other Trump properties.
“This ongoing pattern of behavior raises a red flag that the records of the Trump presidency will not be properly preserved for the public, their rightful owner. With the Trump administration drawing to the close, it is critical that the American public receive adequate assurances that all the presidential records of this administration will be preserved and transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration by Jan. 20, 2021 as the law requires.”
-- Nick Penzenstadler
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Justice Dept opposes release of search warrant affidavit; would ‘irreparably harm’ criminal investigation
The Justice Department is opposing release of the affidavit supporting the search warrant issued for former President Donald Trump's Florida estate where FBI agents seized a trove of classified documents last week.
In court documents filed Monday, Justice lawyers countered a consortium of media companies seeking the document's release, saying that the unsealing of the document would "irreparably harm the government's ongoing criminal investigation."
"There remain compelling reasons, including to protect the integrity of an ongoing law enforcement investigation that implicates national security, that support keeping the affidavit sealed," Justice attorneys argued.
– Kevin Johnson
What's in the search warrant? The search warrant for Trump's Mar-a-Lago home has been released. Here's what it says.
Justice filing: Affidavit contains 'critically important and detailed investigative facts'
The affidavit, according to a Justice filing contains "critically important and detailed investigative facts: highly sensitive information about witnesses, including witnesses interviewed by the government; specific investigative techniques; and information required by law to be kept under seal."
"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," Justice attorneys asserted.
Detailed information about witnesses, the government argued, "would impact their willingness to cooperate with the investigation"
"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," the filing states. "The fact that this investigation implicates highly classified materials further underscores the need to protect the integrity of the investigation and exacerbates the potential for harm if information is disclosed to the public prematurely or improperly."
– Kevin Johnson
Trump calls DOJ probe a 'hoax': Experts, citing the Espionage Act, have a grimmer assessment
House GOP tells DOJ to preserve documents about search
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee wrote Monday to Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and White House chief of staff Ron Klain, telling them to preserve documents related to the search of Donald Trump's estate.
The letters asked to preserve all documents relating to the execution of the search, all documents about communications related to the decision to conduct the search and all documents and communications referring to confidential human sources relating to the search. Garland has said he personally authorized the search.
Republicans are limited in how much they can investigate under Democratic House leadership. But Republicans are preparing multiple investigations of the Biden administration and Democrats, in anticipation of regaining control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections.
"The FBI’s unprecedented raid of President Trump’s residence is a shocking escalation of the Biden Administration’s weaponization of law-enforcement resources against its political opponents," wrote the lawmakers led by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. "The American people deserve answers for the Biden Administration’s continued misuse of law-enforcement resources against its political opponents."
What was seized in search?
Despite the Justice Department releasing the search warrant of Donald Trump’s Florida resort, details remained unclear Monday about what federal authorities seized in the unprecedented criminal investigation of a former president.
The search warrant unsealed Friday said “secret” and “top secret” documents were among the 11 sets of documents removed from the Mar-a-Lago. The warrant said Trump was under investigation for potential improper removal of classified documents, obstruction of justice and violations of the Espionage Act.
But the department hasn’t said what sorts of documents were found. While Trump denounced the raid and supported the release of the search warrant, he hasn’t said what was taken, either.
The search came at a time when Trump and his associates are under scrutiny from the FBI, the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service and other agencies.
Two days after the Mar-a-Lago search, Trump asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a deposition related to a separate civil fraud investigation into the Trump Organization's finances led by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Congress has questions about search
Congressional committees want to know more about the search and what was found.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the search warrant disclosed “a serious risk” to disclosure of national secrets.
“That is among the highest of designation in terms of the extremely grave damage to national security that could be done if it were disclosed,” Schiff told “Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan” on CBS on Sunday. “So, the fact that they were in an unsecure place that is guarded with nothing more than a padlock or whatever security they had at a hotel is deeply alarming.”
Schiff and the head of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., have asked for a damage assessment from the director of national intelligence.
GOP seeks justification for search
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, wants to learn more about what justified the search from the affidavit submitted to justify probable cause for the search, which remains sealed.
“It was an unprecedented action that needs to be supported by unprecedented justification,” Fitzpatrick told “Face the Nation.” “This has never happened before in our country's history.”
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., on NBC's "Meet the Press," said the Justice Department needs to lay out its case to "show that this was not just a fishing expedition."
Why did Trump keep the documents?
Another open question is why Trump kept the documents in the first place.
The Presidential Records Act says all presidential documents must be retained, both for current reference and the historical record. The documents are supposed to be retained even if they weren’t classified.
But the National Archives and Records Administration, which traditionally stores presidential documents, earlier discovered boxes of materials missing.
The agency in January obtained 15 boxes of presidential records that the former president had stored at his Mar-a-Lago club, including correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that Trump described as "love letters," as well as a letter former President Barack Obama left before Trump's inauguration.
Trump advisers denied "any nefarious intent" and told The Washington Post the boxes contained "mementos, gifts, letters from world leaders and other correspondence."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FBI boosts security; GOP wants Mar-a-Lago search details: Updates