The US Department of Justice has released the highly anticipated affidavit that underpinned the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home earlier this month.
The redacted document released on Friday will provide more insight into the evidence that led to the unprecedented search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on August 8.
Its release comes after a federal judge on Thursday ordered the Justice Department to release the redacted version that had been submitted to the court.
“The government is conducting a criminal investigation concerning the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces, as well as the unlawful concealment or removal of government records,” the 38-page affidavit began.
The affidavit is a sworn statement that outlines the evidence that gave the US government probable cause to seek the warrant to search the ex-president’s home.
The Justice Department has opposed releasing the affidavit, arguing that it was “highly likely to compromise future investigative steps” and the identity of witnesses. But media organisations had asked for the document to be made public, citing “utmost public interest”.
US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said last week that he believed “there are portions of the affidavit that could be unsealed” and ordered the Justice Department to submit a redacted version for his review.
The search warrant was released on August 12, revealing that the Justice Department was investigating the former president for mishandling classified documents.
The court records showed the FBI seized some top secret documents from Trump’s home, but they did not provide details about the information they might contain.
“Top secret” is the highest level of classification of US government documents, and US law prohibits making public or mishandling classified documents.
The search of Mar-a-Lago spurred a firestorm of Republican criticism against the FBI and the Justice Department, with several GOP lawmakers accusing the Biden administration without evidence of investigating Trump for political reasons.
President Joe Biden has denied having prior knowledge of the search, and the White House has insisted that it does not interfere in Justice Department-led investigations.
Asked whether Trump’s conduct may have threatened national security, Biden told reporters on Friday: “We’ll let the Justice Department determine that.”
Trump had argued that the search was unwarranted because he would have handed the documents over if asked. He also said the records were declassified before he left office.
It is not clear whether the investigation will result in charges against Trump, who has suggested on multiple occasions that he may run for president again in 2024.
The former president is now a private citizen, but political considerations sometimes weigh into Department of Justice decisions to prosecute cases, New York University law professor Stephen Gillers told Al Jazeera earlier this month.
“Whether or not the Justice Department pursues the charges has to be assessed in light of who the defendant would be. The Justice Department might choose not to pursue the charges so as not to further encourage bad behaviour by Trump’s supporters,” he said.