The newly unsealed Department of Justice affidavit shows investigators relied on evidence from multiple sources to justify their search of Mar-A-Lago.
MSNBC's Joyce Vance said the heavily redacted document, which the FBI used to obtain their search warrant for Donald Trump's private resort, revealed their concerns that witnesses could face threats as part of an effort to obstruct their investigation of classified documents improperly removed from the White House.
"One very interesting tidbit we get from the legal memo that DOJ submitted to unseal the redacted version of the affidavit is what I think is the first effort to quantify the number of cooperating witnesses that DOJ had when they obtained this search warrant," said Vance, a former U.S. Attorney. "They're talking about the need to protect their witnesses from any sort of potential harm, and they say that there are a significant number of civilian witnesses. So we don't know -- is that five? Is that 10?"
"But I think it's important to realize here that DOJ was not just relying on one or two witnesses," she continued. "Likely this is, as they say, a significant number of civilian witnesses as well as people in law enforcement who need to be protected as this investigation moves forward, and that puts into context what we're looking at here."
"We're talking about a former president of the United States who's clearly taken with him when he left office materials, whether they're classified or not, that could do grave damage to our national security if they're disclosed in an inappropriate fashion, and not only is that former president resistant to returning those documents, also DOJ has legitimate reasons to believe that there are risk to witnesses who are helping complete this investigation," Vance added. "That should be a sobering moment for us to realize we're in this situation with former President Trump."
Government lawyers had opposed the release of the affidavit but the judge ordered it unsealed with redactions the Justice Department said were necessary to protect an ongoing investigation involving national security.
FBI agents raided Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida on August 8, seizing boxes containing a large amount of highly classified documents that Trump had not returned to the government despite multiple requests and a subpoena to do so.
The unredacted version of the affidavit likely explains in detail what the department is investigating in relation to Trump and could possibly reveal sources.
But Judge Bruce Reinhart accepted Justice Department arguments that there was a "compelling" need to mask significant portions of the document.
Reinhart had ordered the release of the redacted affidavit by noon (1600 GMT) on Friday -- and the fevered anticipation surrounding its publication caused the federal court website to crash.
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With additional reporting by AFP