US unseals previously blacked-out portions from Trump search warrant application

Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestured as he and former first lady Melania Trump departed the White House to board Marine One ahead of the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden, in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2021. [Reuters]

The Justice Department on Wednesday disclosed some of the previously blacked-out portions of a warrant application it submitted last year to gain authorization to search former President Donald Trump's Florida property for classified documents.

Key portions of the document had already been made public, but media organizations including The Associated Press had pressed for further unsealing in light of a 38-count indictment last month charging Trump and his valet, Walt Nauta, with concealing classified records at Mar-a-Lago from investigators. A magistrate judge, Bruce Reinhart, declined to order the Justice Department to unseal the search warrant affidavit in its entirety but did require prosecutors to publicly file a less-redacted affidavit.

The newly revealed paragraphs lay out important evidence that prosecutors had gathered well before the search took place, recounting how surveillance footage from inside the property showed dozens of boxes being relocated by a Trump aide in the days before FBI and Justice Department investigators visited the home to collect records.

During that June 3, 2022, visit, law enforcement officials were handed an envelope of 38 classified documents and told that all records sought by a subpoena were being turned over and that a "diligent search" of the home had been done. But investigators had reason to believe that was not true based on the relocation of boxes that they had observed on video, and that additional records remained at the house.

The movement of boxes by Nauta was detailed in last month's indictment, but its inclusion in the search warrant affidavit helps explain why the Justice Department felt it had probable cause to search Trump's home on Aug. 8, 2022, and why investigators were concerned that documents were being intentionally withheld from them.

The affidavit recounts how someone identified only as "Witness 5" was seen on multiple days carrying either cardboard or bankers' boxes in and out of the anteroom at the house. The affidavit does not mention Nauta by name, but the dates of the actions as well as of an FBI interview "during which the location of boxes was a significant subject of questioning" line up with the dates cited in the indictment.

Nauta is set to be arraigned in federal court in Miami on Thursday. Trump has already pleaded not guilty to more than three dozen felony counts, many alleging willful retention of national defense information.