Florida judge to decide whether or not to release DOJ affidavit for Mar-a-Lago raid. US announces formal trade talks with Taiwan in latest poke at China.
Judge hears arguments for, against releasing affidavit that obtained Mar-a-Lago search warrant
Various news organizations will make their case today for the release of the affidavit used to obtain the warrant to search Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. The Justice Department will oppose the motion, arguing that the release of the affidavit could compromise their ongoing investigation. Representatives for Trump are reportedly present in the courtroom but are not submitting any filings or making arguments.
Interestingly, Bruce Reinhart, the same federal magistrate in Florida who approved the warrant last week, is hearing today’s arguments. Since Trump publicized the FBI raid on his home, Reinhart has received numerous death threats from Trump supporters.
What might be in the affidavit?
The warrant for the search as well as a list of property seized from the residence were released last week. The warrant consists mainly of a logistical roadmap for what areas of the property were to be searched and how. The property list contained an itemized list of documents seized by the FBI. Investigators seized about 20 boxes containing 11 sets of documents, many highly classified. Due to the sheer volume of documents, agents are still sorting through them and returning any that are irrelevant or subject to attorney-client privilege to Trump.
The affidavit will contain all the information submitted by DOJ to justify the search warrant. This will likely include an explanation of why DOJ thought the raid was necessary. National print and broadcast media organizations want the affidavit released due to legitimate public interest in DOJ’s justification for the raid. Trump has contended that he is the victim of a political “witch hunt”.
The affidavit will likely outline months of stonewalling by Trump after he was ordered to return the classified documents. A few months ago, Trump returned about a dozen boxes of documents to the National Archives. Trump’s lawyer claimed back in June that all classified documents from Mar-a-Lago had been returned. This obviously wasn’t true.
Following the raid, Trump first claimed that FBI agents had planted the classified documents they found in his home. Now, he is claiming that he had the right to keep the classified documents based on executive privilege.
Why might Trump want the affidavit released?
On his social media platform Truth Social, Trump has publicly demanded the release of the affidavit. Even so, having his lies and bad-faith negotiation with the DOJ spelled out in black-and-white won’t do Trump any good. This may explain why his attorneys haven’t yet made any legal filing either for or against the motion to release the affidavit.
However, Trump and his staff are no doubt curious to know the scope of the DOJ’s investigation, what information they’ve collected, and from whom. When agents entered Trump’s home last Monday, they knew exactly where to find what they were looking for. This suggests that the FBI had information from someone with intimate knowledge of Trump’s home and activities. Trump’s team are apparently pretty nervous about this. The affidavit won’t likely contain the names of witnesses and sources, but may contain enough information about them and their position in Trump’s orbit to identify them.
Why doesn’t the DOJ want the affidavit released?
The possibility that the affidavit could out key witnesses is certainly a big worry for the Justice Department. Not only might this endanger any witnesses, it could reduce their willingness or ability to aid the investigation. It might also reveal how DOJ managed to develop and contact the witness in the first place. This could compromise not only the investigation of Trump’s mishandling of classified documents, but any other investigation regarding Trump and his operatives.
In its brief to the court, the DOJ argues that the release of “the affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government’s ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course”.
Furthermore, if there is any truth in recent speculation that Trump has been selling classified material to foreign countries, the DOJ’s evidence for that might be contained in the affidavit. If true, releasing this evidence could hamper any counterintelligence efforts to trace where this information might have ended up. However, while the warrant cited potential violations of the Espionage Act by Trump, the DOJ has not argued publicly that the affidavit’s release could endanger national security.
It may be worth noting that the DOJ’s brief to Reinhart’s court was signed by Jay Bratt, the DOJ’s top counterintelligence official. The filing by Bratt and US Attorney Juan Gonzalez says that if Reinhart decides to release the documents, DOJ will propose redactions “so extensive as to render the remaining unsealed text devoid of meaningful content”.
US announces formal trade talks with Taiwan in latest poke at China
The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has announced bilateral trade talks with Taiwan to begin in September. In 2020, trade between the US and Taiwan was worth nearly $106 billion. Taiwan is a key exporter of microchips and also a valued customer of the US defense industry, purchasing billions in weapons in increasing amounts over recent years.
The announcement of trade talks follows a controversial visit to the island earlier this month by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi’s visit angered China, which sees Taiwan as a breakaway territory. The US has long maintained a vague policy of recognizing China’s sovereignty over the island while supporting Taiwan’s semi-autonomous and democratic government in other ways, including providing for its defense.
Growing US-Taiwan relations in recent years have caused China to escalate its rhetoric about forcefully re-unifying Taiwan politically with Beijing. This would mean a large-scale invasion, which analysts say China could not carry out before 2027.
Nevertheless, Pelosi’s visit prompted a show of force by Beijing. The Chinese military carried out days of military exercises in the waters surrounding the island, amounting to a “naval blockade” according to Taiwan’s pro-independence government.
At the time, President Biden denied that Pelosi’s visit signaled any change in US policy towards Taiwan. However, just this week, a second delegation of US lawmakers visited the island, prompting further protests from China.
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