• Show Notes

Dear Reader,

Two weeks after DOJ shocked the nation by executing a search warrant at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, the story is still at the top of the news cycle. Trump took two weeks to take any legal action, filing a motion on Monday asking the court to appoint a special master to oversee the review of seized documents, but not asking, at least in court, for release of the affidavit that was the basis for issuing the search warrant. A motion to unseal the affidavit was filed by newspapers and networks and is currently under consideration before a magistrate judge in the Southern District of Florida, where Mar-a-Lago is located.

Search warrants are only granted if the government can demonstrate probable cause to believe evidence or fruits of a crime will be found at the location the government wants to search. As part of the application process for the search warrant, an agent submits an affidavit, under oath and penalty of perjury, setting forth probable cause. The affidavit is what journalists (and, let’s be honest, most of us as well) would like to see. On Monday, the judge who granted the search warrant wrote in an order that he continued to have confidence that the information in the affidavit was reliable.

Across the country, on any given day, it’s routine for federal magistrate judges to grant search warrants based on probable cause. What’s unusual is to have a party, or in the case of the Mar-a-Lago search, news organizations, seek to unseal the affidavit while the investigation is still ongoing. It’s even more unusual for a judge to indicate he’s considering unsealing the affidavit, or at least parts of it, which is what the judge here did, although he walked it back a little bit in Monday’s order.