Justice Department has a week to submit a redacted affidavit but is adamantly opposed to making any of it public over risk of compromising ongoing investigation into ex-president Donald Trump.

FBI searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on August 8, removing 11 sets of classified documents, with some not only marked top secret but also
FBI searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on August 8, removing 11 sets of classified documents, with some not only marked top secret but also "sensitive compartmented information." (DPA)

A federal judge has ordered the Justice Department to put forward proposed redactions as he committed to making public at least part of the affidavit supporting the search warrant for former US president Donald Trump's estate in Florida.

US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart on Thursday gave prosecutors a week to submit a copy of the affidavit with proposed redactions for the information it wants to keep secret after the FBI seized classified and top secret information during a search at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate last week.

The hearing was convened after several news organisations, including The Associated Press news agency, sought to unseal additional records tied to last week’s search, including the affidavit. 

It is likely to contain key details about the Justice Department's investigation examining whether Trump retained and mishandled classified and sensitive government records.

The Justice Department has adamantly opposed making the affidavit public, arguing that doing so would compromise its ongoing investigation, would expose the identities of witnesses and could prevent others from coming forward and cooperating with the government.

Attorneys for the news organisations, however, argued that the unprecedented nature of the Justice Department's investigation warrants public disclosure.

"You can't trust what you can't see," said Chuck Tobin, a lawyer representing the AP and several other news outlets.

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Govt against revealing investigation 'road map'

In addition to ordering the redactions, the judge agreed to make public other documents, including the warrant's cover sheet, the Justice Department's motion to seal the documents and the judge's order requiring them to be sealed.

Those documents showed the FBI was specifically investigating the "willful retention of national defense information," the concealment or removal of government records and obstruction of a federal investigation.

Jay Bratt, a top Justice Department national security prosecutor, had argued that the affidavit should remain hidden from the public. 

Unsealing it, he said, would provide a "road map" of the investigation — which is in its "early stages" — and expose the next steps to be taken by federal agents and prosecutors.

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He argued it was in the public interest for the investigation, including interviews of witnesses, to go forward unhindered.

Bratt argued in court that even a redacted version of the document could reveal investigative steps or create the ability for sleuths or those being eyed in the investigation to identify witnesses in the case. He also contended that the Justice Department had already gone to rare lengths to bring transparency, including making a request for the court to unseal the warrant and property receipt, which were made public last week.

Reinhart gave the government until next Thursday to submit its version with the proposed redactions. He said he would then review it and may meet lawyers for the government and give them a chance to make an argument for why specific information should be withheld.

FBI agents searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on August 8, removing 11 sets of classified documents, with some not only marked top secret but also “sensitive compartmented information," according to a receipt of what was taken that was released on Friday. 

That is a special category meant to protect the nation’s most important secrets that if revealed publicly could cause "exceptionally grave" damage to US interests. 

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Source: AP